Scotty and I walk between three and five miles around the neighborhood about four days out of seven. We see and greet mostly the same familiar faces at our first stop, the neighborhood park. After the park circuit is complete, we range further around the little bluff above the north bank of the Columbia that we call the Felida neighborhood. It's a former exurb that is quickly turning into a suburb. It was once farmland - fruit, fruit trees and pasture - but now is down to one disused dairy farm now used for pasturing a few beef cows. The rest is made up of a cluster of 80s-era ranch houses (built in what they figured at the time was rugged-individualist country) and several new McMansion plantations.
I like to steer us westward toward the bluff where we can see the Columbia, the surrounding lowlands, and the hills of Oregon in the distance. I like to perch up high on things like a cat (or a goat), so it's useful in that respect, and it's a pretty great view to boot.
The McMansion boom is returning now that the recession is over, and our viewing spots are growing smaller as new fences go up around new McMansions, each bloated house claiming the view as their own, not to be shared with the walking riffraff.
Where was I?
As we range away from the social obligations of the park, we are normally on our own, with very few fellow walkers or runners. But nearly every time, we cross paths with a man and his dog who are doing the same thing Scotty and I are. The man is probably in his 70s. The type who wears proper hiking boots that he has maintained for twenty years and walks in work pants and weather-appropriate outdoor gear. No workout gear. No running shoes. The dog is maybe an Australian Shepherd or Border Collie cross. A well behaved dog, on a long leash, leading the way but never pulling. I can tell from our meetings, which sometimes criss-cross more than once, that we generally cover the same territory at about the same pace, but on different routes. We always say hello, and our dogs always keep a polite distance from each other (Scotty loves people, but dogs are problematic and unpredictable. Unless he gets a very strong signal of submissive joy, he would rather keep his distance.)
I have been walking for fitness (or what passes for fitness) since college, when I would walk the Amazon Trail in Eugene and listen to Rick James on my Walkman. I remember places we lived by the music I listened to while walking. Eugene: Rick James and Chilliwack (look it up, Hosers). Austin: The Go-Gos. Fairfield/Vacaville, CA: The Eurythmics. Bend: The Cranberries and Chris Isaak. Tualatin: Fatboy Slim and The Dandy Warhols. Vancouver: The Decemberists and too many others to name here in the iTunes era. What I'm getting at is that walking is the thing that stuck. I tried running, and I still jog occasionally, but it has never felt natural, and even when I was putting in long miles, I would have to stop to walk every five minutes because my heart would race. I would love to love bike riding because my husband and son and extended biking family are dedicated to it, but I feel wobbly and weak on a bike, and can't find a comfortable center of gravity. I like to think I have good balance until I get on a bike and learn that I don't.
A while ago, I recognized the man and his dog at the park, a place where I have never met him before. This time, he had driven there and was helping out of the car a woman whom I assume was his wife, but aged by whatever infirmity was requiring so much effort by the man to assist her out of the car. He then took her arm and walked slowly, slowly around the park with her. It was not easy for either of them, but they painfully and cheerfully struggled around the walkway together. It appeared, as we greeted each other, that she not only walked with difficulty but also talked with difficulty.
I suppose there are all kinds of reasons to walk for miles. One may be fitness. One may be a small respite from a day spent in service to a spouse.
At this point I am straining to contain my urge to write something about walking in someone else's shoes because there is nothing more horribly used-up and cliched, BUT IT FITS. I never considered his life outside our walkies until I met him at the park that day. And now I feel differently and more fond and protective of him than I did before I got that peek into his life.
Introverts are all the rage right now, but being one, and a shy one at that, I have to point out that the reason the shy are shy is that they are so frightened of the way they might be perceived by others that they are paralyzed in simple social interactions. They are so overly concerned with themselves that they forget to be concerned or even curious about the other person in front of them. It's a disorder of narcissism. So every chance I get to shut down my own self worth issues and look at someone else's situation is a gift. And I'm thankful for the chance to see the man and his dog in a new light. And hope to use it to think the best of the next person I meet.
Sorry about the self indulgent Deep Thoughts. The next post will be about farts.