Saturday, November 7, 2015

Walking the Week After Halloween

I have been away from serious walking for a very long time, so I was happy to get out early this Saturday morning and walk in the town of Mason. One of the mistakes I made when I moved to Michigan was building a house "out in the country" in the belief that that would be ideal for walking and other outdoor recreation. Problem is there are no sidewalks out here, so I have come close to being hit by cars, even though I walk on the correct side of the street. Though I am surrounded by farm fields, for most of the year they are five feet deep in mud, crops, snow, or hunters. Also, when I walk in the fields I am trespassing on other peoples' property, and even though some of my neighbors have not complained, one has chased me off. When I lived in an old neighborhood in California, I could step out the door any day of the year, (and also at dawn or dusk), and just start walking. Though I can still enjoy some local walks, for more safety and variety, I have to get in my car and drive to town. It's a week after Halloween, so it's nice that some people still have their Halloween decorations out, and we still have some autumn leaves to add to the color. In the past, I enjoyed getting out on the morning after Halloween, because some of the magic spell worked up by the excitement of children being allowed to cross the boundaries of ordinary existence was still hanging in the air. However, I haven't observed this little ritual in recent years, due to other obligations. Because I am a person who is very suggestible and my moods are susceptible to environmental influences, I have a sincere appreciation for people who decorate their house fronts for the holidays, because of the extra interest and color those things add. People who decorate are actually putting on a performance for their neighbors. Also, because the descent into the dark days of winter can affect those of us who are prone to depression, putting up colored lights and decorations is also a way that individuals help push back some of the darkness. In very old neighborhoods where the houses are closer to the streets and sidewalks, the house fronts--including porches and small front yards--become a transitional space between family and community. So, holiday decorations, as well as other things people do to bring life and activity into those spaces, promote a sense of linking with the larger community. Different neighborhoods have different characteristics of "feng shui," but activity generates moving "chi," which is one argument in favor of spending more time on your front porch, and even devising lawn games for smaller lawn spaces. ("Chi" is the Chinese concept of life force, and feng shui pertains to the ways that energy flows through natural as well as man-made environments.) This discussion of front yard as living space reminds me of Gilbert Chesterton's observations about differences between the French and the British. Writing at the beginning of the 20th century, he commented that the British of that time liked to have enclosed front yards, to provide a sense of privacy leading into the house, whereas the French had no front yards, their doors opening right out into the street, because they liked to do their living out in the street. I also once heard a woman from India reflecting that people in her country like to do their celebrating out in the street, so she found it alienating when she came to America, where family events take place behind closed doors and windows. However, when I have been in neighborhoods where the houses are so close to the street that you actually can look into the windows, I have sometimes felt like a Peeping Tom, yet also appreciated a sense of intimacy. I like to see how different people live, not to be snoopy and judgmental, but just because I've always been curious about the ways that different people live.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Earth Rabbits Forth

A few years back, I got a regular, full time job, and that has made it hard to get back to this blog on adventures in walking, especially as my walking is now mainly limited to tramping in circles around my building complex during breaks at work. A reason for writing about the things I think about or observe while walking is to challenge myself to think about new things, and to observe the world differently, so as to engage the world in new ways. Though, happily, I've made a firm habit of using my breaks for walking (instead of web-surfing or whatever else), it is difficult for me to shift from my "at work" frame of mind to a more creatively altered state. Despite that, the walks do air my brain, and I still have some Nature-world contacts. This past week, the lawns abutting the parking lots have been dotted with bunnies--large ones as well as fairly small ones. My son and I used to notice such rabbit outbreaks on our own lawn, but though I do have a resident rabbit, my neighborhood population has been down for a while. When I see a landscape sprinkled with bunnies, it is almost as if they had grown out of the earth like wildflowers, so I like to say that the earth "rabbits forth," (because it is sending up rabbits).

Sunday, October 9, 2011


The maples’ profusion of red, yellow, gold, and orange leaves has noticeably intensified over the past week. My hazels, current, and oak are sporting their fall colors, as are many trees besides. Meanwhile, the goldenrod has faded, but the purple asters appear to be a bit more numerous, and their purples now provide the brightest roadside colors. So, I was wrong about the goldenrod being the last roadside wildflower of autumn—it is the aster. As a parallel, I have noticed that among Halloween decorations, purple has become more common next to the traditional black and orange.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Autumn Colors

In our neck of the woods, a number of the maples and a few other species are showing some yellow, red, and orange colors, though most of the trees are still pretty green. The height of our color season usually comes the second week of October.

