There is nothing like a long walk in a small town, especially one you know and love. I got in 6700 steps this morning in my home town. Let me tell you about my walk.
I start on the south side of town, where Mom's apartment is located. I head straight north, past a beautiful brick house that has a large maple where the birds are chattering briskly, getting caught up on all the gossip from the night before (who slept with who? who knows?) Roses line the sidewalks, losing their petals now, but still brilliantly pink and dark red where the flowers cling to the stalk.
You have to be careful walking on the sidewalk. There are so many old, mature trees lining the streets that the roots have poked the concrete in spots, so if you're not careful you can do a header. Roller skating is definitely not doable on some of these sidewalks.
As I pass in front of houses, in the space *between* houses, I hear the grain elevator on the west side of town, the fans busy with a rhythmic whooshing noise as they dry the stored grain. It's too early for harvest, so this must be grain that was stored over-winter. As I cross the railroad tracks, my guess is confirmed. I see fat yellow kernels of corn lying in among the creosote covered ties, left there when one of the freight cars pass. A mouse darts out from the shrubbery lining the tracks, his cheeks full of stolen corn. I'm guessing there's a lot of fat and happy mice living within mouse-distance of the tracks.
As I reach downtown, I turn left (west) and walk along the last residential street before the downtown begins. One corner has two churches, and a sign in front of one says "Free ice cream, every Wednesday, kindergarten through fifth grade, 3 to 5." That's after school entertainment, indeed. I pass a couple of other walkers, each with a dog, and we smile and nod and agree it's a beautiful morning.
I reach my old house, where I grew up and I take another left, heading south. A man on a bicycle passes me. He's wearing a tie and dress pants, has on a helmet, and is carrying a paper cup of coffee-to-go in one hand, and steering with one hand. No need to worry about traffic here, since it's only three blocks to town and that's probably where he's headed. We smile at each other and agree it's a beautiful morning.
I start to zigzag, going east and west along quiet residential streets, delaying the time I have to return inside. On one of my 'zigs' I spy a woman crouched over a tangle of flowers in her front yard, camera in hand. As I approach, she says, "It's a Hawkeye spider, see?"
I join her in peering and see that, yes indeed, there's a big black-and-yellow spider dangling in a web, highlighted by morning dew. The web broke in the night and the spider has repaired it, big zipper-like stitches gleaming whitely with spider-juice and still thick from where it was woven. The intricate precision is amazing, the delicate edges blending perfectly with the old pieces of web.
The woman looks at her camera. "I've been trying to get his picture every morning. I won't know if they are any good until it gets developed." I nod and agree, wondering when was the last time I talked to anyone who used film in their camera -- or who had a camera as large and clunky as the one she held. I wonder, too, if she'll wait with anticipation for those pictures to come back from the developer. In our town, pictures are 'sent out' and it may be three or four days before you'll see the result.
We watch the spider as it weaves, then I move on just as the seven a.m. work whistle blows. It has blown at 7 in the morning and noon every work day since I can remember. I thought it was used for the canning factory, but now that I think of it, the canning factory (long defunct) only was in operation in the summer, which made sense since we're in farming country. But that whistles blows at 7 and 12, summer and winter, so why do we have that whistle? I'm not sure. It's a mystery.
As I walk, I see someone has played Hangman on the sidewalk using brightly colored chalk. I pause to puzzle out the answer, agreeing that yes, it was a tough one ('suspend' -- who thought of that one? Was it a school fear, perhaps?) As I continue my walk, I critique landscapes, mentally removing a tree here, installing a flower bed there, trimming a shrub there or painting a house, perhaps.
Children start to appear, singly and in pairs. A young boy & girl pass me, probably in their early teens. They may be just friends, or maybe boyfriend/girlfriend. They appear to be close, but at that age it's hard to tell what that means. A young boy, probably 10 or so, passes me wearing his Cub Scout shirt, his backpack as big as his small back. He is apparently practicing something as he walks because his lips move and his hands make small gestures unless he tucks them tightly under his pack. After I pass him I look back and see him take a stance and pitch an imaginary fast ball before he hurries to catch up with friends waiting for him on the corner.
It's only after they leave my sight that I realize how odd this would be in a large town. The only school buses here are those that pick up the country kids and bring them into town. If you live in town, you walk or get a ride to school. It is not at all unusual to see young children, accompanied by slightly older children, meandering toward the schools, all of which now are on the south side of town. In my day, the schools were distributed in different spots, but now there is no more "East is least and West is best." Now all the grade school kids go to one big school. Progress, I suppose.
Dogs bark at me from their yards as I cross that dividing line that they have designated as their Protection Zone. I'm in the east side of town now, and the cemetery isn't far away. I consider going to visit Dad, but I think I'll save that for another walk. I head back to the south and west, hearing the calisthentic-sounding intonations carrying across the breeze from the high school. "On a six-count then turn -- AND -- one-two-three-four-five-six-and TURN." It takes me two or three blocks to realize it isn't physical education but the marching band, out on the football field as they practice before school.
As I head back to the apartment, I spy another 'good luck' marker on the sidewalk corner. These were printed into the pavement, indicating a junction of waterworks, just small circles or sometimes a small metal disk that showed the city maintenance workers where the pipes were. As children, we made sure to step on each one and make a wish, because they were Good Luck. So I do an awkward little dance to tap each one at each corner of the sidewalk square before going back into the nursing home to join Mom.
Tomorrow I'll go to the west side of town and explore those streets and on Sunday I'll probably visit Dad. I wonder what I'll see on those days? But I think I already know ... after all, this is my home town.