Talking Songs for Walking
We are by now seven months into the pandemic by my reckoning, and I cannot speak Japanese, carve walking sticks into realistic snakes or do 40 sequential push-ups. That is to say, my more ambitious plans have faltered. Unexpectedly, a hobby my family took up in the spring has stuck: that of walking.
Walking is a hobby well suited for people who enjoy reading and writing. Growing up, I went through a period when I ambled around my neighborhood and beyond looking for inspiration. But you can only cross the paths of so many suspicious cops and drunken teens before other creative outlets become more appealing. These days, it’s different. I am no longer mistaken for a vagrant because I carry before me the shield of cuteness. That is, I push a double stroller bearing my two daughters.
During this shift from a sedentary commute to walking, I quickly discovered that a short trip to the end of my street and back wasn’t enough. Our trio began stretching the loop, the outer edges of which were determined more by the attention spans of a toddler and baby than the gameness of my legs. Three, 4, 5 miles. We pushed on, every morning, and sometimes garnished our evenings with a postprandial stroll as well.
Time and distance feel different on foot. What in a car seems a short drive on a barely perceivable slope can be a daunting slog while pushing a stroller in 90 degree heat. I came to avoid certain narrow, windy roads as irresponsibly dangerous.
Still, I learned to trust the random and habit-breaking, and realized that, more often than not, the differences often weigh in favor of the feet. In the spirit of poet Walt Whitman, another ambulator, I was able to appreciate lawns and gardens in all their diversity: unruly, minimalist, baroque, sprawling, quaint, conservative, festive, shy and nuanced. On some of the best trips, I let the toddler choose the turns and encountered undiscovered neighborhoods with their own peculiar landscapings.
I also met my neighbors. While it was my companions who drew the most interest, I took pleasure in this unfamiliar experience. Talking to the people who live near me. What strange times we live in.
One evening before a rainstorm, the baby silently dropped her toy lamb onto the sidewalk. Some good Samaritans found it, nestled the lamb into a waterproof bag, and gently hung him by a nail from a telephone pole. Then they posted their discovery on the town news Facebook site, gathering hundreds of likes and comments from people hungry for the heart-warming. The next morning, our route was set: The lamb, now a celebrity, was returned to its delighted owner, and the way home was one of sunshine and clear skies. At least one father had his faith in human decency restored, and the path ahead seemed more inviting, but still, perhaps, far too short.