I went for a walk on Saturday morning. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I didn’t bring my camera. The day was sunny and warm enough to be autumn. On greyer days this week, it seemed more like winter. Consequently, many of my fellow suburbanites were outside exhibiting their leisure preferences. We are an odd lot, I think. Some quirky, some staunchly mainstream seeking credence for their peculiar habits. If you have a dog or a bicycle or Spandex athletic gear, you are allowed to be out on the paths. You fit in. No one stares. If you’re wearing a mink, a wedding gown, or sitting in the lotus position on a fallen tree, you’re a little more suspect. I have a story about all three of these.
At the end of my block lives an elderly lady with a cocker spaniel. She takes him out to the sidewalk on a leash regularly. The last two times I saw her, she was wearing a midi-length fur coat about the same color as her dog. As I walked down the street, she faced me full on. When I got within about 20 feet from her, she called out, “He’ll jump on you!” I stopped. “Would you like me to cross the street?” I asked. “I don’t care what you do. If you come near him, he’ll jump on you. It doesn’t matter to me.” I crossed the street. “My, your hair is very long! It goes all the way down to your waist!” she called. “Yes, it does.” “Do you live with Scott Peterson?” “No, I live at the end of this street, at the corner.” When I am older, can I make blunt comments out of the blue at passers-by? I hope so. I like the directness. No little niceties required.
When I got to the park, I saw a bride, a photographer and a small entourage. It seems like every weekend someone’s getting their picture taken in that park. It has a nice bridge, and the fall colors are pretty. High school seniors and brides and families who send photo Christmas cards love it. This bride was picking her was across the grass with four people holding up her skirt. Her shoes were whitish-gold strappy heels adding about 5 inches to her height. Her hair was in a blonde up-do with tiara and veil. She might have been a fairy-tale princess except for the odd way she was walking…and her voice. Despite the outfit, she was a rather pedestrian pedestrian, another modern bride having her day.
I made my way toward the woods. Just outside the parking area for the pool is a bike trail and a train track. A speedy middle aged guy in a helmet wheeled in front of me up the path. When I got to the crest of the train trestle, I saw an older woman in sweatpants stooping over to part the fallen leaves with her hand. She wasn’t a biker, didn’t seem like a hiker, either. I think she was looking for mushrooms. An Old World forager. I walked past the golf course and headed into the woods. I didn’t recognize any trails, so I simply made my way across a dry stream bed and found a fallen tree. I wasn’t too far from the road, but I was surrounded by trees and leaves and moss. It was pretty quiet. I flung my coat over the trunk and sat atop it. From where I was, I could spot a paper wasp nest, woodpeckers, squirrels, and single leaves spiraling gracefully to the forest floor. I looked up and breathed a sigh. This is how I recreate. No Spandex necessary. One solitary walking man and two men and their dogs eventually strolled by, crunching their way through the underbrush. They looked at me. I looked away. One of the dog walkers went by quite close and made eye contact. I said hello. He greeted me and kept his head turned toward me as he walked away smiling. What?! I’m sitting in the woods; you got a problem with that? I suppose I can be defensive in my head. I often feel awkward socially, perceiving judgment when there’s no reason to.
Later that day, we went to the top of Lapham Peak in the Kettle Moraine park. The day had turned cloudy again, and smoke from burning leaf piles gave the atmosphere a mournful grey haze. Our species has its own way of living on the land. I find it interesting, diverse, idiosyncratic. Almost as fun as watching squirrels.