As I Walk
By Scott McPherson
. I have taken this way for years but still I see new and delightful things. As my mind wanders it clears of the stress and anxieties of the day as if it is being washed with fresh clean water. I feel the worries melt away as I take the first few steps.
When I cross from the parking lot to the path it is as if I am hanging up my coat and putting on my slippers to enjoy a relaxing evening. I open the door and before me is comfort and peace. I don’t amble in fact I walk quickly toward it. But the pace means nothing. I feel like a child hurrying toward the playground. I press forward to the familiar and leave other familiar things behind. I have often smiled just to think of how I nearly missed this moment of peace as I have looked down from my office window. Why would anyone prefer to stay in there?
The first turn takes me on a path that could lead me anywhere I would want to go. I could stay on that path to the road and keep going until I reached the Atlantic Ocean or veer off toward Canada or Mexico. Does anyone else see it this way? I could be in the first stages of an epic journey. “HE WALKED ON INTO THE SUNSET.” But not today. I will only taste that journey and when I have reached my limit I will return from whence I came.
This path is hard, concrete. It was poured as so many sidewalks with lines spaced regularly to allow expansion. Sometimes I try to take big steps from each slab, missing the cracks. Usually I pay no attention and keep my eyes up. On this day the path is littered with newly fallen leaves. The breeze will soon scatter them and the caretakers will brush them away. They are old friends too. Can I tell what tree they are from?
The leaves not only differ in color and shape but they have distinct smells. I try to memorize the pungent odors but it is hard to do. Is there a way to describe a smell? To me the locust tree with its spiny twisting branches is tinny, sweet, heavy. It has seed pods made of stringy tough material. The seeds are smooth and dark and look like pieces to some strange game. The stately oak is warm and inviting almost like the smell of a Rattan chair. Cottonwood broad and tall is just. . . cotton-woody. Pines are easy but it is hard to tell them apart. When I walk past a stand of pine trees I can close my eyes and imagine I am in the mountains or my favorite Black Hills. In a few days the leaves will be gone and only the bark will be there to show me who they are. I wish I could remember how to distinguish these surface textures one from another.
Just ahead is the bridge. This one would be ideal for a troll to guard. He could remain well hidden until passersby trod on the wooden piers. What is it about bridges that is so enticing? I always want to stop and look into the water flowing beneath to see what is there. Sometimes it just lays there stagnant, awaiting fresh rain to swell its flow. The water brings up memories of boyhood discovery and the joy of finding something new as I peered at the surface. I used to fill bottles with water and algae to be viewed with a microscope. It seemed to me as if no one else had ever discovered the colorful beauties before. I drew pictures of them and had my own names for my “discoveries.” As a littler boy, even younger, I wanted to fish in any stream I found. I would imagine catching fish even along the street if water was flowing there. At this time of year the water is amber and clear and the flow is steady but not riffling. It makes little sound as it begins its long trek toward the distant ocean.
In the Spring there is a mallard pair which raises their brood year after year just below the bridge. I don’t know if it is the same pair but I have seen them every year. Today they are nowhere to be seen. They must have joined their cousins winging their way to the south ahead of winter’s blast so soon to come. Yet nearby a willow lazily casts its branches toward the water near their abandoned nest and wild roses now loaded with red juicy hips, provide a perch for the sparrows. Today there is a rustling sound in the plants near the water. They are about to go dormant for the winter.
On the other side of the bridge once existed a beautiful garden. The owners meticulously weeded and nurtured the multicolored flower bed from Spring to Fall. They loved the garden and walkers like me loved to see it. It was the perfect transition to further discovery. Where color once exploded along the verge now there is nothing but grass carelessly sewn, weedy and poorly trimmed. I don’t know the people who used to live there but I am sad that they have moved on perhaps to a town-home or assisted living where they can only dream and remember their perfect garden.
The path then winds a little. Some neighbors keep their gardens near the path and I enjoy their flowers and fruit trees. Others have dogs that excitedly bark as if to ask to be taken along on the walk. They seem friendly, though they are large and appear to be from a fierce breed. Nevertheless, the sounds of their barks is not harsh or threatening. Usually I also meet a few people who take the same route about the same time each day. We greet each other and smile a knowing smile. We know what others are missing today.
“The Crossing” has become and obstacle. Where once the press of a button brought a stop light holding up traffic on the four lane thoroughfare, now the timed delay is so long that few runners or walkers wait for the signal to change. I see crossing as worth the risk. There is so much more to be seen beyond this barrier. It is as if one must take the plunge to find the beauty that exists on the other side. Here the grass really is greener. Many people now know this too and a generous parking area was built for them to begin their own journeys along this path.
Truly an epic journey should have this beginning. Here is a place to leave your car behind and take to a path leading away from the hustle and bustle of town life. This path is gentle but well populated with trees and birds. Squirrels love it here and field mice, though not often seen, can be heard flitting through the dry grass. I have seen tracks from deer, raccoons, and opossums as well as more domesticated animals in the moist earth beside the trail. While I walk most times the path is also frequented by whole families bicycling together or runners preparing for their next marathon.
Some people can’t come to the path free from their “other” lives. They dare to wear electronic earpieces and listen to their harsh music/noise when there are so many wonderful sounds to be heard out here. God has provided the music and accompaniment to their journey. Do they know the sound of a squirrel running through the branches? The call of the cardinal or wren? They certainly don’t know about the little mice or birds in the grass. Why are they here? I love even the crunch of stone under foot and the wind whispering through the sheltering the trees. I have heard the calls of the hawk and owl. The bluejays’ piercing calls and whistles can be heard all year long. It is part of the walk, the experience of taking the path and I wouldn’t want to miss it.
Beyond the parking lot the path seems different. The awning of trees presses in from above almost as if it will close over any trespasser who dares to enter. As the path bends ahead one cannot tell if they will be swallowed up by and ancient byway or find a much more benign scene. Though the sinister could be waiting there is no bite to this bark. It is an introduction to prove that the path is greater beyond this point. I no longer see the hand of man in the order of the plants. A wilder force has been at work here. Instead of an oak here and an ash over there can be seen a mix of mulberry trees, wild plum bushes, hackberry, and cedar trees begun at random by much more natural means. The path now appears carved out of the natural world as it continues on its way.
Looking back before the first bend in the trail one can just see the cars resting and waiting patiently for their owners. Will the people all return or will some become so enthralled by the journey that they will leave their vehicle and just keep going? I have yet to hear of one who has given into this passion but I understand the magnetism of such a proposal. It is the subject of a dream, a work of fiction just as quickly brushed aside as if you awake from sleep. I too can only come to this place for a short time before returning to life as it has become. But one day reason may give in to passion.
Moving around the bend the newness of the path’s character is evident. Now only a few houses can even be seen. I am in the country now and the measured rows of corn lay before me marching up to the culvert beside the path. Though manmade they belong here in this part of the world. Here I will be able to watch as the crops progress through their life-cycle for yet another season. In some spots the harvesters have passed leaving a startling contrast between the tall tan stalks laden with their prizes and the stubby remains mercifully left behind by the combine. Birds sweep in to glean the kernels dropped here and there another happy consequence of the reaping.
The sun is different here and now than anywhere else or any other time. As the golden Fall rays of sun pass through the colorful leaves it gains a new quality. Perhaps the color is reflected back into the sky as well. The air has a new unique quality too almost seeming to cause distances to be shorter. As I walk along the path at times it seems that I could walk into another time altogether. It is as if just around that bend I will see women wearing large hats and flowing dresses and men with handle-bar mustaches making their way toward me.by