In the Mohawk Valley where I grew up, sidewalks mapped my world. In the 1950s, in Amsterdam, New York, Kelly’s Lumberyard, fragrant with freshly cut two by fours, scented my afternoon walk from school to home. Walking, always walking up and down the hills of Amsterdam. From our little white house on Catherine Street, I walked east to the corner of Lenox, then south two blocks to Partyka’s Market on Crane Street for Camels for my father, Lady Betty bread and pimiento loaf for summer lunch sandwiches. I walked west to the corner at Church, then three quarters of a mile downhill to St. Stanislaus Church on Cornell overlooking the mighty Mohawk, its waters sparkling in the sunlight or choking on blocks of winter ice. I walked three blocks south to the corner of Vrooman where Franny waited, books in her arms, then another two blocks to Edson to meet Christine. We three walked south again down Vrooman Avenue to Carolanne’s corner at the lumberyard, and west to Jay Street where Rita, the last in our group, lived. All of us trooped downhill on Church past the mills already half empty. Mohawk Carpet Mills had closed down just a few years before, and the buildings were now a hodgepodge of companies producing swimming pools, fiberglass, basketballs, and men’s uniforms. My mother still worked there, and we would too, in the summers through high school and college. Of course, we walked to work.
I walked to the corner mailbox at Church and Catherine to mail letters to boyfriends in college, my cousin in the Army in Vietnam, birthday cards to friends and relatives. The mailman walked down our street at noon every day but Sunday, his big leather bag over his shoulder, his face and arms tanned year-round.
Walking was not an exercise, then, but a necessity. Then, in the Sixties, almost every family owned a car (just one), and walking was for people who couldn’t afford to drive.
No one really preferred to walk back then, but I longed for it when I lived in the country, on a 45-mile-an-hour state road with no shoulders. I drove to town for groceries, appointments and all the errands of daily life, but I always left time for a walk on the way home. My husband and I retired from full time jobs, and I longed to start walking right outside my door.
You see, I find beauty in the walking as well as in the place. I love the way my body feels moving, my feet pressing down on the earth, comfortable shoes supporting me. My breath deepens in gratitude as I inhale the healing, clean air and the smells of the outdoors. In the park, I inhale the moist fragrance of the pond with its ducks and turtles, the meadow grasses left un-mowed to attract herons and water birds.
Often, my walks become a meditation. I breathe and step consciously, watching the earth, the grass, the birds, the houses, the people and their dogs. As I observe and move along, awareness grows that I, too, am a part of it all.
Ten years ago this summer, we moved close to town in a development with a trail beside a wide creek often visited by geese, ducks and a Great blue heron. Has it come full circle, all this walking? When I was young, I walked to get somewhere. Always on a mission, the end was the reason.
Sometimes a hymn comes to mind: How Can I Keep From Singing. Or even the Shaker hymn, Simple Gifts: “’tis a gift to come round where we ought to be.” As I walk consciously, I come round to where I ought to be, and find it is where I have been all along. I have come, at last, to the here and the now. And I dare to say, it is good.