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Leave Only Footprints

A prompt to encourage your practice of creativity this week from Riversider and local author Larry Burns.

Hikers in Sycamore Canyon Park with the clouded top of a snow packed Mt. Baldy in the background (Dr. Robert Sirotnik).

Do you need a low stress way to include seven minutes of creative contemplation into your week? Consider this your helpful nudge towards a slightly more creative life. If it helps, come back every week for a quick hit of creative contemplation. Each week I’ll share a new nudge. It will include a Thing (T), a Place (P), and a Sense(S) for your focus, a TPS creative nudge.

Last week, we enjoyed getting our hands dirty while letting our finger[nails] do the talking. Did you pull out your camera to catch some fingers strumming a tune? Perhaps you penned an ode to a memorable hangnail! Even if you just took a moment to buff and polish your nails in front of another person to show them just how cool and detached you really are, I hope you found several minutes for reflecting and thinking creatively.

I found myself paying attention to fingernails while shaking hands, or getting back some change, or just standing in line with nothing better to do than compare pedicures. I was reminded of the small yet significant ways we express ourselves and interact with the world. 

You’ll need to get up and get out this week as our creative nudge is waiting just outside our doors: walking paths. These trails, both human-made and forged by nature, tell stories of movement, choice, and necessity. 

I’ve put in a lot of walking miles around Riverside, and I’ve noticed something: not all communities are built the same; some of our communities have sidewalks and parkways and curbs with ADA-compliant inclines, while others offer little more than a gravel ditch between public roads and private driveways. When I lived in the county, not having paved sidewalks and street lights was a point of pride, not privation. 

What our paths are made of is nearly as important as where they go! Paths are plans for the future but sometimes the future has other plans. My favorite paths are those created by necessity. If you’ve ever seen a well-manicured lawn with a corner “ruined” by a shortcut worn into it from decades of foot traffic, you know what I mean.

Let’s get ourselves onto a creative track, or if you need to, stride away from the worn path and blaze a new trail for your creative contemplation. When you get to where you are going, kick around one or more of these creative exercises:

  1. Think, Step, Repeat: Choose a path, any path, and embark on a walking meditation. Focus on each step, the feel of the ground beneath your feet, the sounds around you, and the rhythm of your breath. 
  2. DIY Path Crafting: I made an outdoor floor from discarded pallets and love it so I invite you to create your own path using found materials. This could be in your garden, a community space, or even a miniature version that serves as a symbolic representation of a personal journey. 
  3. Photo Finish: Via photography, observe textures, the surroundings, and the way light plays along the trail. 
  4. This walk reminds me of another walk: As you walk, imagine the stories of those on this path in the past or the future! Write a short story, journal entry, or poem inspired by this journey. Consider the intertwining trails that run alongside our own.
  5. Maps Quest: Create a map of hidden, imaginary, or less noticeable paths in your area, those not marked on any official guide but known to you. Share this map with someone you care about, perhaps forging a new path in your relationship. 

Walking paths, no matter how they appeared or where they lead, are more than just routes between Point A and Point B of your busy day; they are narratives underfoot, invitations to explore, and opportunities to connect with the world in a personal way. 

As we permit ourselves to be nudged by these creative activities, let's consider the paths we choose, the ones we forge, and those we share. It’s often the organic, unexpected routes that lead us to the most beautiful discoveries, rather than the paths others planned for us long ago. Test that theory every chance you get. Where you step today is the direction that matters the most.

This column written with the help of ChatGPT Plus and related Plugins.