Sometimes when I’m walking I feel as though I’m standing in place. The joggers whiz by at their pounding pace; cyclists careen past, occasionally with an “On your left,” but generally just the sudden sight of the cyclist in front of me, already receding into the distance. Then there are the people coming toward me, once I notice them, it is as if we switch into slow motion, the distance between us closing like molasses, slowing down until, somehow, there is the nod and pass. Looking down at my feet and the path beneath me (which I do when engrossed in my thoughts or a podcast since Poops passed away in December, so that now I am no longer a part of his sniff-and-pee style of walking), I miss much of the scene around me.
Is there always a trade-off: being introspective or being observant? Do I need both close-to-home and look-at-that! solo walks to maintain my equilibrium? Probably, since we learn over time, don’t we, how to regulate our lives so we can be comfortable in ourselves.
The first walks that I took by myself were, ostensibly, to find a place to read outside, but as I realize now, they were just to get out. An un-understood drive to wander, to be in the fresh air (NYC-fresh that is), to be unconfined, to be alone—unreachable.
While there were plenty of benches and greenery outside of the apartment building I grew up in, there was no privacy. If there’s anything an introverted, self-conscious, bookworm needs, it’s not to be noticed. And sitting outside reading would not be noticed with great admiration from the neighborhood kids, especially the bullies who always seemed to be around. So onward I went.
Perhaps if I had grown up in a house where I had my own corner in the garden I might not have needed those walks; I might have been content to sit on my stump to read and daydream. I don’t think I regret that loss; how much of a homebody would I be if I were content to just sit on my balcony full of potted flowers and herbs overlooking a church and a graveyard?
There was a bay (Little Neck Bay) about a mile from my house. I generally went there on my walks. Having a view without cars and buildings and people is what, I realize now, propelled me there. While there was the Cross Island Parkway on the other side of the path, I could keep my eyes focused on the water and the sky, and I could pretend that the sound of the cars racing by were waves and wind. It was the vista of space that I needed. My destination could have been to wander my neighborhood and nearby neighborhoods, examining homes and gardens with their distinct personalities, but that suggestion of people wasn’t what I needed. It’s fascinating how we uncover what we need—and how, sometimes, that thing stays with us. I needed a water view with its hint of distant worlds. I still need a water view. It is for me a glimpse at whatever is divine in the universe; my visual connection with the immensity of existence.
Once I learned how to drive, I would drive to Jones Beach. Depending on traffic (a phrase anyone from a city uses to preface driving information), it took about 40 minutes to get there. But it was worth the drive. I wouldn’t go in the summer when the traffic was crazy and the beach towel-to-towel, but off-season to walk, to be. The waves broke and the wind blew ceaselessly off the Atlantic Ocean, drawing me both in and out—wondering, and I was at peace. Not an acquiescent peace, rather a peace that inspires a foundational confidence that the future would hold more than the present.
When I lived in Israel I had my walks along the Mediterranean Sea, which often combined with a swim and a drive. They were not solo, they were a part of my relationship with my ex-husband, and they helped to establish our rhythm and belief that we were in sync. Maybe if we had stayed close to those shores things might have unfolded differently?
Now that I live in Northern Virginia I have my walks along the Potomac River. Although they don’t match the drama of walking along a bay, a sea, an ocean, my life, too, is more sedate, like a river. While my occasional Potomac walks settle my need for a water walk, the closeness of the opposite shore, so like where I stroll, hinders me from being inspired. That shore keeps closed something within me.
The nearest ocean walk is three-hours away, and there is always traffic.
Maybe I need the frustration, the thwarting, to stop my settling into a creeping capitulation. Maybe I don’t know what I need anymore, so accepting have I become of what I am. Maybe I reached a high tide, hoarding what I have, flourishing in my waters, expecting low tide, wondering what it will leave and what it will take.