If you or a loved one are struggling with thoughts of suicide, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

I was going through an especially difficult time about two years ago. Our teenage son was away from home in treatment. I was doing everything I could to hold the family together. Then, one particularly dark and stormy night our two beloved dogs chased a coyote or other critter to the county highway. Both were struck by a car, and we lost one of the sisters.

We were devastated. The loss was tremendous. Our remaining girl, Gypsy, was banged up, shaken and heartbroken without sister. She was shy and didn’t want to do anything with Rosie. She had no leash training but one day shortly after her bruises were better, I thought we would try a walk. We live on country backroads primarily traversed by tractors and farm trucks. At first, she cowered when the vehicles rushed past. I cuddled and coaxed. Little by little we both began to heal.

My fitness routine had lagged in lieu of a rigorous travel schedule for work and the demands of daily life. I used to be a runner—competing in 5ks, 10ks and Oregon’s Hood to Coast Relay. I would love to run again one day but at the time I began walking Gypsy what I needed more than anything was something gentle. I needed to breathe deeply and find some port in the storm of chaos that was my life. So, together that’s just what we did.

I live in the Pacific Northwest, which means I can walk pretty much any day of the year. We get a few ice storms that keep us inside from time to time but unless you fear death by drizzle, you can walk. Eventually, Gypsy began to build confidence. Today, she wags and crows (she’s a talker) when she sees me getting my shoes and outdoor gear on. She has become so good at being my walking companion that she stays by my side, stops when I stop on or off the leash. She was recently complimented at the Cannon Beach Sandcastle Building Contest from a stranger who said that she was the best off-leash dog he’d ever seen as she waded through thousands of people, never leaving my side. He also said that she has amazing eyebrows and I agree.

We walk almost every day, rain or shine. The routine is a comfort to me. Spending time in nature is
medicine. I feel alive surrounded with living things—cherry blossoms, wheat fields, bunnies, robins and bluejays, but most of all my Gypsy girl. I draw deep breaths of fresh air. This is my meditation.
Sometimes I call my sister or “talk” to my mom who recently passed away. I have a lot of questions that I wish she could answer. She doesn’t talk back but I think she hears me. I talk to Gypsy. I have completed hundreds of true crime podcasts and books from authors like Brene Brown. Sometimes I just listen to the patter of the rain.

Moving my body isn’t just an act of self-care. It is an act of self-love. Exercise is my gift to myself. It
grounds and centers me. The sunshine, fresh air and rain cleanse my soul. I am lighter. I cherish the
quiet companionship of my faithful dog. I know there is all kinds of science around exercise and mental wellness—endorphins, vitamin D, cardiovascular health, the human need for routine and self-discipline.

What I have is the empirical evidence that three miles a day in nature brought both Gypsy and me back to life; and life, though often hard…is pretty wonderful. So come walk with Gypsy and me (we’ll be somewhere on a country road in Oregon)!

Join us Sunday, May 19th either in person at Forestview Middle School in Baxter, MN. or virtually for the Miles for Smiles 5k. Click here for more information.

Smile on!