GOING OUT FOR WALKS has become a part of my routine, though the time is never fixed. There was never a need to schedule a walk back in Seoul. Aside from the metro, which leaves swaths of the city uncovered, feet were how I got around. And that suited me. After so many hours kept in front of the computer, once turned loose I was liable to amble on for miles.
Since returning from our travels, J and I have been staying with her parents in a small Wisconsin town bordering Illinois. Like many true US towns (not suburbs or subdivisions or sub-what-have-yous), it is dying. Business has drained from its downtown and walking is not really a part of people’s lives anymore — though there is plenty of waddling at the Walmart.
J grew up here. She’s shown me the trails and the parks, and sometimes we just stroll around her neighborhood. On each walk we see signs of fall yielding to winter; one tree stood bare with all of its leaves lying in a neat circle around it, like a woman who had suddenly dropped her dress. During one outing I actually saw kids playing in the street (I thought they’d all been lost to Xbox and forgot about their yards). But they, too, have since retreated.
This morning the sky was sunny and crisp. The season’s first cold snap had blown in the night before, and the leaves still left hanging were tinged an especially brilliant red. On the lawn, frost huddled in patches of shade.
I put on my hat and scarf and set out alone this time. I walked across the road, past the empty baseball fields and down to the creek. The park was absolutely empty, though I hesitate to say not a soul was there, for it lies next to the cemetery and you never know what hovers above those graves.
It was probably the most isolated I had been in months, and that gave me both calm and unexpected fright. I walked on the grass and was happy for its springiness, its give. I heard the rhythm of my breathing. Like entering a hot bath, a walk takes easing into. Once you’ve adjusted you feel like you could float away.
I had brought my headphones just in case I wanted to listen to the news while I walked. I didn’t, really. The sound of chittering squirrels and the flapping of a robin’s takeoff was a good soundtrack. I almost started talking to myself (the thinking habits of an only child) but then held my tongue.
I went back across the road, into the neighborhood. Eventually I popped in my earbuds: rounds fired from North Korea, analysis of the Brazilian election. A whole world going on out there. And me, just walking down the street.