Holding pattern

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"Why in the world would you go to an outdoor nature center in the dead of winter?"

My friend's words echoed in my head. She had called to give me an update about her recent trip to Mexico.

Her question "What have you been up to lately?" prompted me to mention spending a few hours earlier in the day outdoors at a nature center. That was courtesy of another friend who had given me a guest pass good for an entire year. That year was about to expire, so I decided to go despite the weather being chilly and rainy. Oh, yes, I had planned to use the pass long before this, but something always interfered. Now here I was, running out of eligible days to use the pass.

"Goodness, I'd pick a better time and season to do something fun like that," my phone friend continued. "What could you possibly see at this time of year because everything in nature is dead?"

No, I didn't go in spring, when nature is waking up and coming back to the greenness of new life. No, I didn't go in summer, when the flowers and trees are at their peak fullness thanks to the warm sun. No, I didn't go in autumn, when nature is ablaze in the color of one glorious grasp of life before winter arrives.

Yes, I did go in winter. But the temperature was in the 40s, and there was no snow. The trails were well-marked and well-trodden. I selected the beginner pathway, which was about three-quarters of a mile long and fairly flat.

As I walked the trail, which was mostly gravel with natural stone steps in spots, I paid attention to the dead-looking tree limbs and the blanket of fallen leaves covering everything else. Nature is in a holding pattern, I thought to myself.

As someone who lives by the calendar, I'm very much like nature in the winter. Instead of blooming today, I'm always thinking ahead: What am I teaching next week? Am I ready for the meeting on Friday? Do I have a birthday card for my sister next month? And so it goes. I'm in a holding pattern, too, as those future events aren't manifesting yet. But I'll be ready when they get here because I'm making the best of preparation time. That's winter, isn't it?

[Nancy Linenkugel is a Sylvania Franciscan sister and chair of the department of Health Services Administration at Xavier University in Cincinnati.]