I’ve always liked this painting, and it seems a fitting reminder to me for the coming holiday. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, in that for me it’s not about stuff, but mostly focuses on “appreciation.” Life today can become so complicated and wearing. Although I have my moments of rushing here or there, of course to something “urgent” or to do something “important,” lately I’m consciously trying to be more aware of myself, notice fully what’s in front of me. This also encourages me to set my own pace. Like many folks, I’m weary and leery of this instant-info, quasi-connected, semi-sincere digitally communicative world we’ve created. Which is why I like stepping out of it.
I’ve been walking more again: to the grocer, the movies, the neighborhood coffee lounge, or the Greenway and Roanoke River. It takes a bit longer, and so some other activities fall away but I don’t mind. In fact, I DO try to “mind” my mind while I walk. I mean I try to pay attention to the thoughts and feelings in my head and heart, as well as what I encounter along the walk. Sometimes it means noticing litter (admit it still kinda bewilders me what mindset discards cans, bottles, wrappers, or fast food containers out a car window...?) but I try not to overthink stupidity—it’s simple enough to pick it up and drop it in the next available trash can. I also notice sidewalks more, and the cracks, and those amazingly stalwart seeds-become-plants that somehow always seem to find the fortitude to have grown in the narrowest of them.
Of course the alleys offer an ever-changing seasonal bouquet of the cycles of plant life merging with the secret life cycles of the residents in the neighborhood. People are scarce, but their varied personal habits get undressed a bit when the homes’ private behinds are exposed, so to speak. The dogs are never secretive; they’re always thrilled to take in my scent and announce my arrival—mostly as if I’m royalty, a long lost cousin, or an invader. Those dogs that I pass regularly are usually eager to get a behind-the-ear scratch and often return the favor with a face lick. The cats always eye me and, depending on their mood, meow hello (or don’t), scurry away (or sit perfectly still), and on occasion, in totally uncouth fashion regardless of whether we’ve been introduced, will brazenly turn onto their backs and expectantly sprawl awaiting a belly rub. The birds stay busy chattering at the cats or looking for something to eat. The plants just hang and I assume do their growing after I pass through.
At this time of year, on rainy mornings, or days when dawn has melted the frost, the rich umber/grays of the wet concrete, adorned with random organic layers of crimson, golden, sulphur-yellow leaves can be breath-takingly beautiful. There are sections of street on the blocks I walk from my home to our village shops that have the most sensuous arabesque of tar drips swirling across, presumably laid from a slow-moving truck, which, when walked near at the right pace, move in wonderful flowing rhythms as elegantly as Fred Astaire’s shadow. At night these same tar-line passages take on a moody, “film noir” feel, as they’re enhanced by the soft shadows cast from the cables, wires, and tree limbs above made manifest by street lights. It’s like being gifted with an old foreign film’s personal preview when experienced walking home on a foggy night.
This has proven to be a rich, complicated year filled with many ups and downs for me. So maybe that’s why simple walking feels extra good and true right now. It makes me slow down, notice things, and appreciate life: Pass a neighbor and actually share a hug; take a few deep breaths and listen to that song sparrow warming up; look carefully and notice the golden glow of that lamp left lit on that porch at night; or reach over the fence to nudge the nose of that loveable unnamed chocolate lab with my own. In the simple act of walking, I find what nourishes my soul. Walking centers me, it renews my spirit. It encourages me to be more aware, gentle, and kind. Here’s to simple pleasures.