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I recently took this photo while on a hike to my favorite spot, Neale Woods. It's a beautiful picture of lovely green foliage in the foreground, my beloved Iowa Mountains peeking up in the background, and a ray of sunshine cutting through the whole shot. But, while it looks lovely, this picture fills me with a feeling of sadness.
See, that "gate" in the lower middle of the shot at the end of the footpath stops one from continuing on any further. That's because there used to be a large, octagonal deck that stood here, allowing people to see across to the Loess Hills during the day and glance up at night to see the stars. The now-derelict Millard Observatory sits off the main trail behind me, a relic of what it once was. Once upon a time, you could go out to Neale Woods at night on celestial event evenings and see constellations through the observatory telescopes or with the naked eye upon the deck.
I always told myself, back when I first started hiking up here, that I would go to one of these celestial event nights one night. I mean, I absolutely love astronomy and the woods so it seemed like a no-brainer. Unfortunately, I never did and so my chance to do so died with the observatory. I did take a guided night hike up here once a few years back during the Perseid Meteor Shower and we did end up here at the deck at the very end to see if we could spy any meteors darting across the sky. I wasn't surprised to see that the deck was gone as it was rotting away but I was dejected to see it gone anyway. This isn't the first change in my favorite hiking spot. Over the years, I've watched the nature center cease functioning, the back garden going to seed, and trails change or disappear altogether, making me wish I had taken a few of them to their end or just hiked them, period.
The differences in the landscape that I've witnessed here in my oasis away from the city reminds me that change is inevitable and that we are powerless to stop it. Change is necessary, even if it is hard to accept or difficult to deal with. We get comfortable with things the way things are and with it come feelings of satisfaction, happiness, and belonging. Changes to those things require us to step out of our comfort zone and readjust - no matter how big or small those changes may be.
While the changes in Neale Woods will go unnoticed by a multitude of people who visit, I will always remember the way it was when I first discovered it. Do I miss it? Absolutely. Will I adapt to the changes? I already have. Life is a constant pulsating entity that inundates us with change regularly. The recent pandemic has fundamentally shifted how the entire world goes about its daily life. While a pandemic is much more difficult and stressful in numerous ways than a few trail shifts in a nature park, we can learn a few things from the latter in dealing with the former. How we deal with the little changes can help us deal with the bigger ones.
Accept the things we cannot understand and embrace the changes that they bring. You'll be better off in the long run, trust me.