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In praise of meandering — and discovering

Dad loved to set off in search of things: a trout stream, an artesian well, a wild blueberry patch that held the promise of enough bounty for my mother’s blueberry pie (our rallying cry: four cups for a pie!).

MinnPost photo by Greta Kaul
I’ve recently rediscovered a lifelong pursuit I didn’t even realize I had: a love of meandering. The dictionary definition is “to follow a winding course” or “to wander aimlessly.” I’m not the classic personality type for meandering. I’ve mostly followed a straight and narrow path in my life and career: doing well in school, going to college, marrying the boy next door, having three children, 10 years of increasing responsibility in the corporate world, followed by 30 years of building my own business.

But apart from all that, I’ve done a fair amount of meandering in my life.

As a little girl, I meandered for hours on my bike through our neighborhood. I can still recite the names of the families who lived in each house. I’d park my bike and then meander through the sandpits near our house. The landscape was ugly and tortured to my way of thinking but it was filled with sandstone rocks that had fossils in them. Until early adulthood I had a shoebox full of my favorite fossil rocks, though I don’t know what became of them.

When we moved further out of the city the summer I turned 13, I began to meander on the horse trails and footpaths in the nearby woods. After school, I’d often set off with a book, a snack and an uncertain destination. I remember a constant feeling of discovery and peace in those deep green woods, welcome feelings as I adjusted to the terrors of adolescence and middle school.

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At 40 I was in charge of many things, including a busy family life and a growing company. When a friend invited me on the first of many canoe trips in the Boundary Waters, I said, “I don’t want to be in charge of anything — I just want to come with you.” My friend Julie’s idea of heaven was to steer a canoe with a map on her lap, reading the shoreline and the horizon. I was a meanderer on those trips; I reveled in the not-knowingness of where we were or where we were going. I just showed up and helped out while we portaged or were in camp; when I paddled, I listened to loons, watched for eagles overhead and noticed the ever-changing landscape of rocks, water and trees.

At 66 as I contemplate retirement, I’m unearthing this lifetime pursuit and realizing I’m like my late father in that way. Dad loved to set off in his car in search of things: a trout stream someone had told him about, an artesian well, a wild blueberry patch that held the promise of enough bounty for my mother’s blueberry pie (our rallying cry: four cups for a pie!). Dad would meander to slip away from the cares of his world, making wonderful discoveries along the way — including finding the land for our family cabin 60 years ago this summer.

Mary Lilja
Mary Lilja
One recent day I got on my bike and meandered my way along the Nine Mile Creek trail, marveling at the full chorus of redwing blackbirds serenading me. I saw a man in the field training his dog to fetch. I noticed a sparrow balancing on a cattail. I said hello to two little girls, bent over a dandelion, taking a rest with their bikes flung on the ground.

I’ve come to see that meandering is a deeply native process of discovery for me, something I’ve been doing my entire life. Fortunately, my husband also enjoys following a winding path, and I like to think our retirement will be filled with many adventures spurred on by a love ofmeandering. Since the pandemic began, more people are out walking, canoeing and biking than ever before but most have a plan for where they are headed. So let me suggest this: Next time you set out, tryhaving an uncharted path and an uncertain destination. See what you notice. Follow any inclination as you chart your own path, moment by precious moment.

For it is in meandering that we have an opportunity to discover our own, true path.

Mary Lilja of Edina is the mother of three and grandmother of seven wonderful people. She is the founder of Lilja Communications.