Saturday, August 27, 2011


 BOTH OF MY DOGS LOVE A WALK, but our evening route is too long for Isis, so Ursula and I have to sneak away. In Birdland, our walks down the grass waterway—a wide, green ribbon of short grass curving between the cornfields—give me a chance to see how dramatically the drought has affected the countryside here.
 Of course, this time of year the corn is always drying out, green fading to brown, but the ears are usually swollen, showing golden kernels where the husk is pulled back by wind or nibbled on by deer. Now forlorn ears hang from the stalks, showing gap-toothed through the brown paper of their wrappers. Some years are like that, and it makes me think of other agricultural systems, like Community Supported Agriculture, where the risk of a low harvest is shared across the community. The grass is still showing some green but any barren ground has cracks wider than I’ve ever seen them—two and three inches across, and so deep that I think I could drop a penny down and hear it hiss when it hits the earth’s molten core. The rain we got last week would have been enough in normal times, but it didn’t even close up the cracks, just rounded off the edges at the surface. They still run deep into the dark earth.
 The wheel of the year has turned again so that we get respite from the heat in the mornings and evenings, but midday is still hot. School has started, and my walking takes a different rhythm, providing food for thought. City walking takes me through a sequence of deliberation that I began many years ago, when I first started parking my car off campus to enjoy easier parking and a brisk walk to my office. My walks take me through various scenes and I’ve witnessed changes in the landscape, some for the better, some for the worse. Some days my route winds through some lovely, curving walkways away from traffic and buffered by natural plantings and waterways. Other days I walk through neighborhoods where more and more I see front lawns dedicated to native plants rather than tightly mowed grass. Once last week I came upon a yard fencing in a flock of Rhode Island Red chickens and Buff Orpington Ducks, right there in town. The poultry was happily grazing, oblivious to the people on the sidewalks. Only a soft, satisfied clucking brought my gaze to their yard. We wouldn’t have seen this ten years ago. All this is a pleasant progression for my decade of walks.

 On the other hand, I see more and more litter in the streets of Campus Town. I see more cans for recycling, but move in day brings larger and larger piles of discarded furniture at apartment complexes. One truck-sized dumpster sat next to an empty building overflowing with mattresses, cushion-less sofas, lounge chairs, appliances. Another pile sat next to it, even bigger than the dumpster and I wonder where it all came from and where it will go. We have programs for recycling and re-using and sharing the paraphernalia of our transitory existence—the web community, Freecyle, and the University Y’s Dump and Run program come to mind—and yet we seem to generate more and more rubbish every year. I wonder if the basic problem is a disengagement between what we buy and what happens to it when it is no longer useful to us. When we acquire a new toy, gadget, furnishing, do we pause for a moment to consider the cradle to grave impact our purchase will have? Do we consider the cost of disposal (not just our monetary cost, but the cost to the community of filling the landfill or abandoning things in an empty lot)?

 My walks meander through different topics and last night I found myself talking to my sister on the phone. She was on the West Coast, I was walking in the dark toward the grass waterway, looking up at the stars. It was the clearest night I’ve seen in awhile, the waning crescent of the moon nowhere to be seen, the Milky Way splashed across the sky in a broad spattering brushstroke. As we were saying our goodbyes I said, “Wait, I have to tell you about the stars. The Milky Way is just beautiful tonight.” She said, “That’s wild. It’s still daylight here.” We chuckled together about this for a moment, I under my starry, starry night, and my sister watching the golden sun sink into the peaceful ocean. Then Ursula and I headed toward home down the dark waterway.

 Walk in Beauty; Wonder in Peace; Blessed Be

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