Ponder this:

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hiking home

For Sunday Scribblings #173 - Where in the World?

Friday morning I drove down the hill and over the state road to the local auto repair shop. My power steering had gone away two days before, making steering around corners an upper-body workout, and only comfortably do-able if I rounded them on two wheels. Some of the roads here are narrow, with deep ditches; the two-wheel cornering was a little treacherous in spots. I showed up at 8:50 for my 9:00 appointment, thinking I would wait, wandering around outdoors taking pictures, and then sail off with my smooth steering restored. I asked TG where he wanted me to wait, and his eyes widened.
"You're gonna wait?"
"That was the plan. If that's not a good idea, I'll make other plans."
"It could be two, three hours before we even get the parts. And then there's puttin' 'em on..."
"Okay," I said. "I'll figure out something."
I went outside, checked my contacts on my cellphone and realized that everyone who might give me a ride home was sixteen miles away, and at work. So I set off to walk home.

I had plenty of time, and it wasn't raining. It was a good day for a long walk with a purpose. When I was a country kid I walked everywhere. I knew every tree root and hanging grapevine on our road. They were landmarks to me: far from home; closer to home; almost home. Walking with the goal of getting somewhere has become a rarity in my life. Sometimes I think of the old days when traveling took as long as it took and people gained hours of thinking time while they journeyed. If people got along better then than they do now, I think that's part of the reason. I thought the mental benefit would justify any physical discomfort I might feel.

It was a pleasure to walk on nice smooth pavement, much easier than tottering through hayfields on wobbly ankles. I happily admired the surrounding hills and stopped to investigate small orange flowers I had never seen. The road sloped downward at a very gentle angle and I was having a good time. Where the road curved, and my walking lawfully facing oncoming traffic might present too great a surprise for drivers, I crossed to the other side.
I heard a distant bang . . . bang . . . bang: Somebody pounding in a stake. A goldfinch dipped past me, a bright ball of sunshine on the wing.

Not a sunny day, but warmer than it had been. I grew a little moist. I took off my shirt, threaded it through the straps of my purse and my camera bag, and continued on in tank top and jeans.

Just at the curve, I stopped to watch and listen to water gushing out of a culvert to continue its flow into a stream bordered and dotted with steppable rocks, overhung with tree branches. I noticed how large the "curve" sign arrow was. It didn't seem that big from inside a car. "This is the beauty of walking," I thought, "Seeing things that I hadn't noticed ever before." After my breathing was a little back to normal I went on, and crossed the road again to accomodate another, opposite, curve.

On my left, thistles in fuzzy purple bloom, and roadside chicory, such a peaceful blue. ("During the Civil War they used chicory in place of coffee.")
I heard brook-babble and was delighted to stop and listen to that, seeing exactly where the water's drop over a particular stone made the sound.
I thought about unpacking the camera, but the deerflies have hatched and continued movement kept them at bay. Still, I carried one on my head.
I could feel him there, tasting the moisture from my scalp. I passed a hound who dutifully ran out from his house barking and meaning to look scary.
I thought if he bit me and I had to stop, that wouldn't be so bad. But I looked at him and kept walking and he retreated to his porch (I think. I didn't look.) satisfied with himself. "There. Scared another one off." I began to notice the squashed plastic cups on the road's shoulder.

There, around the last curve, the foot of my road. Like the Rocky Mountains to westward travelers, it seemed so close. I accommodated a painful callus on my left foot with a small hitch in my stride.

In the cool of the mouth of my dirt home-road, I stopped to enjoy the breeze that blew down the leafy channel from the top of the hill. I eyed the upward slope. I savored the small trickle of the runoff in the ditch. And breathed. Only a mile left and I would be home. I hummed the tune of "One more mountain, One more river, One more mile and I'll be home..." Stopped humming: needed air for other purposes.

One more mile. All at an angle. Upward. On a stony dirt road.

Inspired by my neighbor who frequently walks this road despite the onset of Parkinson's Disease, I began to count steps: I would stop every fifty-second step. If the road was a mile long, ten sets would see me at my driveway with only another seven hundred feet to go.

