My grandfather, Opa, taught me how to take a proper walk in the forest. Before I could amble, he carried me in a backpack, pointing out sights and sounds along our way: the faint ghostly call of the cuckoo, the lingering scent of yesterday's rain on the mint green leaves, and the satisfying crunch of branches under our feet.
Opa was always alert for the unexpected. A ladybug landing on his arm or a wild raspberry patch nestled against a tree trunk delighted him. No rainbow or starry night escaped his pleasure. An afternoon rain meant tilting our heads back to the sky and catching raindrops on our tongues.
He taught me that simply putting one foot in front of the other in a straight line was not a proper walk - nor a way to live one's life. It was in the curves and detours that red-capped mushrooms lay hidden and raccoon tracks marked a path beside the gently flowing stream.
A proper walk is a deliberate act of opening your ears to hear the life teeming around you and opening your eyes to see beyond the tall trees to wonder how a stray seed, blown on an autumn breeze centuries before, had taken root in the very place where we now rested our weary legs. A proper walk means opening your heart to the messages among the forget-me-nots and buttercups. Opa knew that life's problems were better solved by listening to the call of a cardinal or the chirp of a cricket.
Today, I still walk to clear my head. I look at the world the way my grandfather taught me to. At times, heartache awaited me on the detoured path. More often, taking the winding way has led to adventures that have shaped me.
Although Opa and I are now separated by the Atlantic Ocean, I know that he thinks of our walks and the bond we formed. His lessons live on as I teach my children to delight in an unbroken rainbow and to search the sky for a star to guide them on their path. Together, we walk through life with open minds and hearts, with eyes and ears alert for the unexpected - always ready for a chance to dance in the rain.
It is my hope that my life gives him honor.