Here’s an old joke from my childhood:
Q: “What did the snail say when he took a ride on the turtle’s back?
It came to mind recently during one of those wonderful and fleeting moments that ambush you and leave a smile on your face.
I was about to walk into the gym when the door opened and out rushed a young boy followed quickly by his mother.
“Stop!” she called, quickly catching up with him and taking his hand. “Stop and smell! This is what the earth smells like after it rains.”
I watched them both take a deep breath. I took one of my own, and said a little silent prayer of gratitude for this mom as they disappeared into the parking lot. Gratitude for a parent who slowed down, took the time and knew the value of connecting her child to a small wonder.
I remembered the ritual of the earth that I had shared with my father every time we took a walk in the woods. He would stoop, scoop up a handful of soil, hold it up to his nose and take a deep draught of the rich, winey aroma. Then he would extend his hand and bid me to do the same.
I keep that tradition. One year I brought my granddaughter, to the “headwaters of the Minesceongo” the small tributary of my Hudson River Valley childhood rambles. I scooped up some soil and reenacted the ritual.
A few years after that, I happened to ask my granddaughter what her favorite smell in the whole world was. She narrowed it down to two. The smell of fresh ground coffee beans and the soil in New York. Wheeeee! A girl after my own heart!
Don’t ask me to hike with you if you’re hell-bent on racking up the miles and making the summit as quickly as possible. You’ll leave me far behind. Double back and you’ll likely find me on my hands and knees with a magnifying glass in my hands examining the bark of a rotting log, or with my nose stuck in a newly discovered wildflower.
This pace is generally understood as appropriate for bird watching, leaf peeping, and other such types of excursions. But occasionally I run into a problem when I am taking a neighborhood walk at a slow pace. It happened recently, right here on my own street.
About a half a mile into my excursion, a Neighborhood Watch sign I hadn’t noticed before caught my attention.
You’ve seen them. “WARNING” encircled with a line through it peers an icon of a man in a black coat and hat. “WE IMMEDIATELY REPORT ALL SUSPICIOUS ACTIVITIES.” It turns out that walking slowly with a magnifying glass and a notebook may appear to some of my neighbors as a suspicious activity.
The very next day, I was stopped by the side of the road recording a passing thought when I vaguely sensed a car slowing down as it approached. The driver stopped and stared unblinkingly for several uncomfortable seconds. I could sense that he was eyeing me with suspicion. Sure enough, he asked what me what I was doing.
Just moseying and doing some writing in my journal,” I replied. “I live a few houses up the street.” I must admit I was quietly annoyed to have to explain myself for taking the time to walk slowly, reflecting on the beauty and vagaries of the universe. I offered a cheery nod. “Thanks for watching out for the neighborhood.”
What I really wanted to say, was: “Hey neighbor. I have a license to mosey. If you want one, I can issue you one too.”
Of course, that might have seemed truly suspicious. Then I’d have to explain that I was a storyteller and authorized as Secretary of State for the Realm of the Imagination to issue such a document.
What exactly do I imagine?
More moms and dads holding hands with their kids and stopping to smell the earth after the rain.
A magnifying glass in every book bag and briefcase.
Slow walks in the neighborhood and time to shoot the breeze and hear each other’s stories.
Moseying as popular as hot yoga and 30-minute high intensity spinning classes.
I went home and created an official License to Mosey — good for all 50 states! You can have one too. Just email me and I’ll send you one. You can address your inquiries to The Mosey Man.
Originally Published: January 19, 2020