Stopped at the twenty-eighth step, I hauled air into my lungs. I heard a vehicle coming behind me. I turned to see a beautiful bright blue pickup truck.
A fragment of thought, "Ask for a ride," slithered through my brain. "Too embarrassing. Who can't climb a hill?" and I took another step. I wobbled, one foot crossing the other to keep my balance. I thought the truckdriver might think I was drunk. I continued carefully so that I would not tip over in front of his tires. He passed.

There is a spot on this dirt road where the greenery grows close and the air doesn't move.
Like a jungle.
The deerflies like that spot.
The mosquitos like it too.
I thought about the goodness of being able to sweat, how cooling it is as it evaporates, even where it drips from head to clothing.

A hundred feet more, the flora opened up and air, sweet air, blew over me.
Another hundred feet, and I was at the neighbor's "Quietude" sign. Last summer when I was walking for sport, that was the turnaround place. The slope gentles there, only a thirty-five degree angle.

I knew this part of the road. I knew the landmarks: far from home; closer to home; almost home. I was closer to home. I began again to take pleasure in the surroundings. A chipmunk practiced qajaasaarneq on low-growing plants; thirty feet from me, tiny bunnies browsed in the road, scampered away from me and stopped again to sniff; gray squirrels ran full-bore up tree trunks; I glimpsed one red squirrel. Behind me I heard scuffling small paws as furry bodies darted into thick undergrowth. I recognized groups of leaves that I photographed last fall when they were red and pink rather than these various shades of green. I greeted the hollow tree where fairies surely must live.

Through the leaves I heard the pang of a hickory nut falling hard on my storage shed's metal roof. Almost home.

Fifty feet into the driveway I could hear the dogs barking inside the house; they could hear me coming.

When you live in the country, on a dirt road where you recognize particular leaves and trees, "almost home" is home.


Mystic Indigo said...

What a great post...I used to walk everywhere too as a kid, and when my husband and I decided to give up one of two car payments to pay down some other debt, he walked the two miles to work everyday. He said it was one of the best decisions he had made, and now, 10 years later, we still only have one car and we both walk a lot. I thoroughly enjoyed your writing...the pace was just right!

Granny Smith said...

An absolutely mesmerizing post! I loved every line of it, although I can't imagine driving a car that should have power steering when the power steering is gone. You display strength of body and an appreciative mind. Also an eloquent voice to describe the particular impact on all your senses.

Carolynn Anctil said...

What a wonderful walk. Thank you for taking me with you. I could see, smell, and hear everything...even those pesky insects. It sounds like a beautiful spot in the world that you live.

Tigerbi said...

Oh, the memories that came flooding back to me as I read this, June ! I walked or roller skated everywhere in my small town and you brought me right back to those times...........as Granny Smith said you have 'an eloquent voice'

Tumblewords: said...

Loved going along on your walk - but I'm wondering, did you have to return to get the car? I might not want to walk that far again today! :) Wonderfully vivid post!

June said...

Thank you all for reading!

Stacie, doesn't walking do wonderful things for your head?
Granny, I am honored by your praise!
Carolynn, it is beautiful here; I hate to leave it for anything.
Tigerbi, don't you remember every crack in the sidewalk and every tree's bark?
Tumblewords, no. When they called to tell me it was ready, I begged a ride, which they happily provided. If they hadn't I would have waited until I could get one! Or until I got new sneakers!

Wanda..... said...

I so enjoyed your walk..."Stopped humming: needed air for other purposes" was a favorite line...reminds me of my hikes in the woods...and I'm very familiar with the sound hickory nuts make, falling on a metal roof...plus in the woods, certain trees say to me, I'm almost home... really related to your beautifully written post!

June said...

Wanda, I'm so glad you *got* that line! The experience had subtly changed by that point...

present said...

Thank you. Your descriptions took me along with you every step of the way. And, I agree, almost home is home.

George S Batty said...

Old Grizz has aching bones and a deep thirst after reading this. a nice glass of ice tea is waiting. nice writing