Each morning, I walk to work. In the evening, I walk home again. It is no more than a casual ten or fifteen-minute stroll between my front door and the library I work at. No need for a long commute. No need to buy gas. I would bike, but the giant hill I have to traverse makes it as fast to walk. It is nice, living so close.
Walking makes the changes of the seasons more noticeable. The shifts in weather, the little changes on the sidewalk, the extra time it takes to navigate over a pavement covered in sheer ice, thick snow, crunchy leaves, or dead cicadas. The first time you see your breath in the morning. The smells, those are most interesting to me. In the early summer, the thick perfume of lilacs, basswoods, and other sweet hints I can’t identify. The acrid exhaust fumes on a dark winter evening, the musty odor of off campus housing opened up in the spring, the dry, crispy mélange of fallen leaves in the autumn, each speak to me in a different way.
I notice that I have neglected to mention other people in my walk through the heart of this small city. They are there, of course, and they change with the seasons too. In the summer, the morning walk is solitary, but by September, grade schoolers wait for the bus in groups. There are cyclists, dog walkers, and joggers. In typical Minnesota fashion, people take off their shirts or wear swimsuits to appreciate the first warm day, snow still the ground. For a socially awkward introvert, there is always the perennial issue of passing someone on the sidewalk. How much of a greeting is appropriate?
There are many routes that I can take between work and home. Sometimes, for whatever whim of the moment, I’ll choose one or the other. I could turn right on Broad, or continue along Washington to 2nd. If I turn left on 4th and take another side street, I pass what I call the red light district, due to a weird little house with a red light bulb on its porch. One takes me past a small liquor store. Another will take me past a house with prominent Green party iconography, which never fails to make me smile. On occasion, I will take one route in the morning, and then travel home by another. Try to mix things up a little.
It has all become a bit routine. I often walk in a sort of daze, mind wandering as I plod along the uneven sidewalks and potholed streets of the old neighborhoods. I have always been a daydreamer so I have reached the point where I can navigate the route more or less on autopilot. I stare off into space, thinking about the latest book I’ve been reading, some story idea, a list of things that I need to do when I get to work or back home. Most of that I will have forgotten about as soon as I put the key in the lock.