Sunday, February 7, 2010


Olive knows. She's no dummy. This is the highlight of her day and I'd be lying if I said it wasn't also the highlight of mine. As I strap Opal onto my belly in her beloved lightblue sling, Olive begins to pace. As I put on my tennis shoes, Olive adds whimpers to the pacing. But all question is cast aside when I slide into the over sized grey zip-up sweatshirt (big enough to zip up over Opal while she is on my chest) and it's at this point Olive explodes into a convulsing mess of canine bliss. I strap on her collar and kelly green leash and off we go for our daily walk.

We walk almost every day, Opal, Olive and I, except for the days that are a vicious example of winter showing off, with temperature in the single digits or when it's actively snowing. And it is on those uncommon days that we all feel more than slightly strange and unlaced.

The muscles in my legs begin to peculate even before we reach the end of the driveway and my biggest decision for the moment is whether to go left or right. Different from my approach to many other decisions that arise during the day, I make the choice without breaking my stride. We move forward like a tiny school of fish, one unit. We go left.

The details of our surroundings rise to the surface of what could otherwise easily be a broad, indeterminate landscape; details that greet us like familiar faces in a crowd. The graffiti on the stone wall. The sycamore that litters branches onto the sidewalk below it, as colorless as newspaper. The funky house on the corner painted primary colors and home to the overly friendly dog who is never fenced in.
Then here is the place where the path wanders away from the neighborhood houses for a moment to lead us through a field, like a moment of space between songs on the radio. There are a dozen or so old fence posts and a grown-over well that alludes to what life was like in this very spot before the subdivisions sliced it in half with a sidewalk like a hair part and filled its edges with houses. We think it may have been a farm. We wonder of there is anything buried there.

So much seems to live in this used-to-be farmland and in the air above it and presumably the ground below. The cottonwoods, bare and spindly without their leaves, have branches that reach with warped joints into the sky. A single bird is inevitably perched at the tip of the highest branch, paused, observing, and every so often a swarm of black birds erupts from the viscera of one of the trees like ink spilled upward. Quite a sight.

Olive trots along at my side, I see her ears flopping in the form of the shadow that precedes us. We walk at virtually the same time every day and, at this part of our walk, we almost always have a shadow that precedes us like a tour guide. If Opal was not already asleep when we left the house, she most certainly is at this point. We have never, not once, gotten more than 10 minutes into a walk without her little pumpkin head falling heavily against my chest as her breathing sinks to a deep, slow hum.

I meditate on the sound of my steps against the pavement and how they mix with what is in my ears. If the headphones are in, I either align my walking rhythm to Gnarls Barkley, Jurassic Five, Regina Spector or go into a kind of cadenced auto-pilot in the background of This American Life or Wait Wait Don't Tell Me. Without headphones, my steps tap out a long and homogeneous sentence in Morse code.

When we reach the lake, we take a lap or two around it and return home the way we came, unwinding what we so sufficiently wound up, with the sun on the opposite side. The path around the lake is a mine-field of moss-colored goose poop, the offerings of dozens of geese who inhabit it, though it is half frozen. It is a constant source of curiosity why these winged characters did not fly south with their sisters and brothers. They seem pretty uncomfortable as they walk with staccato steps across the ice, resembling sleepy humans crossing a cold linoleum floor with bare feet, and they often reside with their own heads in their armpits to keep warm like a kittens on the sofa.

This is the walk I took when I was pregnant, occasionally at first, but eventually exclusively as my main form of exercise as I grew impressively girthy in the later months. This walk is laden with en-route benches, fences to lean on and even a covered picnic table positioned for perfect lake-viewing, perfect for someone who requires frequent breaks. I spent longer periods of time pausing and dwelling in the shade on those warm autumnal afternoons then I spent actually actively moving. I no longer need to take advantage of those resting spots, but I can't pass by them without thinking of those days, only one season prior to now, when the leaves were still on the trees. Now the trees are naked and the sweet baby gets her ride on the outside.

This is my meditation, my daily experience of traveling through poetry, a time when I feel virtually and deliciously off-duty. By the time we return to the house, we are all sun-soaked and aligned with the same rhythm that pushed those sacred cottonwoods vertically into the clouds and provided the gaggles of geese with squeaky-toy voices as they stretch their cold wings and rupture into flight.

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