As we’ve learned, a global pandemic does a lot of things. For me, it has highlighted my greatest joys and juxtaposed them to my greatest sorrows. The last seven months brings to mind life being like a box of chocolates or a bag of jelly beans where one experiences the absolute ecstasy of finding a delicious bite of something special followed by a stomach-curdling, mouth-souring experience a few bites later. And doing it anyway. With great fervor, I might add.
One of my greatest joys in life is walking. I grew up on the cusp of technology and still remember being a child and racing toward my house when the streetlights went on. I have spent more time and money than I care to admit on the business of hiking, however not a penny was wasted. (Well, maybe. Especially on the contraption that’s supposed to let women pee while standing. It remains unused.)
I don’t feel acclimated to a new geographical location until I’ve walked it. Until I’ve trudged enough times to know the paths better than the freckles on my right pinky finger, or until I can close my eyes and know which way I’m going by the feel of the pavement beneath my feet. Until then, I feel afloat and disconnected from my surroundings. Each new move in my life followed this pattern: utter anxiety about leaving my new apartment (or house, or dorm, or…), frantically snagging the essentials from a local grocery store, properly holing up like a squirrel in hibernation, and then finally gaining enough courage and confidence to enter the land of sunlight and fresh air to explore my surroundings.
I bought my house (my first house, my less than 1,200 square foot house, my pride and joy, my stance against the patriarchy, my rebellion against my commitment-phobe nature–) officially on December 16, 2019. My boyfriend (and love of my life) and I moved in on Friday, December 20, 2019. The following months were a whirlwind of holidays, seasonal depression, and, as we all know, a global pandemic.
Everyone warned me after I bought this house that it was a “dangerous” location: my realtor, my brother, my parents, random acquaintances… I was told to get a security system, to change the screws of the hinges on my front door, and to always keep my blinds closed. Texts were sent about local shootings and were accompanied by news articles. This dangerous location is 1.2 miles from my childhood home. I have neglected to do any of these things, and my boyfriend and I have remained perfectly safe–albeit often scared. Now, I’ll jump at a noise and my boyfriend will laugh at the ridiculousness of a would-be invader. Six months, ago, though, we would have both jumped and would have both looked for the incoming attacker. I blame the many naysayers in our lives.
All things considered, our house is in a perfectly safe location as long as you have basic common sense. Don’t leave your car unlocked, don’t leave your wallet in the car, and lock your door at night. If you’re not doing these things already, you either live in The Good Place or Stars Hollow. And if you do, I’m not sure whether to be jealous of you or relieved to not live there myself.
So, it remains unsaid why I took more than enough time to complete my right of passage: the neighborhood walk. The biggest catalyst was my boyfriend and I adopting a shih-poo puppy. She is now ten pounds and named Coco.
Coco is many things (cute, sometimes cuddly, a scaredy-cat…), but she is mostly wild. Being able to teach virtually has allowed me to walk her up to three miles a day, which is fine, but often not enough. Although this leaves me tired and sometimes annoyed, it has mostly brought me the unending joy of being able to take intentional, planned time out of my day to stroll through my neighborhood.
An acquaintance calls these not walks, but sniffs, a word which is full of delights on its own.
Every sniff is enjoyable, even if marred by an occasional cat call or too many barking dogs. This particular sniff occurred on September 23, the first full day of autumn.
A chill in the air and a slight tinge of red to the trees is the only harbinger of the change of seasons. If I wear enough layers and close my eyes, it could still be the summer that I feel never occurred, because summer is freedom and this summer was not full of care-free trips and nights out downtown. But for the first time in my life, I want it to be fall more than summer, and I welcome the present moment marked by a cold nose and a puppy zooming back and forth on the sidewalk in front of me. (Another delight: a slightly untrained puppy who is potty trained but does not walk to your left, despite the fact that you did 4H dog obedience training for multiple summers as a child. Another rebellion?)
On this sniff, Coco poops at her favorite house. It is a disgrace to let scat touch this lawn: on a corner lot, this yard is perfectly manicured and pebbles trime the driveway; tropical gardenias line their walkway; and four shepherd’s hooks hold hanging baskets that have magically survived the whole of summer. It is a wonder to walk by on a daily basis, and a delight to see a tiny bit of yellow on the tips of the gardenia’s magnificent leaves.
After a quick scoop, I am pulled past the house with an outdoor porch fan, an ode to faux-southern living. We turn a corner to see a woman on a ladder, looking steady and confident as she tacks a “happy birthday” sign above an open garage door. I have secondary happiness for whoever’s birthday it is, and a smile creeps on my face despite it not being my private moment. I am tugged forward and onward. A branch, at least an inch in diameter, is picked up and carried by Coco, who I believe does this only because she can. She is no man, but she is very small, and very well might suffer from little man syndrome. I pass a house with a large weeping willow and get stopped by the one neighbor I know personally from yoga teacher training. We talk about dogs and school and elearning, and I feel delighted to be connected to someone other than those at my address.
A quick glance at my phone confirms that I have been enjoying myself too much and must return home. Two yellow school buses drive by (perhaps a little too quickly, but who am I to judge).The stench of the exhaust brings about the nostalgia of bus riding and memorizing the bus route as a child, which makes one wonder if it is linked to the present-day enjoyment of neighborhood-walking. It is a possibility, and it is worth consideration.
With every change of the season, a spattering of porches are modestly decorated, and it is another delight to be both a voyeur and to partake. Now, with October on the horizon, hanging baskets full of petunias are being replaced by pots of mums. Rose bushes are fading and crunchy leaves line the sidewalks. Unlike the beginning of the walk, summer feels far off and intangible.
As we turn onto our street, a breeze picks up, bringing with it the smoky scent of a cookout. A voice wafts out of an open window–someone is belting R&B, and it is as beautiful as any opera. The houses on our street are not as seasonally delicious as others in the neighborhood, and ours sticks out by having been decked in a buffalo-plaid rug, multi-colored mums, and fake pumpkins galore. At the familiar smells of our yard, Coco off-roads from the sidewalk to the grass. Our sniff concludes, and I am pulled, pulled, pulled forward to a fall-themed porch I get to call home.