Sauntering (To walk in a slow, relaxed manner, without hurry or effort).
I am trying to learn how to saunter. It’s not easy.
Power walking became the default when running became too hard on my feet and hips. I could still feel the rush of energy and maintain the sense of strength and pride in being fit, fast-walking the neighborhood. Heels pounding the pavement, head up, arms pumping … how fast can I do my three miles today?
But that, now, takes a toll too; and in more ways than one. These days, stretching has become far more important (though far less fun) than vigorous exercise. And walking – just walking, is pretty much the extent of my regular aerobic efforts.
Retirement is supposed to bring time and space for doing more of what’s desired and less of what is strictly needed. But my life, and probably yours, continues to move so fast it’s hard to grab a moment as it rushes past.
This blog is called “Pay Attention.” I meant it to be a place to stop and closely look and think about the extraordinariness of ordinary things. Maybe the necessity of walking rather than running is a good place to start doing what I wanted from retirement. So, I am trying hard to find the joy and satisfaction in a stroll, a leisurely walk.
The other day, I found it.
I am fortunate to live in a very walkable neighborhood, with a variety of ‘destinations’ as well as just a diverse collection of interesting houses and people. One morning last week, tired of the same breakfast I’d made myself four days in a row, I decided to walk to the French bakery in the next block over and indulge myself in a croissant and coffee with cream. Spring had sprung and I was interested to see what everyone’s yard looked like on a sunny early morning.
I started out fast, as usual, but was stopped cold by the insanely vigorous bathing ritual of two robins in a neighbor’s birdbath. Sun prismed the cascade of water droplets they fountained through the air and the sparkled shards of rainbow made a glorious celebration of the morning. It was impossible to not stop and watch.
All around, birds were fluting their urgent chips, warbles, trills and other paeans of procreation into the day, and I was caught. Time to stop, look and listen. And so my saunter began.
There were the usual early spring sights – gorgeous magnolias blooming, lawns greener that they ever will be again this season. But it was the littlest things that began to catch my attention.
A patch of almost neon purple flowers muscling their way through the tall grass at the edge of the path that cuts through my long block. I recognized them as weeds I pull from my garden and lawn, but here, en masse, they were a royal’s magnificent cloak, tossed and forgotten across the dewy lawn. Quite beautiful.
I was greeted by the small grey cat I sometimes see in my yard – also sauntering along the path. She stopped and rolled over at my feet, scratching her back on the rough pavement, accompanying herself with very satisfied meows.
And just a few feet further, a wee field mouse, dead; curled and quiet on the rough asphalt. Tiny pink, delicately articulated feet, soft grey and white fur, a black berry eye and a wisp of tail, clear and sharp in the morning sun.
After coffee and pastry, on the ‘saunter’ home, a small garden, tucked into the tree lawn offered a Wonderland moment; a delicately flowered porcelain cup, filled with rainwater tea amid the early blooms. And further on, in the garden of a large house, a creative re-use of a hobby horse no longer needed by the children that may once have lived there.
I became fascinated with looking for small things beneath my feet that would usually escape notice, like the batallion of ants busily building their first hill of the season in a sidewalk crack. And listening to identify birdsong – trying to discern the sharp metallic single chirps of a cardinal from the maddening, high-pitched ‘alarm chips’ of the chipmunk. And, yes, to stop and smell the mock orange blossoms and lilacs (too early, yet for roses) along the way.
So, am I fully converted to sauntering? Time will tell. But this morning’s outing covered a scant half-block in my large, eclectic Cleveland Heights neighborhood. I suspect there’s a lot of joy to be gathered and savored in the future if I can develop a regular sauntering habit. Wish me luck.
Here’s a poem I wrote another early spring ago when I must have been sauntering another neighborhood.
The Difference of a Day
I like to walk my neighborhood
now the evening hours offer light enough
to safely stroll the broken sidewalks, see
the early evidence another chapter’s
opening, and waiting to be read.
There was this day—and just one day this week—
when all magnolia blooms had yet to feel
the press of rain and sun—lose their grasp
on naked arms. The trees relaxed their hands
and offered up their rose blushed waxy cups.
But then, the next, with just the smallest change
in temperature, or maybe just because
(and who can know what triggers the release
of secret signals in the cells?) the blooms
began to sigh, relax from ecstasy of fullness—
And on my neighbor’s lawn,
the fuchsia petals had arrayed themselves
so evenly across its emerald slope,
where purple Myrtle stars had rocket-shot
above the green and twining ivy hearts,
that no Persian master-weaver would be shamed
to claim this plush and jeweled rug his own.
© Kathleen Cerveny (2012/19)