A note about the photo in the header – I did not find it searching for “majestic sunrise over mountains” on Google. I took it myself, with my camera phone, on one of my ritual morning walks. I’m lucky to live near a parcel of open space, with wide open trails that, as you ascend, afford broad views of land and sky. I give genuine thanks to the activists and lawyers who, decades ago, filed the papers and court orders to stop development that would have crusted these hills with driveways, street lights, parked cars, and hedgerows.
Thanks to them, I have my Thinking Place.
When I say “ritual morning walk”, please understand my driving motivation: a vivacious labrador retriever who slips quickly into hysteria if her daily outing doesn’t follow breakfast by mere minutes. With afternoons out of the question due to work and (often equally hysterical post-school and daycare) children, my dog and I arise in the quiet of pre-dawn and depart on our hour circuit. During spring and fall, our walks begin in the dark and end in the glow of dawn; often, in the winter, we are in the dark for the entire time. The skunks, owls, and occasional coyote are used to us by now. We haven’t once crossed paths with another person; it is paradoxical to feel so alone despite the vast urban and suburban areas visible from these hills.
My dog and I both enjoy the exercise, but our experience of the walk diverges from there – she looks to explore as much of her surroundings as possible while keeping up; I turn inward and start thinking about the day ahead. Or processing what happened yesterday. I might have a difficult conversation with a colleague on the horizon; I move through various versions of our encounter, discarding the angry versions, writing and deleting mental emails in the aftermath – emptying myself of the tension so that I am at peace when the time comes to have the actual conversation. These morning walks are my Thinking Time.
When I was a teacher, I spent these morning rambles looking ahead to the day’s lesson – a tumble of thoughts that the hour gave me time to edit, clarify, and re-draft. Now, as an assistant principal, I am not writing lesson plans. I am involved in myriad aspects of my school’s functioning. At any one time, I am working with a number of at-risk students, their families, teachers, counselor; I am fielding a variety of tensions from the staff – simple facilities-related headaches to deeper personal or professional challenges; I am the sous-chef in a busy restaurant kitchen, with dozens of plates to prepare for service.
My Thinking Place helps me untangle those threads and walk into my office with a clear mind. After eight years of living here, I figure I have walked 1,000 dark-to-first-light miles. My dog is still mistaken for a puppy; these hills are far more tempting than her bed.
Where is your Thinking Place? Where and when do you find moments of calm before the foment of a day of school?