A Little Bright-Siding

He that has light within his own clear breast,
May sit i' the centre, and enjoy bright day;
But he that hides a dark soul, and foul thoughts,
Benighted walks under the mid-day sun;
Himself is his own dungeon.

— John Milton, from Comus

Some of us are creatures of habit. Always park in the same spot. Take the same route to (and from) work. Get up and have breakfast, coffee and do the New York Times crossword every morning. Walk the same 2.5-mile loop around the forest preserve.

In fact, I've been faithfully walking that same loop now for more than 10 years. I know some of the trees along that path better than the back of my hand. I can tell you what time of year and along which part of the trail you're most likely to find certain kinds of birds, wildflowers or frogs.

So, when construction began on a new, rather large and imposing, building, right along my favorite trail, I'll admit I was a bit thrown. They cleared the forest just when the Baltimore orioles and Eastern bluebirds were settling down to nesting. It took most of the rest of my walk on that particular day to talk myself out of dismay. And now that the building is up, roof and all, and I see how much of the view it takes up, not just along that stretch of trail, but from multiple favorite vantage points all along the 2.5-mile loop, I can admit that I'm having a really hard time finding the positive.

But let me back up a step. When you're married to your habits, anything that forces you out of your rut can be difficult to deal with. If you've been married to those habits long enough, you learn (hopefully) what I like to call "bright-siding." When something throws you out of your comfortable pattern, it's really easy to get really negative, really fast. But that doesn't help anyone.

I'm no Pollyanna—far from it. But, knowing that getting negative isn't going to get me anywhere good, I try to do my best to stay in the habit of bright-siding.

When it comes to my regular walk, well—I'll admit it's not easy. The best I can come up with is this (short) list:

1. If they need to build such a large structure for maintenance, that must mean the county is investing in growing the forest preserve system's facilities and programs, and that is, overall, a good thing.

2. Some of the angles of the building are sort of architecturally pleasing. Once it's up and things have grown back, it won't be such an eyesore.

3. The bird population in this particular preserve is large and diverse, and growing more so over the past five or so years. This relatively small disruption is not going to have a tremendous impact.

Faced with the unexpected, especially when the unexpected seems mostly dire, it can be tricky to take a step back and find something positive to say. But everyone's got to deal with it from time to time. In the world of recreation, sports and fitness, who hasn't had to struggle with unexpected budget cuts? An unanticipated program failure? A surprising maintenance emergency? It happens.

And what can we do? You get to choose, every day, whether to bask in your day, lit by your own inner fire, or to walk, lost in the dungeon you've made of your mind, to paraphrase Mr. Milton.

So, I'll keep muddling along my trail, greeting the winter residents as they arrive (hello to you, chickadees, robins and juncos!), and waving to the construction crew as they add the finishing touches. And I hope you, too, will look for the bright side in every seemingly impossible challenge.

Keep your chins up, friends!


Emily Tipping
Editorial Director,
Recreation Management

[email protected]