Grab your fleece—New England mornings are still chilly in May—and begin your walk at the oldest house in the neighborhood. This split-level made its debut just months before JFK was shot, but you’ve only lived here for three years, which means you have another seventeen years or so before you’re no longer considered a newcomer.
Turn left and follow the sidewalk up the hill toward the cul-de-sac that marks one of the farthest boundaries of your nearly two-mile constitutional. As you start up the hill, wish you had brought your sunglasses. The only thing you notice for about twenty feet is the frost and plow damage of the asphalt sidewalk as you try to shield your eyes from the sun peeking over the horizon.
Back in the shade, notice the oak tree overgrown with bittersweet vines. Imagine bringing your gloves early one morning and pulling the bittersweet, a sort of suburban yard version of the shoemaker’s elves. Wonder if you can be arrested for removing invasive plants from someone else’s lawn in the dark of night.
Halfway up the hill a line of raspberry bushes marks the end of the old section of the neighborhood. The power lines go underground and the modest split-levels, ranches, capes, and Dutch colonials give way to colonials that tower over treeless seas of green grass. These are your neighbors. These are people who wave to you when they see you playing with your kids in your lawn. Try not to be judgy.
Round the cul-de-sac and head back down the hill. On your left, notice a song sparrow noisily chasing a cowbird away from her nest. Take a moment to wonder why you think the cowbird’s method of perpetuating her genes is inferior to the sparrow’s and why you silently cheer the smaller bird on.
Notice that the neighbors on the corner have cleared out the poison ivy that used to mingle with their hostas. Wonder if they were able to do this without getting a rash.
At the street you see a golden retriever walking with his human companion. The dog turns to look at you, but the human does not. Don’t greet the human, but smile at the dog and then recall that smiling is a threatening gesture to dogs. The dog doesn’t seemed threatened, but stop smiling abruptly anyway.
The power lines go underground again across the street, but the houses stay modest. Wave at the homeowner adjusting the American flag in front of his house. Notice that the highway sounds which at your starting point sounded vaguely like the ocean if the person hearing it had never heard the ocean before now sound distinctly like highway sounds, with the roar of engines accelerating and transmissions down-shifting through the morning rush.
At the bottom of the hill, blackbirds graze in the dew-covered grass. Wonder where the rabbits are. Are you too late in the morning? Too early? Have they found a different spot to have breakfast? Will they return when the clover blossoms? Hear a rustle in the hedge; turn to look, but it’s just a squirrel.
Around the curve, notice scattered grass seed and strips of sod in the bare patches of the lawn of the house that had been on the market but is not now. Remember the elderly man who used to tend the little fenced garden at the top of the lawn; wonder what happened to him.
Turn left onto the street you think of as ending in a cul-de-sac but which is really a circle. As you round the circle, you are at the farthest point of your walk. Just past this circle is where last year you saw a large snapping turtle sunning itself on a driveway. You see no turtles this morning, just a house cat huddling in a flower bed and a neighbor getting into his car to go to work. Wave at the commuter; he will wave back.
Still looking for turtles, notice two long ears silhouetted by the sun shining through a patch of tall weeds: a rabbit, out for morning silflay. Slow to watch it for several seconds, but it doesn’t stir.
At the corner look up at the chimney of the house to your right. Last spring, a mockingbird perched there and went through his ambitious repertoire, complete with a very convincing impression of a car alarm. This morning, the chimney is bare. You’ve heard cardinals, sparrows, blackbirds, chickadees, and a northern flicker, but no mockingbirds.
Turn right at the corner. On the next stretch of road, two cars pass by and you see another commuter in his driveway. Wave at the fellow getting into his car but not at the drivers of the moving cars.
There are dog pawprints on the sidewalk, but you’ve not seen another dog since the golden retriever. Wonder where the dog-walkers are this morning. Feel a slight sense of superiority that you are out walking and don’t even have a dog.
Turn left and continue up the hill. This is the last stretch of your walk, and the section most likely to induce a sweat. A car approaches and stops in front of a house about halfway up the hill. The word “carpool” floats through your mind.
Look left and see a brown rabbit sitting still like a small lawn ornament in the middle of a patch of grass. Say, “Hi, Bunny!” just above a whisper, and then feel self-conscious about greeting the rabbit out loud.
Walk around the truck that’s parked on the sidewalk, past the storm drain that always smells slightly of natural gas but must not be any big deal because you’ve already called the gas company about it and it still smells like gas, then cross the street.
Your house is in view.
Turn into your driveway, climb your front steps, and as you open the door, brace yourself to argue your four-year-old out of having pancakes for breakfast.
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