A Beauty on the Trail

“Do you want to walk to the river?” I asked my daughter, who had just come home from college for a short visit after spring semester. I hoped my wide smile made me look like the fun mom I try to be instead of the desperate mom who wants one-on-one time with her girl.

Regardless of what my smile conveyed, she said yes.

Although the temperature that spring afternoon felt cool, we were hot by the time we made it to the river. Fortunately, the trail’s tall foliage and canopy above cooled us off. 

The river flowed wide and fast, the gurgle of the water providing the soundtrack for our conversation. My daughter filled me in on her friends, her classes, her internships and work—all the details that wouldn’t fit into daily texts and weekly phone calls. She talked about what she looked forward to most this summer—fewer hours at work, relaxation, fun with friends, and time alone.

Other people shared the trail with us that afternoon—some alone, some in groups, and some with dogs, who panted, sniffed, and tugged their leashes. When the trail got too narrow for everyone, we stepped aside to let others pass. Occasionally, we stopped at bare spots along the riverbank that offered a clear view of the water.

After a while, my daughter and I started back, retracing our steps, talking about her part-time job, classes next year, and future plans.

As we neared an area where the trail widened, a small group of people approached us. They stepped off the path and over to the river—all of them except for one. A little girl of about six-years-old stopped in front of us and flung her arms open wide, a huge grin on her face. 

I smiled at her. Did we know each other? She wore an outfit my daughter would have loved at that age: a mint green sundress, purple striped socks, and sparkly pink shoes. Her brown hair was short and curly, and her grin was missing a tooth or two. When I saw her eyes, I realized three things: she had Down syndrome, we didn’t know each other, and she wanted a hug anyway.

I kept walking straight toward her, smiling and saying hi, and wrapped my arms around her. A tall woman who must have been her mother stood nearby, and we smiled at each other. 

“Oh, you are such a sweetie,” I said, hugging the little girl close, my eyes filling with tears, my smile as wide as hers. 

My daughter said hi, too, and the little girl let go of me, moved over, and hugged her. 

Turning to her mother, I said, “She is so sweet. She must bring you so much joy.”

The woman nodded. “She does.”

“What’s your name, sweetie?” I asked the girl. 

She pointed to herself and said what sounded like “baby.” Her mother said, “Annie.” Putting my hand under Annie’s chin, I gently lifted it so I could see her face. Her skin was soft, her smile bright and open. 

Annie radiated love.

Other people walked around us, but I was so focused on Annie, I wasn’t aware of them. Time seemed suspended. It was a beautiful moment, full of love and joy. My spirit lifted, and I felt as though she might be an angel.

When her mother called her over a few minutes later, Annie took my hand as though she wanted to stay with us. The woman smiled at her. “Do you want to go with them?” she asked.

We laughed. “Oh,” I said to Annie, lightly, “we have to go. Maybe we’ll see you again. You should go over and look at the river. It’s so pretty!”

Annie let go of my hand, went to her mother, and looked back. Waving, we turned and walked away quickly. My eyes were a bit wet, and so were my daughter’s. 

“I think I might cry,” I said, laughing a little. 

“I thought so,” she said, and sniffled.

“That was so sweet. I’m going to write about it.”

“I thought so,” she said, and we laughed.

Picking up the thread of our earlier conversation, we headed toward home. That feeling of warmth and joy stayed with me, though, throughout the weekend. 

I was surprised by unexpected beauty at the river that day. Her name was Annie.

Freelance writer and speaker LeAnne Martin looks for the beauty around us and encourages others to do the same. Through her words and pictures, she shares glimpses of beauty in nature, the arts, and the unexpected on her blog,GlimsenSign up to receive her weekly posts, and you’ll get a free gift of beauty in your inbox. You can also connect with LeAnne on Facebook and Instagram. LeAnne lives with her husband and dog in a wooded neighborhood outside Atlanta and looks forward to FaceTiming her daughter in college.

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