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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 10-28-22 – My Fall Migrations

This Fall the leaves seem extra to me. One reason may be that the whole leaf color thing was undersold. I recall seeing articles like this one in the early days of September speculating that this year’s Fall foliage would be a dud. One of the impacts of drought as trees shed their leaves early and call it a season. It was something I saw with my own eyes in those early weeks, riding my bike along mountain ridges up in the Delaware Water Gap NRA and watching a lot of brown leaves falling from trees early in the autumn game. In reality it was spectacular foliage year. What a pleasant surprise!

In the last few years, I didn’t get to see as much of Pennsylvania as I did this year. Nobody was moving around much in the Fall of 2020 or even in the Fall of 2021, although in 2021 I was certainly more active than in the deep pandemic isolation of Autumn 2020. I do recall even then getting to go out and see some of the land as started putting on its winter clothes. One of the memories I will always cherish was how special small things were. The way that the trees turned color in our postage-stamp sized yard was magnificent in ways I had not seen before because my attention was usually cast with a wider lens. I saw that every tree is beautiful. This year, I got to see the broad tapestries of nature as I traveled across the land in ways that I did miss, but in some ways can appreciate even more now.

I migrated across the top of PA last week. As I drove, I watched the sun crest over the golden hued trees cloaked in the mists of a cold October morning. I descended into valleys with leaves of fire and hues of red, yellow, and gold, as their season of growth ended with one final burst of energy. Mile after mile of color upon the land. May we learn from these trees the lesson of remaining vital and to share all the beauty we have, even as we know our hours here are finite.

I travel a lot for work and carry essentially a mobile office with me. Being on the road means that high priority work creeps into odd hours. There is a risk of pushing the experience of travel out of my days and nights. A number of years ago I had the insight to make sure I block out a little time to experience new places and new people into my travel days. Last week, in just under 48 hours I bounced 650 miles between Allentown, Tunkhannock, Bloomsburg, Altoona, New Kensington, Somerset and back home. I showed the movie Tipping the Pain Scale to two audiences, attended the Lost Dreams Awakening open house (an authentic recovery community organization) just across the river from Pittsburgh. I had lots of phone calls along the way. This kind of schedule is my norm. It makes recharging an imperative.

On this Fall trip, I visited the Flight 93 National Memorial as the sun rose over the grounds through the incredible fall foliage. It was my third visit, the first being in 2002 when it was still a landfill. In 2002, there was a wooden shed people stapled their prayers on. I was also there a few years after the memorial was dedicated. I did not understand the installation of the memorial on that second visit. On this trip, as I walked to the car, I spoke with a park volunteer. She shared the symbolism of the space and its orientation to the final heroic moments of those on UA 93.

The volunteer and I spoke for a few minutes, the kind of casual conversation I value more now having experienced the long collective isolation of the pandemic. We talked about Somerset, and I told her of a training I received in 2002 on crisis response. I related how I met some local residents who told me they thought the world was ending when the plane crashed within eyesight of their homes and the news of the terrorist attacks in NYC and DC spread.

We spoke about how the people on that plane stopped the destruction of the US Capital and how the plane was just 18 minutes from DC when it crashed. There were 40 passengers and crew members on the flight all from various religious, political views and different nationalities. It took them less than 30 minutes from realizing the plot that was unfolding to plan and take action to avert an even greater tragedy. Heroes all. I am grateful for them and the lesson they gave us. We can come together and act for the greater good, even with little notice or preparation. I am grateful for them. We both teared up as we spoke about 911 and what those heroes did. She noted that after seven years of being a volunteer she usually cries a little every day she is on the grounds. I left feeling the sacredness of the spot and what these incredible people did for us in the final moments of their lives, as well as the dedication of our National Park volunteers.

Viewing my home state wrapped in the colors of Fall has been something to cherish, as is the work in the recovery space that takes me to these places across our state and beyond. I am grateful to be able to contribute to the wellbeing of my community. This Fall beyond the foliage, I have been savoring the chance encounters like I experienced with that National Park Service volunteer as we both teared up and thought about the lessons for us all of us by the passengers and crew of flight 93. I am grateful for her and so much else this season.

What are you grateful for today?

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