Breaking Rules Can Reap Rewards
By Julie Ryan McGue
I will admit to being an ardent rule-follower. Both the fear of discovery and public shaming factor into my strict adherence to regulations. Yet inwardly, I often admire and applaud the courage of rule-breakers. Occasionally, my fellow rule-followers and I step out of our comfort zones, and if we are rewarded for our bravery, the thrill is something we never forget.
After my husband and I sold our downtown Chicago condo, we crammed our SUV and headed south to deposit the furnishings at our winter getaway. One hour into the eighteen-hour drive, our pregnant daughter living in New Jersey shot me a text– she was in the hospital with preeclampsia. Two weeks shy of a full-term pregnancy, our grandson would make an early debut into the world.
Fortunately, first babies take their time, even when doctors choose to induce. My husband and I continued our cross-country trek. We crossed the Florida state line, stuffed our belongings into the condo’s cupboards and closets, grabbed a few hours of sleep, and repacked for a morning flight to Newark. First stop: the “Mother-Child” unit to cuddle and welcome a healthy but small new grandson. Second stop: my daughter’s home to put order in an unassembled nursery.
Before my grandson and his folks pulled into their driveway, I’d racked up seven round trips to the hospital, three trips to unfamiliar grocery and drug stores, and washed and folded countless loads of tiny baby clothes and blankets. The getting-ready-for-baby-to-come-home “to do list” made me (almost) forget the chaos I’d left behind in the Florida condo. Mostly, I longed for a familiar bed and pillow, and the return to my daily yoga and exercise routine. So, once the baby and his parents were home and settled in for naps, I treated myself to a walk.
Between my daughter’s house and the village of Morristown, signs for a nature area popped up. I’m no stranger to walking in the woods. I love to observe nature and snap photos. So, my seasoned sneakers left the unforgiving, cement sidewalk to crunch on acorns and wood chips. And instead of car exhaust and grass clippings, the scent of decaying leaves, damp earth, and sweet clover drifted around me in a late-summer breeze. As I walked along the paths, a faint, rhythmic rush like water trickling intensified. When the narrow trail emptied into a clearing, I surveyed a rich landscape hidden from the bustling village road.
Water careened over a metal plate beneath a narrow, wooden footbridge. A lagoon, its root beer colored water, meandered helter-skelter through shoulder-high wetland grasses. Here and there, box turtles paddled and climbed onto sunny perches. Milk pods and seed-heads swayed like the bows in an orchestral string section. Like a magnet, the tranquility of the preserve pulled me deeper into its secluded core. I continued my explorations.
Around the back of the lagoon, the mulched path I’d been traversing split in two. Two orange cones prevented me from accessing the water’s edge. Above my head, a white metal sign stated:
DO NOT WALK ON PATH DURING CONSTRUCTION.
Beyond this roadblock, I spied movement at the center of the lagoon. I puzzled the sign and the cones blocking the path. I cursed both as I observed the fluttering movements of a bird coming to rest in the water. I held my breath. I knew that profile: a blue heron! On the other side of the orange cones, I noticed footprints had already scarred the newly constructed trail. Deer, dogs, and man-made treads had trespassed before my arrival. I wasn’t the only soul who had considered the merits of the sign’s warnings. I scanned the area for signs of pedestrians or construction workers who might catch me in civil disobedience, and then darted quickly to the lagoon’s shore. Poised, as if hunting a mid-morning snack, a mature blue heron held court. I held my breath and fished out my iPhone from my jean pocket and captured the image. Stunning.
Feeling cocky, I savored the reward of my disobedience by posting it to Instagram, and then I sheepishly backtracked to the trailhead where the orange warning cones waited. I wasn’t ready to go home. I picked up the adjacent trail which looped through the woods, around a deserted grammar school playground, and deposited me onto a residential sidewalk. Ahead of me, on the playground’s baseball diamond, I made out the shape of what looked like a loose dog rolling around in the mud at first base.
As the animal somersaulted in the dust, scratching maniacally, something about the dog looked peculiar. The animal’s thin, lengthy tail and lanky form screamed canine, but the small, triangular face did not. I edged closer and reached for my cell phone again. I snapped a few photos and zoomed in to study the result of my efforts. The critter fifteen feet in front of me was not a household pet playing hooky from a fenced-in yard. It was an immature fox with a nasty case of fleas.
As I hiked back to my daughter’s house, I thought about how my thrilling and flagrant disregard for the sign and construction cones had been doubly rewarded. I applauded my good fortune. I was lucky. The trail construction was on hiatus. Forest rangers who normally patrolled the area were on a coffee break. And other hikers, who may have frightened off both the heron and fox, were nonexistent.
One thing had led to another.
A build-up of inner tension due to family matters had led to my choosing to talk a walk. The neighborly stroll had led to civil disobedience, and that choice had led to a double reward: encounters with two unusual creatures smack dab in a residential neighborhood. I was twice blessed! First for venturing out in strange surroundings, and then for taking a calculated risk. Thanks to my grandson, I was in the right place at the right time. I nabbed two prize photos and no serious harm resulted from my blatant rule breaking.