In the middle of winter it becomes easy (even in the sunny state of Colorado) to stay glued to my desk chair, my fingers on the keyboard, my mind on work. I must often remind myself to go for a wander.
Fortunately, there’s a lake and a park within a half block of my house. So I step outside and take a deep breath, admiring the world for the first time all day. It’s a bit cold, and there’s a a mistiness to the city skyline and the Rocky Mountain horizon. A few clouds wander across the hazy blue, allowing the sun to cast arching shadows across the iced-over pond. A breeze rustles the cattails and the few leaves in the maples that forgot to fall, awakening all my senses.
A father cross country skis through the park and pulls his son in a sled behind him. A mother pushes her twin girls in a stroller. People walk their dogs. Two older men, talking quietly, walking briskly, grinning from ear-to-ear, enjoy the morning stroll. I overhear conversations, brief snippets of people’s lives, their plans for the day, and the gossip they indulge in during their exercise. Everyone seems happy, elated even. Sunshine and walking must be two of the best things in the human experience. To go for a walk is to live.
But sometimes I’m distracted from the walk by the urban movement racing all around the lake. An interstate rushes by to the north, so I pretend like it’s a river. Sirens can be heard in the distance to the east, so I pretend like the ambulances and fire trucks are coyotes howling. I laugh at myself for such attempts. I know I’m not in the wild, and I don’t need to be at this moment. The urban park is its own reprieve.
And I can return to the natural encounter almost immediately: geese mill about as reminders of a wilder world. A jogger comes running up behind me, yelling for the geese to get out of his way. The alpha goose hisses at him, and I smile. A goose to the side of me rears up and hisses at me for being too close. I scurry away . . . they can be scary birds, despite their beauty.
A lone goose comes in from the west, calling out, looking for hospitable friends to take him in from his lonely flight. Another goose herds his gaggle across the ice to the shore, stepping cautiously and ensuring that every one knows he’s the head honcho.
I finish the loop back to my house and contemplate how satisfying it is to become familiar with a little patch of earth, to know its movements, to know the animals that call it home, to know where the wind will be the coldest and the sun the warmest, to know where to catch the views of the mountains in the distance, to know where to see the best light at sunset (and the occasional sunrise). It is nice to recognize familiar faces of neighbors, to smile and say good afternoon.
The restless traveler longs so often for the open road, the big jet plane, and a raucous train ride. But sometimes it’s important to remember that all we need to wander and see is across the street and around the lake.