Acorns, autumn leaves and woolly catepillars….

    I absolutely love autumn. I love everything about it, and I especially love autumn in Western Pennsylvania where I grew up. Over the years, I had promised myself that someday I would go back during this special time. Two years ago, I did just that. I went home for a ten day visit. The weather was beautiful, and the colors were glorious!

    I spent every morning and afternoon with my parents. But, when it got close to three o’clock I would speed dial my sister. “Hey, can I pick up the kids from school today? Can I take them to the park to play?” After all, I needed to get outside, and I didn’t know anyone else who was available at three in the afternoon. I also didn’t know anyone else who had the energy to keep up with me.

    I would race to the school and impatiently wait for my playmates. We went to the park and I always found something new and exciting. “Acorns!” I beamed at the kids. After all, I hadn’t seen acorns in years. “A woolly caterpillar!” Really, when was the last time I saw one of those? By the time I was skipping through the leaves, I couldn’t help but notice the way my young companions were nudging each other and giggling. Hmmm….I wondered what they found so amusing.

    One afternoon the park was uncharacteristically crowded. It appears that the trails are used for the local high school track meets. It was a perfect day and I was in a particularly playful mood, so we skipped and sang as we maneuvered around the crowds to find an open spot just for us. We balanced on logs, played Ninja games and I entertained them by doing cartwheels. Just about the time we had a cartwheel competition going on, I noticed a man staring at us a short distance away.

    I remembered seeing him earlier when we separated from the crowd. As a matter of fact, he was close behind us when we pretended to train with swords using big sticks that we found on the ground. I gathered the kids close to me and headed off to another section of the park. He followed us, and even picked up his pace until he was directly behind us. Quietly, I took the stick out of my niece’s hand. I stepped in front of her and my nephew, and positioned myself for his next move.

    “Hi,” he said. “I am a photographer for the Times. Can I take your picture for the paper?” I was speechless. After all, I was ready to clobber him with my stick, and he was asking to take our picture. “I can’t guarantee it will be in the paper, but it might make the online issue. You can check tomorrow.” I finally regained enough composure to notice the large camera he was carrying. I found my voice. “You mean the Beaver County Times?” At least he wasn’t a stalker. I hoped.

    The next day people all over the County were greeted with a picture of the three of us on the front page of the Times. My niece and nephew were local celebrities. I was their Awesome Aunt Cheryl from Colorado that picked them up after school, knew how to do cartwheels, taught them how to be Ninjas, and got their picture in the paper. In the meantime, I was kicking myself for wearing a T shirt that afternoon instead of the pretty pink blouse I wore the day before.

    My ten day visit lasted a lot longer than I had planned. Four weeks later I was still there. I still walked all over the woods and the park, and I still picked up my playmates from school to play with me, even though the days were getting shorter and considerably colder. By that time, the acorns, autumn leaves and woolly caterpillars had lost their magic, but that’s a story for another day.

    Out of all the people that crowded into the park on that beautiful fall day, I don’t know why the photographer chose us. Maybe because we looked so happy and were having so much fun together. Maybe because he never saw a middle aged lady do a cartwheel before. Or maybe he was tired of photographing the high school track stars.

    The point is, sometimes you just have to let yourself go and be silly. It’s important to retain your child like spirit and curiosity, no matter what else is going on in your life. You never know what will develop, so to speak. Remember to walk softly and carry a big stick, especially when you are responsible for the health and safety of young children. Finally, when you go out to play,  you might want to wear a pretty blouse instead of a T shirt. You never know who’s going to see you!

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP