It is probably just a little bit bigger than a grain of sand, but the pebble in my shoe is relentless. It rocks beneath the tender skin below my little toe, nagging, nagging. I shake my foot, and it relocates.
Ahhhh… I sigh, and then, after a few strides, it resurfaces, poking the fleshy soft spot in the middle of my sole. No amount of foot gyrations dislodge it, and when I get to the retaining wall by the field that once was home to a school and soon will become a park, I sit down (the concrete is still a little damp from mid-night rains) and untie my shoe.
I shake it out thoroughly. I run my fingers around every inch of the shoe’s interior, and I rub down my sock, too, just in case that little culprit is caught in the knitting somewhere.
Then I slide my foot back into the shoe, and I lace it up snugly, and I take a little, mincing, shoe-store-y, How does THAT feel? kind of a walk.
It feels GOOD, I answer that imaginary shoe clerk’s voice, and I walk away from the retaining wall, heading north on Dresden Road, swinging my legs and my arms. Pebble-free.
For about 600 yards. Then suddenly, there’s an interloper, a tiny nagger, roiling around the insole of my lovely new sneaker.
How does a rock get INTO the shoe, anyway?
These are new shoes; there should not be a hole or a cavity or a tunnel in the thick, soft soles.
Perhaps I kick it in? One foot dislodges and kicks up grit and the other foot catches it?
But wouldn’t I see that happen? Wouldn’t my ankles complain about unregistered entrants?
I don’t know where the pebbles come from, but I know they are a nuisance. I lift my foot, and I Hokey-Pokily shake it all about, and a carful of early travelers swivel their heads to look at me oddly.
That’s what it’s all about, I think grimly, and they swivel their heads back forward, and they forge off on their morning mission.
The pebble hides itself someplace innocuous, and I stop my gyrating and walk back into my morning pace.
It has been a wet spring. That is, maybe, why the flowering trees and bushes have fragrant blossoms that are so long-lasting and so very splendid this year.
It is also why there are mud slicks on many stretches of the sidewalks I pace in the mornings.
I know where they are by now, and I don’t mess with them. I give them a far berth, arching around telephone poles in the hell strip, preferring to sully my pristine new white sneakers with grass stains than to play slip and slide in the mud.
A while back, I decided to extend my walk a little, and I thought I’d just tiptoe carefully through a shiny muddy patch heading up a southbound hill. And then, quickly, I found myself on my hands and knees, slickly connecting to that thin skim of mud.
The mud had grit in it, and my left knee burned as I crouched there on the pavement. “Damn,” I thought, and a car slowed down; its driver looked at me inquiringly.
I sprang to my feet, gingerly, and waved him on, and I stepped off the sidewalk into the soft grass.
And that was the last time I told myself I could just tiptoe across a mud slick.
There’s a black SUV waiting at the cross walk as I approach, and I slow down to see if they notice me. Usually folks wave me across, and I wave and smile, and they smile back.
But not always. If the driver doesn’t make eye contact, I stop and wait, because that, I think, signals this: If I don’t meet your eyes, I can ignore your existence.
Sure enough, the sleek black vehicle roars off in front of me, making a fast left turn, the driver’s eyes locked straight ahead.
The little white sedan waiting after the SUV beeps at me. The lady behind the wheel smiles and waves me vigorously on.
Most people are just that lovely.
But I’ve learned that it always pays to stop and check it out.
I turn onto the curved road that starts at the top of the hill and then swings back around to meet Dresden Road again in about three-fourths of a mile. It is a pretty neighborhood, and I like to alternate different sides of the street as I walk, getting different perspectives. Today I take the far side, and I remember the house almost at the end had two bumpus hounds who used to come rollicking out and bark at me, bark seriously enough to make me scurry across the street and hope there’s an invisible fence in play. I haven’t seen them since before the snow fell, though.
But, damn. Aren’t they there today? And as soon as I hove into view, they begin—and their barking sounds vicious to me, their rangy bodies pressing forward.
Come on. Come ON! they dare me.
I decline the challenge, and I hurry across the street. They stay in their yard, but they eye me, vocally, until I hit the main road again. From my heels to my neck, I feel cautionary prickles. I turn to look back before I turn south. They are watching, watching, and their barking is still relentless.
