By Peter Bradley
The drizzle has let up. After several days of never getting further from the house than the back yard bird feeders, I decide to take a walk. Not many others are out on this Sunday afternoon. The walkers and runners that fill the sidewalks on sunny days are dissuaded today, I suspect, by the iron sky and temperatures only a bit above freezing.
Walking has always been a form of meditation for me, a way to release the stresses of the world. I go without headphones and usually leave my phone behind. Much of the joy of the walk comes from the pedestrian sights and sounds along these suburban roads or, better, in the paths through the parks and sanctuaries that I’m fortunate to have nearby.
Today, I’m first conscious of the click of pen against notebook in my pocket each time my right foots hits the ground. It’s a syncopated rhythm, slightly off the beat—left, right-click; left, right-click. Then, as I start up the hill toward the high school, I become aware of the sound of my breath, the accelerating beat of my heart.
I turn off the main road to an even quieter neighborhood. At first, all seems silent, but soon I become aware of the many sounds that are there if you listen hard enough—some from nature, some from human invention. A distant crow caws repeatedly, its call moving closer. Then, there it is, flapping across the road to a nearby copse between houses. I haven’t seen many crows this winter, although they were abundant in the fall, and I wonder where they have gone. Above me now growls a small single engine plane, moving a few hundred feet up and crossing from left to right as if tracking the now silent crow.
As I approach a corner, three young women cross in front of me keeping a pace that would leave me breathless. But their speed has no apparent effect on their conversation: I cannot hear the words, but it is clear they are engaged in a lively and friendly exchange. They quickly go around a curve in the road, out of sight and hearing.
The quiet returns for a moment, but soon the stillness is cracked by a sound I recognize from my own long distant youth—the clack, clack of hockey sticks. Four young boys fill a driveway with a game of street hockey, fighting over the orange ball that serves as their puck. I have my cap pulled over my ears and my coat zipped up, but the boys, creating heat by their effort, play bareheaded and have discarded their coats on the snow.
I keep walking, choosing my turns almost at random. I see a few people are out shoveling even though much of last week’s snow has disappeared. Here and there along the way, branches brought down by that snowfall lie by the roadside, the still cream-colored scars where they broke from the trees in sharp contrast to the gray bark and winter-dulled grass where they lay.
I pass a baseball field, its forlorn space still covered by patches of snow. There, near home plate, a small bird looks sidelong at the soil—a robin! It’s the first I have seen in months. Far overhead, a jet rumbles.
As that sound moves away, I hear a cardinal practicing his song, preparing for the coming spring. He’s answered by the peter-peter-peter of a tufted titmouse. Now I see them in the naked branches, both silhouetted against the sky.
I turn back toward home, heading downhill now and the syncopated click of pen and notebook pick up the tempo. Several people are out walking their dogs and one woman approaching along the other side of the street pushes a baby carriage. I catch only a glimpse of the child, who appears to be an infant, a few weeks old at most, I surmise. Welcome to a very strange time, I think.
I pause on a small bridge over a brook, lean on its stone wall and gaze down the brook to where it empties into a pond. Most of the ice that covered it only days ago has gone, and I can make out ducks moving across the water.
Home is nearby. When I get there I may make a cup of tea to offset the cold, but I am in no hurry. I can stand here and watch the ducks awhile.
Peter Bradley spent most of his career in business journalism after stints as a newspaper reporter and editor as well as a decade teaching fourth, fifth and sixth grades. His other pursuits include amateur theater, hiking, painting, cycling, and doting on his five grandchildren. He lives in Norwood, Mass.