The frost has not yet melted from the windshields as I head out the door for my morning walk, but I leave the jacket on its rack anyway. On these strenuous hills I will be sweating soon enough. I live in Lone Oak–which is more or less a suburb of Paducah, Kentucky—and though there are no biking or hiking lanes here, you can still find quiet streets suitable for exercise. I stop at the curb to tighten my shoe laces, then walk on.
I begin by heading down a dead-end street; it’s level and a good place on which to warm up. At first my legs are stiff with protest–they send little jolts of pain up the calves and thighs. But after a minute they warm and ease into the walk. My breathing becomes rhythmic, and I plow ahead effortlessly. I reach the end of the dead-end street, where a row of apartments stands empty. The windows, without curtains or blinds, are like empty eye sockets. And there are no toys on the lonely porches. The parking spaces are empty but for a tuft of grass here and there. I make my U-turn and walk on.
I used to bicycle on this same route, but the cooler fall temperatures make biking uncomfortable–the wind chill just too hard on the face and ears. I dislike having to bundle up to ride my bike, but I’ve discovered you can walk in practically any weather. At first the temperature was still in the 90’s, which makes for a good sweaty walk. When the 80’s arrived I thought conditions much better, but then as the daily warmth faded I actually began to enjoy the walks even more. Now the daily temperatures are in the 50’s and I welcome the invigorating air. I turn my face into the sun and walk on.
I reach the first of the steepest hills, where the homes are large and stately. Somehow, this neighborhood even smells better—fresh and light. Leaves aren’t allowed to clutter these manicured lawns, which are still thick and green. The driveways and walkways are blown clear of leaves and twigs and they all have fresh coats of asphalt. The mailboxes at the end of the drives are tucked inside stacks of beautiful brick columns. They look like little ovens in their walls. I notice a lighted kitchen in an otherwise darkened home, and I imagine I smell eggs and bacon frying there as I walk on.
Walking is more conducive to thinking—I think. When you are biking everything is fast. You have to constantly watch for unexpected traffic and obstacles–children running into the street. Your decisions have to be equally fast. There’s no time for reflection, and though I love biking I’ve come to love walking even more. It is the one time during the day that I can actually do two things that are good for me. While I’m getting my exercise I’m also figuring out things. Today I’m thinking about my parents’ 60th anniversary, and how it seems we had the 50th celebration just a couple of years ago. In my head I make plans to do something for them, and I walk on.
I pass under the huge electric lines that cut a swath through several neighborhoods. I hear it crackling overhead and it always make me feel a bit uneasy. There have been “For Sale” signs on the property beneath the power lines for as long as I can remember, but who would ever buy it? I pass under the lines and am soon back into housing. I see a man dash from his house, laptop in one hand and a steaming cup in the other. On his way to work, no doubt. I think to myself With God’s grace that will be me soon, and I walk on.
I reach the part of my walk where I have to watch the pavement. Here there are potholes, and cracks, and the occasional pile of dog droppings. I pass the first of the houses armed with small dogs. They always bark frantically behind glass doors—killer Pekinese. They are answered by a larger dog across the street. He’s the one who frightens me. His wooden fence is old and flimsy, and he stands with his big head lowered, peering through the cracks with a growl. If he could get out, I shudder to think, but I walk on.
I meet the gray-haired postal carrier at the same corner each morning. She’s always so cheerful and energetic. It’s obvious she loves her job. I see her bound out of the vehicle from a block away to hand deliver a large envelope to someone’s front door. We wave as we meet by a cluster of mailboxes, and I think back many years to when I was accepted for a position with the United States Postal Service. But I chose a different job—as it turned out, one that was less secure. I think about that test I took for the USPS, and how well I did on it, and I walk on.
I reach the telephone pole at Lovelaceville Road, which marks the spot where I turn around. The pole is stapled with layers of yard sale announcements. The corner of the bottom paper reads “July” something. The rain and sun have faded the rest of it. I make the turn and head down a side street I like. There is a wooded area here that runs behind the houses which makes the street seem more rural than it is. I pass a new “For Sale” sign in a yard, which joins a growing thicket of realty signs in this neighborhood. Some sprouted up over a year ago. I notice someone has placed a neon green and red Christmas wreath on their house already, and I walk on.
I’m over halfway through my walk now, and this is where I usually begin to tire a bit. The hills here are steep. My feet are sweaty now and my toes slide forward with each stride. Up ahead I see smoke billowing across the road. Someone’s burning leaves and I can smell it from a block away. I take a detour around the burning leaves and suddenly I’m passed on the right by a man much older than me. He’s also much thinner. I redouble my efforts and walk on.
The last part of my return trip is, of course, a mirror image of the first half. So what was largely uphill on the beginning turns into easier downhill runs. The sun is a bit warmer now and I begin to congratulate myself for doing something positive. I look for the older man and he is a full block ahead of me. I see a piece of paper at the edge of the road and look down as I pass. It reads “Final Notice” at the top, but I don’t stop to pick it up. Someone got bad news and tossed it to the gutter. I walk on.
I reach my street and turn for the last leg. Nothing beats the satisfaction of having gotten in a good bit of exercise early in the day. No matter what comes next I will know that at least I got that out of the way. I smile and wave at neighbors who say things like “Looking good” and “Nice day for it.” As I reach my door I turn to look for the older man who passed me in the street, but he is nowhere in sight. He has walked on.
© Wade Kingston