by Ken Reynolds
When we moved to these mountains fifteen years ago we were newly retired and we both liked to hike. North Georgia had more trails than I could have walked even if the trail system had not grown longer every year and those same years had not wrought havoc on my ability to go up and down hill. I was a lot younger then. Martha has not aged.
Our dog often accompanied us on short walks and long hikes. But he also has gotten older and the years have taken a toll his ability to cover the distances we once did. Twice each day he demands an opportunity to sniff over what he sniffed over the last time he was outside, so we spend a lot of time in a small area. Whatever I once might have labeled our outings I can no longer call them hikes, or even long walks. I don’t hike anymore and I miss it.
There has been a lot of rain this year. Rainy days, achy knees and stiff fingers remind me how old I really am. Four rainy days in a row made getting out of bed this morning particularly difficult. But beyond our bedroom window sunlight beckoned, so I struggled to get myself upright, went through what Martha calls my pre-amble, then hobbled into the bathroom.
Through the kitchen window the sunshine practically begged me to come out and bask. I juggled cereal and coffee in not-quite-adroit hands as I shuffled onto the back porch and settled down to relish the blue sky and a clear view of the ridges to the south. Yes, the day started out full of promise, but mid-afternoon found me worn out. Exhausted.
The morning light played off the still foggy low spots in the distance, and I found my reminiscing about the hikes Martha and I used to take on the trails that wind from one view of our valley to the next. I miss those jaunts—even the day-long treks. Halfway through breakfast the notion of once again enjoying those trails edged itself into my still sleepy mind. It was a perfect day to take a walk. A leisurely amble among the wildflowers promised to shake off the weary leaden monotony of the recent gray bone-chilling days. I hoped the rains were over, at least for a while.
The thought of dawdling about looking for sprigs of color made my old body resonate with memories of livelier years and family strolls. Our children dallied and lingered over whatever got their attention and called to them for closer examination. Too many times I failed to step on my impatience while they wafted along in pursuit of another moment of elation. They’re grown up now, but I remember them gliding and tumbling along chasing after dandelion seed their own breath had caused to float off with the breeze. It is fun to see our grandkids toddling and romping outdoors. It sweetens the memories of those distant times.
About halfway through a second cup of coffee I convinced myself to take an afternoon hike. I wanted to really hoof it and put a few miles on the boots. Don’t wear boots much anymore. Something, usually age related, always seems to come up and cause me to postpone the next venture along the trail. But there is a problem with hiking. It makes me tired. These days my physical condition falls short of optimum.
I got to figuring that instead of satisfaction, my anticipated outing would leave me lumbering, fatigued—like after one of the twenty mile marches Sergeant Harris delighted in leading. That kind of plodding weariness was not what I wanted to feel at the end of this magnificent refreshing day.
Meandering was more to my liking. Moseying across the meadow and into the woods seemed like a fine tonic to flush away the rainy-days blues. It seems like the rain has gone on for months, and the wet ground has made it difficult to enjoy being outside. Martha and I have spent a lot of time pacing from one end of the house to the other. A little fresh air and exercise sounded exhilarating, even virtuous.
I took the coffee cup into the kitchen and announced my intentions. Martha reminded me that today is her bridge day and that I had a dentist appointment.
She did suggest a walk in the park near the medical center. She said it would be a fine place to work off my newfound energy. Well maybe so. Exercise is exercise and fresh air is fresh air, but that park is always full of joggers and power walkers with sweatbands and fitness strides. I didn’t even want to watch a parade, much less be a part of one. The gait in my mind was stroll, and I might impede their determined athletic promenade. I saw myself traversing an open field without haste, or exploring a wooded trail sauntering along in step with the beat of my own drum. Traipsing through the countryside for a few hours and reveling in the sunshine.
The dentist’s magazines were old, so to amuse myself I visualized one of my rambles from the past. I was kind of warming up for an excursion later in the day. The ability to relive past adventures has proven to be a valuable resource at the mall while Martha shops. I can settle in a chair, or relax in the car while in my mind I am roving around from one interesting location to another.
Off in the distance I heard someone call my name, then a light tap on my shoulder interrupted my roam along a special riverside trail. The receptionist wanted me to know that the dentist was running late.
Once again I wandered off to the riverside trail that Martha and I visited often when we first met. The picnics she made, and I backpacked in, were especially tasty after we braved the steep switchback path down to the water. While I waited for the dentist I ranged along beside that river, reveling in euphoric memories of that remote place. Then I remembered the long climb back to the car. There are a few scary places along the way that require careful treading. A person can get away with an occasional wobble, but a fall would be serious. I was considering the consequence of a tiredness-induced stumble when the receptionist summoned me.
I like my dentist, but he talks—a lot. Today he talked so much there was no way for me to return to that sojourn along the river. It’s just as well. I had worn myself out. During the drive home I considered how much rain had come down in the last few weeks. With every mile the idea of trudging around on wet ground and slogging through mud got less appealing. I parked the car and tottered into the house. I faltered a few times, and staggered at least once.
Once inside, I lurched to the recliner and sagged into it. The idea of a walk in the woods was history. My enthusiasm had evaporated. Traveling from home to the dentist and back was enough for the day. After all, walking is just moving from one place to another—but so is driving a car. And locomotion is locomotion—no matter what I call it.
©Ken Reynolds 2012