Step by Step

I hike nearby trails and the shoreline for inspiration and pleasure year round. I stop often to take pictures, draw in my sketch book, wade out into the shallow waters of Lake Erie in summer, or brave the ice bound shores in winter. There are times though when I want to walk without any purpose other than to walk, think a little (or a lot), and feel the ground move beneath my feet. During the winter poor weather and snow banks force me inside to walk for kilometres on a gym treadmill. Early spring brings the thaw but not good walking conditions. The snow banks are dark with dirt and crusted salt. As the banks melt, brine bleached trash and frozen roadkill are laid bare. Sometimes the snow under the dead animals takes longer to melt and the bodies seem to sleep curled up on snowy biers sporadically marking the gravel shoulder. Summer has now arrived and with the fair weather I can finally walk along the roadside. I set up little routes for myself so I’m not gone for too long (or too short- I want to take a WALK not a little stroll). I use Google maps to pick a distance and direction. Seven to ten kilometres does the trick, the points of the compass are variable.

I walk mostly in the early evening to avoid the sun and the heat. I try not to start too late as nightfall on a rural road is a singularly isolating experience. I don’t mind being alone. In the dark though, walking along the unlit gravel shoulder, the lights of distant farm houses take on a mysterious aura. You can hear an approaching car from far away but the sudden interruption of the headlights is still blinding. It must be startling to see a woman at the side of the road caught in the beams, stark against the darkness of the fields. A glance into the rear view mirror would show me melting from the red cast of the tail lights to fade back into the darkness. Last month I did walk past the village boundary very late to try to see the Aurora Borealis. It was well past midnight, still and clear. I didn’t go far though as the coyotes were sending up a full chorus that echoed round the fields to come back from the darkness all around.

So I walk in the early evening where I often encounter the golden hour. The quality of light is such that everything is bathed in a warm glow. The growing darkness under the hedgerows is velvet soft. My shadow stretches out away from me, a thin giant, elongated by the rays of the sinking sun. Walking along the roadside I can take the time to see things. I acknowledge birds on barbed wire fences, deer off in the thickets, all of the sky with the setting sun and the rising moon opposite each other, and everything else around me. I listen to the wind and the sound of my feet crunching on the gravel. I think about everything and nothing. It doesn’t free me from the cares and concerns that mark any life. It’s true that you take yourself with you wherever you go. But for ever how long it is that I am walking I enjoy the act of being where I am with nothing else to do but move forward and be.

The song for this post is The Talking Heads ‘Road to Nowhere’ because I’m walking but I’m not really going anywhere other than exactly where I am.

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