Walking in the time of coronavirus

How many times do you think we’ve walked around the block since we’ve been home, “ Paul asked on Wednesday.

    A little math later — if we walked around the block between one and three times a day, if it has been unbearably rainy for 10 days when we couldn’t even get out for one walk — we realized that we’d walked around our block at least 100 times since March 13th. 

    In the early days of the coronavirus closure, the trails were still open. We found ourselves visiting all the local spots. But as hiking trails closed, our world narrowed to this little block, many times a day. 

    In the goals we’d set for ourselves at the beginning, we’d talked about moving our bodies every day.  Chris and I thought we’d be parent-enforcers, drawing children away from screens and notebooks and books. It has turned out that Paul has rousted out of the house and around the block more than anyone. 

    It’s been  easy for Chris or me to justify a fifteen minute movement break to go around the block, to stand up from our desks and piles of work to connect with our kids, get the dog outside to pee, and defog our brains before the next message or Zoom. 

Breakfast, lunchtime, supper, once around the block for each: this is the rhythm of our days in family isolation. 

Here are the highlights of our walks so far:

  • We’ve watched the completion of a neighbor’s stone retaining wall. Energy that might have previously been devoted to workplace gossip now focused on the day’s wall progress. Was the mason there today? Where was he, we wondered, when he wasn’t? Was that really a smiling face of stone? It had to be. We all saw it. When would we know when the wall was done? When they seeded grass on the curb? When mulch and bedding plants were laid down? That had to be it.
  • We’ve watched the flowering of all the spring trees and counted the little winters — redbud, dogwood, blackberry. There are other little winters, but not on our block. And now at the beginning of June, everything is green. The trees have all leaved out, and the humidity begins to overtake our lunchtime walk.
  • Wandering just a little way from our block, we’ve found a secret party spot for college students. They’re no longer here to party, but there’s no question from the evidence they left. We keep their secret. 
  • Two blocks from our house is the town cemetery. Paul, who has always been scared of it, is now willing to walk there. I, who grew up across the road from a cemetary, rejoice because there is no calmer, more grounding walk. Would it be creepy to live next door, Paul asks. The people there are people just like anyone else, I tell him. He suggests that the distinction between the living and the dead is an important one. 
  • Stuck at home, everyone is throwing themselves into their gardening. Every house is ready for its photo shoot with tidy vegetables beds, impulse-bought flowers from the college farm, and statuary. I myself have bought a Jizo statue, and it brings me joy every day. It reminds me that some pains no longer ache. 
  • Lunchtime walks are about the news. We talk about racism. We talk about the police. We talk about injustice. We talk about our fears of a worse world.
  • We find a patch of poison ivy that the dog — bless her — always wants to pee in. We find another path.
  • We meet neighbors from time to time. We stand far apart to talk, but talk we do. It is a relief to see faces that aren’t our own. One day, we run into Paul’s friend and her mother. It seems surreal that just a few months ago, we were carpool buddies. Once, we had school in the school building; once we had carpools. That seems long ago.
  • We watch the tree trimmers trim all the street trees out of the electric lines. We have opinions.  They left so little of that tree or this.  Another tree is clearly dying. Why don’t they just take it all the way down?
  • A rental house that’s been empty for 6 months shows signs of life. One of the street’s mystery houses suddenly has flowers on the porch. Signs for teacher appreciation and graduation appear and then disappear. A trio of young siblings boost neighborhood spirits with their sidewalk chalked messages. Stay healthy at home. Eat fruits and vegetables.  Stay sunny. 

Stay sunny. We’re trying. We’re putting miles on our feet. This is our snapshot of week 12 of social distancing and walking. 

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