For many, this post-pandemic Thanksgiving will be a time to celebrate the revival of rituals that are largely about filling the stomach and the stores on Black Friday.
But this Thanksgiving, I’ll be grateful for something that has filled my soul since COVID-19 crushed the lives and spirits of so many people.
That something is the Wolf River Greenway east section along Humphreys Boulevard and Walnut Grove Road.
Early in the pandemic, when the YMCA branches closed and my spinning classes were canceled, I put my stamina in the spin studio to work on a mountain bicycle along that nearly four-mile stretch.
The experience blessed me, or rather, refamiliarized me with another way of seeing the world; a world that continued as offices and built environments closed.
It was in that world that I found reassurance and healing.
I found it in the scent of the honeysuckle along the greenway trail that spring. I found it in the silver maple, the sweetgum and the yellow poplar trees doing nature’s version of spring and fall New York Fashion Week; their sashaying leaves switching from green, to scarlet, to golden and dazzling an audience of bicyclers, runners and walkers.
I found it the sightings of squirrels and rabbits, cardinals and an occasional whitetail deer. All were reminders of a world larger than materialistic comforts around which many of us have been conditioned to define our happiness; a reminder that while the movie theaters were closed, and the concerts called off, the outdoors was still open.
And as it was, the weekend before Thanksgiving, the greenway offered up another gift. But it wasn’t one I’d expect to find there.
As I was riding along the trail, I came upon three women, who had been running it, gathered around a white and tabby kitten. I stopped to help them coax it out of the grass. Thin and limping from what appeared to be a dislocated hip - it crept towards me.
As I reached for it and gathered it in my arms, it fought me a bit. By the time I began walking the two miles back to my car, and as I received puzzled glimpses from other bicyclers and walkers who probably wondered what was up with this woman in a bike helmet and gloves on foot carrying a cat, the kitten had buried its face in the crease of my elbow.
It was another greenway gift. A gift of healing.
In August Wallee, my cat of more than a decade, died. After months of hoping that the inconclusive diagnosis of lymphoma turned out not to be lymphoma but maybe something that was curable or treatable, my hopes, and a piece of my heart, was crushed when the cancer killed her.
I still hadn’t quite retrieved that piece of my heart.
I had never removed Wallee’s pet carrier from my back seat; the one in which she made her last trip to the veterinarian for the euthanasia that would finally relieve her from the disease that ravaged her. Removing it from the backseat would have sealed a sense of finality that I wasn’t yet ready to face.
But it came in handy for the kitten, who didn’t fight me as I lowered it into it and who, minutes later, had closed its eyes and curled into a ball.
After devouring three cans of Fancy Feast and finding a place to nap on the blankets stowed under my bed, kitty was at home.
And I was grateful.
Grateful for the women who heard the kitten’s wails and took time from their training run to try and coax her out of the woods for me to later take home, and who helped stow my bicycle out of sight to retrieve later.
Grateful for the memory of Wallee, whose own origin story – my mother found her as a stray – fueled my decision to take a chance on abandoning my bike to walk two miles with a mewing kitten in my arms.
But mostly, I’m grateful for the Wolf River Greenway, a place where nature offers up all kinds of splendor and, in some cases, surprises, and continues to display the possibility of renewal and healing in people who need it – and in a world that needs it.
Tonyaa Weathersbee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow her on Twitter: @tonyaajw
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: This Thanksgiving, I'm grateful for how nature heals - even unexpectedly