A Sunday Walk

Let’s face it: this is not my kind of weather. Just under forty degrees and cloudy, with mizzly little showers off and on. Despite owning an array of cold-weather play clothes, there won’t be any biking for me today. So I skim through The New York Times, check out PostSecret and reddit, breakfast, bind off the sleeve I’ve been knitting for two weeks, play a couple of Facebook games, cast on the front of the sweater, lunch…by noon, death by boredom seems like a genuine possibility.

Having endured the intense brown eye stare of a hapless border collie for the past three hours, Floyd texts a nearby friend and issues Travis out the door to head for the greenbelt to hike the trails. No way around it, I’m going to have to go for a walk. Might as well collect some color on what at first glance looks like an afternoon drawn in an array of grays. I wrap myself up as if heading out on an expedition to the North Pole – including a hat, which I almost never wear – and force myself out the door.

The neighborhood is as deserted as a post-apocalyptic “Twilight Zone” episode. Not a cyclist, not a car, not a jogger, not a dog walker. Where is everybody? Here and there I catch the unmistakable tang of woodsmoke, so some people must be comfortable beside their fireplaces. Real woodsmoke is such a pleasant cold-weather scent that the chemical fumes from grocery store paper fireplace logs are horrid in contrast.
I’m ambling along the streets where I usually ride my bike. As usual, once I’ve made it through half a mile or so, I find I am enjoying myself. Going even more slowly than usual gives me plenty of opportunity to notice splurges of color both large and small. Down here we must savor what fall foliage we do have, with no comparisons to northern woods. I think bright leaves with dark green in the background are very dramatic looking.

I walk from block to block with half a mind to drop into the greenbelt for a stretch to see what colors might be popping in there. The big drainage field where people often bring their dogs for a game of fetch is deserted. One quick slope down and I’m surrounded by woods. Now I’m on trails I’ve only travelled on my mountain bike. Ever since the rains began a few weeks ago, the trails have remained saturated, the rocks absolutely treacherous. No biking possible: the mud instantly clogs all the knobby parts of your tires and you have no grip on anything. Besides, it wrecks the trails. My sneakers are quickly weighed down with nearly black, sticky clay.

If the streets were empty, the woods are positively lifeless. I’m a city girl as you know, and there are only two factors that keep me from running as fast as I can back to civilization: first, it’s so cold I’m not likely to encounter a rattlesnake – even though this is exactly the trail on which I saw one summer before last. Second, I think it is too cold and too early in the day for zombies – even though I know for a fact that they are in here somewhere.

Astonished to have survived half a mile of mortal danger at every step, I’ve never been so grateful to emerge from the woods. I get busy scraping some of the gunk off the bottoms of my shoes and resume my walk, immediately immersing myself in colors.

Sometimes I’ll see a flare of red and orange that gives the impression that the woods are on fire. It’s a lovely thought, when it is merely an impression and not a reality. By this point in the walk it is drizzling heavily, but I’m having a great time. Against all odds, my feet are dry and very warm; and when my feet are warm I am comfortable.

Besides, I’ve reached the neighborhood’s “Wildflower Preserve,” a plot of land on the edge of the ‘hood that someone somehow convinced the Homeowners’ Association to purchase a few years before we moved here. Some of the charmers among my neighbors gnash their teeth at such a waste of money, going so far as to point out that it would have been quite handy to have a gas station here instead. I am always relieved that they didn’t show up for the vote.

In any event, this is the farthest point in my walk, a good halfway spot. As I roam around looking for color, the drizzle tries hard to become real rain. My glasses are wet and my sweatpants are streaked with mud.

During the last mile I encounter some signs of life emerging from the houses. A few cars rush by, a few well-wrapped dog walkers accompany their canines on a potty run. My mind turns to one of the great pleasures of taking a walk on a day like this: the prospect of a long hot soak in a great big bathtub with an Elizabeth George mystery and a cold beer.

Can that be my pace quickening?

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