By Jan Worth-Nelson
I swear, by the time I stride onto the south end of Kensington, just a few hundred yards from my house, the endorphins already are kicking in. My breathing evens out, and there’s often a cardinal or two darting around in the brush bending over Gilkey Creek.
I don’t know what most of those plants are—mostly “weeds,” I guess, but I don’t care. They’re green and they’re wild and they belong there as much as I do.
And I love the sun-yellow signs tucked along the creek, installed by neighbors of the winding little waterway—no bureaucrat involved, just a clutch of good folks acting out of love. “Please be respectful. No littering, no dumping,” they kindly exhort.
Those signs argue quietly for the goodness of human nature – something in short supply in my gloomy heart when it seems these days we are most of all a pestilence on the earth.
But not me, not today. I am just walking.
I stop at the bridge where Kensington turns onto Sunnyside to see how the creek’s doing. I pause to listen for a little musical babbling – sweet sound if the creek is running right, and not jammed up by garbage and blow-down.
I consciously take in big gulps of air—counting the same way we do in yoga…four in, four out, then, as my rhythm improves, five in, five out, then maybe by the time I head up Sunnyside, it’s eight in, eight out, and I feel my body smooth itself and dispel some of my cares.
Sunnyside runs uphill and I aim for the curve onto Franklin, trying not to mind too much about the noise of I-69, enjoying the architecture of the “round house” there and the other almost racy 60s-style homes so different from the predictable Tudors and colonials on my side of the creek.
I like looking at every house, imagining the lives who’ve passed through, the likely dramas, loves and disappointments. There used to be a black dog on the corner of Franklin and Cadet that worried me – he was tied up and barked piteously every time I made the turn—but he seems to be gone now—I hope to a happy home.
Cadet Street leading into Pierce Park is one of my favorite parts of my route. For that short stretch you could forget you’re in the city. I’ve seen deer and wild turkeys and a heron back there…I know there are a lot of critters abiding in the woods. Sometimes I yell up into the trees, “Thank you Mother Earth” for no reason except that I love the way the world smells there and how the breezes often are so velvety and soothing.
Through Pierce Park, I saunter along Brookside by the creek and eventually find my way across Court to Second Street where, by now in a trance of deep breaths and relaxation, I sometimes forget where I am and savor being lost in thought.
I’ve hatched poems along that stretch, thought through various knotty work and personal issues, murmured songs I love, had bursts of fondness for old friends, dead and alive.
By the time I make the turn onto the brief single block of Cromwell, I know I’m almost home. I like seeing the whimsical scary face nailed to the tree at the turn of Cromwell onto Maxine, and by then I see the stoplight ahead at Court.
My final treat is passing through the impossibly extravagant overgrowth at Sherry Hayden and Mike Keeler’s house—a tangled tribute to honeybees, monarch butterflies, milkweed and grace.
Like the signs along the creek, Sherry and Mike make me believe there’s hope for us human doofuses – that we can find our way back to what the earth needs most, turning away from willful ignorance and cruelty.
That is my beloved walk, three miles of meditation and the considerable nourishments of nature.
But here’s the kicker: I’m actually not taking that walk today. I’m 2,500 miles away in Southern California in the midst of family needs.
I’m sitting in a second floor walkup staring out at roofs and more criss-crossed roofs atop beige stucco, the building material of LA. Tough-looking cacti and other trees I don’t know the names of are crammed into crevices and tiny concrete block corrals.
Worst of all, a dozen fires are burning to the east and the air is acrid with smoke. Within walking distance is the clotted Pacific Coast Highway and ugly, monstrous Hawthorne Boulevard; somebody said yesterday we are lucky here because of all the concrete: one might say there is nothing to burn. California today feels that way – hard, dry, used up—the idea of California a lost and naïve dream. It’s pretty clear there are rough days ahead for the Golden State.
We Flint people know what it feels like when the promise, the delusions of “progress,” crash and burn. We also know that after the crash, sometimes there might be beauty to be reclaimed, peace in the quiet after the purveyors of greed go away. A lot of us are damaged in the ruins, but that doesn’t mean we’re not still capable—we can still see a carpet of red and gold in somebody’s unraked yard, for example, and passionately love it.
If you can’t tell by now, I’m homesick for my Flint. For now, this is where I am. And reliving my cherished walk is how I’m getting through today—the memory of the neighborhood I call home convincing me the world can still be good.
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.