Oh my goodness—I was walking stonewalls again. My body and mind had slipped back into the decades old rhythm of the Maine pasture gait, coming together finally again as a creative, centering process of composition.
After that morning, everything changed. The walk to work became more and more mine, an opportunity to write, express, and observe, a daily bridge of creativity binding office and home, and helping to center myself within this particular transitional point in life.
Flash forward nearly one year, and our daughter is in remission, our family is putting together the pieces, and I still walk to work. Why?
I walk because I appreciate differently and more deeply now the world around me. Gaze no longer lowered and moving slower and rhythmically across 4.5 miles, by the spring of last year, I started naturalizing and personalizing what could be considered a seemingly interchangeable and reducible stretch of suburban Maryland by really seeing and listening to what was going on beyond the litter-rim.
As the months rolled forth, a different, more natural Maryland began to emerge on my walks, a flipside Land of Mary made up of leaf-lined hollows, fern-swallowed swales, soft-lit glens and vales, tumbling creeks, and pooling backwaters nestling between the dangerously urgent, hard places; a green, teeming Land of Mary where creatures largely keep to themselves in plain sight. I know where a mother woodchuck raises a family on a highway bank; I have seen the brown hawks circling overhead and know where they roost and swoop down on field mice living on highway trash; I have knelt behind a fallen log, drenched and cradling the shredded membranes of an umbrella, while watching a doe nuzzling her fawn as lightning crackled and danced around us; I have been greeted by dozens of turtle heads synchronously breaking the surface of a side pond on a searing July afternoon, mouths opening in delight; and I know now absolutely, certainly, without a doubt to never, ever come between a hungry turkey vulture and its gray squirrel breakfast.
I still walk because for over a year I have personalized and rooted this 4.5 miles with experience and memory, and am eager to learn more. It’s come alive. There’s the intersection where an antique tractor barrel-assed through one foggy morning; there’s the cross-walk where I was nearly hit by a Doritos truck (obituary headline: Middle-aged Man Cashes in Chips); and another intersection where I responded to a bullying, revved up truck with the most appropriate non-verbal gesture. There’s the drain hole cover where I picked up a smelly, goobly-encrusted black glove, thinking it was the missing mate for one of mine, and then lugged the stinking thing for four miles back home only to discover it was for the wrong hand. Gorgeous live piano music drifts down regularly from one apartment complex; an extremely yippity and miniscule French-something-or-another canine races a white wooden fence back and forth in front of another. There’s the bus stop midway where kind-hearted bus drivers would see me approach and wait—they now recognize me and wave. And, I see the pitted knoll where, on late afternoons an overly enthusiastic condo owner attempts to get Mimi his German shepherd to do her business by pointing his finger right next to her arse, hopping up and down, and urging her in a falsetto voice to “Poop! Poop! Poop!” Soon, I had no choice but to share through writing the wackiness and wonder experienced during those walks across the Land of Mary.
I walk because the rhythm of uninterrupted cadence returns my best writing, my creativity to me. And write I have, developing articles and tackling my memoirs with renewed flourish. As I used to do with homework, the morning walk to work prepares me for daily presentations, meetings, and reports at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. The return walks home last year became something charged and special as memories and the ways to tell those stories began gathering, glistening, and cascading; my afternoon journey alongside the highway often becoming a veritable aboriginal walkabout tracing and bringing back the songlines of before. So many times I rush into the apartment brimming with tales by the end of the home walk. Invariably sitting immediately at the computer, donned jacket and hat ignored (and sometimes really needing to pee), I begin typing, urgently.
I walk because I have been on autopilot and shut down for too long and this slower, deliberate walk is my path, exactly where I want and need to be, today. I no longer climb corporate rungs or flee from the long before but have chosen to stop, lay it all on the line, and work hard for a greater cause and less money. Head held high, I walk exposed, patiently making my way to the next stoplight in front of hundreds of boxy, exchangeable, faceless vehicles, the only real, visible person on this highway we share daily.
And so, dear reader, we’ve reached the end of our little chat. You’ve just sped past, perhaps wondering who the hell is walking in the rain, carrying a tattered umbrella in right hand, worn sack in left, and a hint of a smile. Well, that’s just me—you guessed it—writing these final lines in my head as I make my long way home.
No worries. For the first time in years, I know exactly where my next steps take me.