My Words: Finding a message on a mushroom

I grew up reading every book I could find and fighting with my brother over who got to read the back of the cereal box at breakfast. I have been writing most of my life. I look for words everywhere.

But on Easter Sunday, I found words in unexpected places. I have no explanation for they came to be in the place I found them and I’m not sure that’s what matters.

They were at Oak Tree Nature Park in Mary Esther, one of my favorite local parks. The trail, which is about two-thirds of a mile, is rippled with roots and padded with soft sand and years of pine straw placed there by nature.

There are signs in the park, of course, but these are different. They are not rules or information about the plants and trees along the trail.

They are personal messages from someone. They are quiet. They are purposeful. Someone worked hard to leave each of these messages.

A tree too large for me to wrap my arms around is doubled over the path in one place. If were taller, I’d have to stoop to walk under it. Heading in one direction, it’s a majestic fallen tree that makes sense in a park where nature does most of the work.

Walking in the other direction, you see them — three foil letters meticulously screwed into the arch of the tree at least 7 feet off the ground. The letters spell “joy” in a glimmering olive-colored cursive. It’s almost but not quite camouflaged by the bark.

Joy is a word normally associated with Christmas. It’s not a word we use a lot otherwise. When was the last time someone shared with you that they felt joyful? When was the last time you identified that happy glow as joy? I can’t remember. I’m betting you can’t either.

I keep walking, consciously reversing my direction at a random point in the trail – something that feels almost wrong. I am a directional person, who has to force herself to focus on where she is at that moment rather than where she’s heading.

I’m practicing that, practicing paying attention to my surroundings, to my now. The sun makes soft shapes on the path as it sifted through the trees. Different shades of green shift in the light breeze. Walking over the two bridges, I focus on the creaking of the boards under my feet.

And along that way, I look to my left and notice what appears to be a white fungus growing out of a tree. It has marks on it that look like hieroglyphics at first. My first thought is that an insect traced an erratic path on the mushroom-like object.

I look again and see a word, spelled out in a slanting almost-cursive.

“Hey,” the tiny black lines spell. A smiley face the size of a pencil eraser marks one corner.

I pause and take a photo. I should question it but I am in a state of mind where the nonsensical makes sense.

I finish my walk and reach the parking lot, where I notice that in a spot cars are normally parked, there is a sign. It’s wooden, mounted on two posts and about the size of a mailbox. I have never noticed it before, even though I have been coming to this park for years. Maybe it’s always been there, between the cars.

I don’t know. I don’t know anything at this point. I haven’t processed any of it. And as I said at the beginning of this column, maybe it doesn’t matter how or when or why these messages are in the park. Just that they are there.

“Be Happy,” the wooden sign reads.

I will try.

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