Saturday, October 29, 2011

Taking it slow

I have learned that the swiftest traveler is he that goes afoot.  Henry David Thoreau

 I walk to school.  Not every day, but most.  I drive only when an appointment after school means being somewhere at a distance in a big hurry.  Rain, snow, mud, they do not dissuade. 

Thirty-five years ago, when I began to jog for exercise, I learned to appreciate changing weather.  Forging ahead is only a matter of dress.  Prepare for the weather, and you will not be at odds.  The job I secretly covet is mail carrier—those foot soldiers who realize a daily hike in every condition.

Lately, I have walked to school, then home, then back to school in the evening for musical rehearsals, then home again in the dark.

Be jealous. 

I walk more than half a mile, in the dark, through a friendly neighborhood where I know who lives in most houses. 

And now it is fall, the best of seasons.  In the dark walk home, the wind rustles dried leaves, the last of crickets and locusts still sing, the scent of fresh mown lawns transports me to every Saturday of a long ago childhood, dogs bark, and an occasional walker appears in the gloom.

Traffic is a far off hum somewhere down below this hillock in the Shenandoah Valley.  There are stars beyond the streetlights and, these days, some wood smoke in the chill.

When I first transferred to this neighborhood school, the world simultaneously contracted and expanded.

After a month of walking I realized that I had not even ventured to the other side of town. On a short errand I felt awkward at the wheel of my abandoned sedan.  And yet, in that month I had not felt confined. Instead I had discovered another world in the six blocks surrounding my home.

An unremarkable tree on the corner emerged from the fog one morning, every needle bearing a drop of dew.  Remarkable.  Once I helped a box turtle climb the curb.  Earlier I was halted by a humongous caterpillar the size of my palm.  This stranger had an other worldly quality and awakened a childish sense of awe.

The clouds are never the same.  Sometimes they are swollen and leaden with rain, another day just a yellow smear across a hazy sky, then pushed out completely by the greedy azure, or simple jagged lines of crystals scratched halfway to the clear blue.

I just have to remember to look up and not at my feet.  This morning, when I remembered to lift my eyes, I was startled by a glowing guava, all pinks and golds and purple, stretching across the eastern Blue Ridge.

Sometimes, when I get to school, the beauty of the literature I have taught and read my whole life resonates in the memory of a recent twelve-minute stroll.

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.                                               Ralph Waldo Emerson