And deep in the backyards of the houses I will pass by, I hear more amp-ed up woofing. The bumpus hounds have awakened the barking chain.
They’re all securely leashed, I assure myself; I feel for the phone in my pocket, just in case.
It’s FINE, I reiterate, quelling the frantic voice that rises up.
But there are goose bumps on my neck until I leave the barking far behind.
It is a chill morning, but all the promise of spring backs up that coolness, a shy sun promising more warmth, and the trees preening in full fledge, and the birds, who are busy, busy, busy.
I round the corner and I am surprised to see two very active robins; they are happy, hopping, hopping, and yelling at each other when their little bird beaks are not avidly attacking whatever goodie they’ve discovered. I imagine bird seed or a split-open package of crushed cheese and crackers. The birds hop reluctantly into flight as I get very close. They light on a fence which is not so very far away, and they cock their heads and watch me.
I imagine they are trying to give me birdie-threatening looks, that they’re sending me warning thoughts: Leave our bootie alone, Sister!
And I look as I pass to see what they’ve been enjoying so much.
It’s a banana peel.
As soon as I am three feet away, they’re right back at it, pecking at that peel, screaming at each other with first-morning pleasure.
Robins like bananas. Who knew?
When I walk, I see the changes: the day the blossoms begin to fall and a brisk breeze makes that little corner kind of a like a fleeting visit to the inside of a snow shaker…only this ‘snow’ is not so cold, and oh, it smells so sweet. I see the hosta shooting up like tightly rolled cigars and then opening, opening, a little more each day, allowing themselves to be coaxed by the sun. Finally they settle in, their leaves wide open, the plant equivalent, I imagine, of a green, oxygenated, all-encompassing, hug.
And I see human-made changes as well. One day, a lawn will be thick and high and dense with dandelions; the next it will be trimmed and preening. That smell—fresh-cut grass with a hint of gasoline—lingers pleasingly.
Mulch appears where weeds were yesterday. New-planted pansies turn their blank, shy faces to the sun.
And one day the big brick house with the White House-style portico has a For Sale in front of it. I snap a picture and send it off to Mark, and before I am home, he has researched everything about that house, from square footage and number of bathrooms to current asking price and the price the current owners paid seven years ago. We feel like we’re members of the Insiders’ Club: most people don’t even know it’s for sale, and we can tell you how many cars will fit in its garage.
We are not in the market, but we ARE in the know. And there’s a silly satisfaction involved in knowing FIRST.
There is wildlife. Sweet but foolish big-eyed bunnies freeze as I approach them, nibbling halted, thinking, I am sure, that they have frozen themselves into invisibility.
“Runaway, Bunny,” I murmur, and sometimes they do.
One day I see a substantially-sized bird on the sidewalk as I round a corner. I walk a little closer and realize it’s a mama duck, and that Dad is right there, too.
Dad yells at Mama as I approach; “WOCK!” he says.
“Wockwockwockwockwock,” she mutters and they show me their tails, waddling away much faster than their broad bottoms and flat feet would seem to make possible.
It’s a long way from the river or a pond, and I wonder what brought those two travelers this far inland. I hope they haven’t set their sights on raising kiddies in one of Spring’s capacious puddles.
Nah. Ducks are too smart.
A little further down the street, I feel that ripple in the force, and I look around to see two mama deer staring at me solemnly from under a majestic evergreen. I stop a moment and we just look at each other. Then, before I can wish them good morning, they turn in unison, and they bound away, gracefully disappearing into the foggy backyards.
And I remember I don’t own these streets and that, in addition to our oh-so-important human dramas, there are other lives playing out every day, only steps away.
The cool air pushes me to walk faster, and I am almost home when I see the dew-bedazzled chapel veils hanging from the branches of Phyllis’s pine tree. Lacy, intricate, glistening: they are works of grandeur and fleeting beauty. I stop and try to capture an echo of their glory with my cell phone camera.
And then I am home, and the coffee has churgled itself into being; the boyos are pouring cereal and laying out plans for the day. My gears switch and a new kind of engagement kicks in.
But the morning walk informs it, and the trials and the triumphs build a foundation, a solid, thoughtful platform, on which to build this day.