Unbenknownst to many, in the very early morning hours (usually on a weekend), my dog, Scout, and I would quietly slip out of the apartment and drive to a local trail in the area. We’d excitedly dive into nature; Scout always running ahead and chasing squirrels up the trees while I would follow silently behind her, always thinking, always planning, always taking in the quiet and solitude.
The sun would sometimes be barely up, there would be dew on the grass, and there would always be the sweet chirping of birds to guide us along. We would dive in, ready for the few hours of exploration ahead of us.
And then, we would arrive at my favorite spot in the whole of the northeastern part of the United States. It isn’t much, just a few flat rocks overlooking a few tiny ponds, in the middle of the hills, high enough to be clear of trees. This-this was my place. I would sit, happy to be in the moment, proud of the distance I had climbed (or sometimes jumped, ran, or teeter-tottered on logs over tiny brooks). If you know me well, you might know that meditation is a constant presence in my life. And, well, not to get too deep on you or anything, but that’s what I would do when I would get to the top. Breathing, loving, and being thankful for everything that I could imagine around me. This was my way to reset, recharge, and find the gratitude that would sometimes get lost in the day to day worries of life, a full-time job, and the little things that can turn out to be really big things.
And then I would start the descent down, through darkness, through swarms of black flies, and even encountering a few run-ins with a big fat tick or two. I would hit a point where I would just want to get home, wipe all the mud off, and get my day started. Too much blogging, too much cooking, too much studying, too much pressure. Real life coming right at me. A total 180 degrees from the peaceful state I had been in before. Just get through it. Just keep walking. Yeah, it’s nice and peaceful here, but I need to get home. Why did I hike so far again this time? One time I actually got lost for a few hours (I got home just fine…) and in the process I learned a few alternate routes, so it ended up being worth it. I sometimes wished I had someone to come along with me, sometimes I was happy to be alone, and sometimes Scout and I would just play in the woods together, chasing and running with one another. I’ve never seen a dog smile so much.
And, then, it would always be the same. I would emerge from the woods onto the wild-flowered path that would eventually turn into a graveled path (a sign of civilization), so proud of what I had accomplished. Thankful again. Peaceful again. And ready to start my day. Start my life. Start whatever awaited me.
And so this is what my year here has been. Excitement in the prospect of adventure, finding peace and gratitude in solitude, dealing with a tick or two (ahem), exhaustion, and, in the end, looking back at how far and long the journey has been. And being thankful for every second.
I had to make a list of the things that I had learned this year because these are the things that I thought about so many times on these hikes. Maybe they don’t belong on a food blog. Maybe they belong in my head, unshared with the world. But, I know many of you out there who have shared the same difficulties and challenges as I have may understand. After all, we’re all in this together.
I’ve learned that sometimes people show anger when they are the most afraid. And most of the time, the fear is that they will either lose something or be wrong about something.
I’ve learned that sometimes the people who talk the most sometimes know the least.
I’ve learned that there are people who will, just by asking you one question, change your life. And that question is, “what makes you happy?” (Thank you, Dr. Guill. You are one of the most incredible people I have ever met.)
I’ve learned that when you start dating someone, and your guy friends tell you repeatedly that he is a jerk, then they are probably right. (said jerk and friends shall remain nameless.)
I’ve learned that cupcakes really can make the world a better place.
I’ve learned that if my dog likes you, then you still can be a mean person. But if she doesn’t like you, then you seriously are bad news.
I’ve learned that the sound of my feet running through the woods on a trail is one of my favorite sounds in the whole world.
I’ve learned that eating truffle-flavored popcorn at 2am in bed is probably not a good idea (Thank you, Jill and Mari Paz. You are the smartest, most beautiful, and sincere friends a girl could ask for. Except we probably won’t be doing that again any time soon.)
I’ve learned that there is beauty in most things.
I’ve learned that some of the best teachers don’t just teach facts: they teach by example, by leadership, and by listening. And by having a sense of humor. (Thank you, Dr. Brennick, for always making me laugh. And always appreciating my love for dancing hair follicles and hugging eosinophils.)
I’ve learned that friends and family are the most important things in life. And I’ve learned that friends who go out of their way to cross things off your bucket list with you are the most special. (Thank you, Jeff Tiger.)
I’ve learned that there can sometimes be several right answers to one question (Thank you to my attendings and residents, in dermatology and pathology, for challenging and inspiring me every single day.)
I’ve learned that even a little encouragement can go a long way (Thank you to Pat, Lynn, Irene, Cindy, and the rest of the dermatology nurses and staff. Pat, I will never forget the day you put the note in my bird necklace. I still have it, and I always will.)
I’ve learned that taking a leap of faith is always the best decision because no matter what, the journey there will teach you something.
I’ve learned that handwritten notes in the mail from friends can make your day. And so can random emails and texts. And so can Play-Doh figures of yourself from your attending that magically appear on your desk during the day. (Thank you, Dr. Perry-I know you read this, and it has meant the world to me. Dr. Memoli, too. Thank you.)
I’ve learned that anything can happen in a year. Hearts can heal and break and minds can expand. But it’s always a growing process.
I’ve learned that if you can’t be silly or allow anyone to see you being silly, then we probably shouldn’t be close friends. Because this girl loves to be silly. (Thank you, Aelayna. Honeybadgers, donkeys, and supercats are always the best when you are around.)
I’ve learned that people who don’t smile back at you are probably really unhappy with themselves and you have nothing to do with that.
I’ve learned that sometimes you just have to tell it like it is…tactfully, of course. (Thank you, Dr. Samie. Yes, I DO operate on bubbles, cupcakes, and kittens. And so should you. Life is much better that way. But I still think lemon desserts are awesome. And chocolate and hazelnut combinations.)
I’ve learned that a dog’s wiggling tail, a cat’s purr, a glass of wine, and a bubble bath can turn most bad days into much better ones.
I’ve learned that there comes a point in your life (or at least there should come a point in your life) when the judgments of others just don’t matter to you anymore.
I’ve learned that you can always prove people wrong by going out and doing the one thing they said that you couldn’t do without them.
I’ve learned that true gratitude can be one of the most powerful experiences a human can have.
I’ve learned that some express their care for you in endless ways, whether it’s by including you in a dance class, sharing a dinner, or watching a TV show together every Sunday night (or by simultaneously texting each other while watching a TV show miles away from one another).
I have learned not to take a cab if I possibly can in San Diego. (Thank you to seat belts.)
I’ve learned that I have a lot left to learn. And I have a lot left to accomplish.
I’ve learned that if people have a preconceived notion of you, whether its based on your past, your clothes, your voice, or your choice in friends, it’s usually pretty hard to change that. And if they don’t give you a chance to prove them wrong, well, then, it’s their loss.
I’ve learned that there are little signs and intuitions given to you each day, and that you should trust them.
I’ve learned that I know how to love. And I know that it might scare people off or appear insincere to some. But I know that it’s love, and it’s worth giving, even if not returned.
I’ve learned that if you radiate love, it will come back to you tenfold. In unexpected places and ways, but it will always come back to you.
Thank you for an amazing year, Dartmouth. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.