In terms of roadside wildflowers, the goldenrod is most abundant, so one sees a great deal of yellow, though the goldenrod flowers were fresher about two weeks ago. The goldenrod’s genus name is “solidago,” which means “strength.” Walk up to a stalk of goldenrod, and you’ll see assorted bees, wasps, and other insects clinging to it, because it’s getting to be the last flower around. You can make tea out of the goldenrod flowers, (it has a vegetable taste, but mild). However, that is hard to do when it gets this late in the season, because the blooms are starting to look spent, and one is reluctant to knock all the insects off, knowing that their days are numbered. I used to have a fear and dislike of wasps, but now I feel sorry for them, having read Loren Eiseley’s essay on “The Brown Wasps,” and how they cling to their memories of home as they drop off and freeze to death. When you see them clinging to that goldenrod, it’s a similar hopeless refuge.

The next most abundant roadside flower is the tickseed sunflower, which is not a true sunflower. You can also occasionally see the cultivated sunflowers—both the giant and regular varieties, in peoples’ garden patches, as well as lining their walkways. Though the area I live in is deemed “agribusiness,” I don’t see any sunflower farming being done. Sometimes sunflowers get loose, though, and you may see lone sunflowers growing in fields or ditches. Sunflowers are actually a Native American plant, despite the fact that sunflower seeds are the national snack of Russia. Some botanists believe that the sunflower may have first been cultivated in the northern (i.e., U.S.) part of North America, unlike corn and other crops that originated in Mesoamerica and were brought north. Native Americans liked to plant sunflowers around the edges of their crops, and the sunflowers were the first crops they planted in the spring, and the last to be harvested in the fall.

I’ve also been seeing some patches of small purple asters along the roadside, and a scattering of blue chicory and yellow sow thistle, though now more sparse that previously. Back in August, the chicory, sow thistle, and Queen Anne’s lace grew abundantly side by side, so their combined blue, yellow, and creamy white colors made for the dominant floral color scheme—which is actually a striking combination that could be used in some decorative schemes.

The other major colors right now are the dull maroon of the woodbine, (a vine which is Michigan’s most common groundcover), and the foliage of the sumacs, which ranges from brick to cherry red, (though many of them are still green).

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Life has gotten tougher for me these past years, as increased care-taking duties have made it necessary to drop classes and give up other things, including my walks. However, today I was able to get out early and walk in Mason’s Maple Grove Cemetery. I noticed that the cemetery has its own mailbox, but it’s not up at the front gate like you might think, but more in the interior of the cemetery, though not close to the cemetery’s maintenance buildings. That means that the U.S. mail carriers would have to inconvenience themselves by driving farther into the cemetery if they ever have anything to deliver to that mailbox. I don’t know if they actually do bring mail to that box, or whether the cemetery management is out of some larger city office that has its own mailbox. The idea of a forlorn mailbox sitting in the middle of a cemetery does suggest ideas for horror novels or short stories, where mysterious messages start to appear, delivered by some ghostly postman.

Another sight noticed: near the entrance, alongside the start of the path that was probably the original central road through the cemetery, lies the upper half of the tombstone of a William Coffin, who died in 18-sixty-something. There is something bemusing about the name Coffin on a tombstone, even though we learn in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” that Coffin is a traditional New England name. Michigan was actually settled by a rush of New Englanders in search of less rocky farmland, and in fact, Mason is laid out on the New England model, with a central square and courthouse. Carved on this Wm. Coffin’s tombstone is a hand with finger pointing upward, a common Victorian symbol, reminding us to set our sights toward heaven. However, because the top of the monument is lying down-slope, this finger points downward. I have seen similar toppled tombstones with pointing figures now horizontal on walks in other cemeteries.

While in Mason, I also viewed the swollen and fast-flowing Sycamore Creek, though the floodwaters have subsided considerably since a couple of days ago when we had two nights of relentlessly fast and heavy downpours. Every year you hear about some part of this country where people have lost their homes—and sometimes their lives—to flooding, and at the same time, every year you hear about parts of the country suffering from intense drought. Too bad they can’t capture the floodwater overflow before it gets to the point of wiping out peoples’ houses and towns, and route it through something similar to the California aqueduct system to carry it to the areas that are parched. That would be quite a “stimulus project.” I visited California in June, and because I flew in to San Diego, the plane was flying low enough for me to see considerable stretches of irrigation channels and aqueducts—very impressive!

Friday, March 18, 2011


The month of March is a time of emergence, and that is a theme for me, now that I’m able to get out and walk more. In the past two weeks, the influx of blackbirds, robins, grackles, killdeer, and sandhill cranes has become more noticeable. This is always an important psychological and philosophical occurrence for me, because my birthday is on March 4th, about the time these birds are usually migrating. At first they trickle in, but one day you step out and witness a full-scale invasion force. And the other day, as I was coming out of a building, I noticed the leaves of some sort of lilies or other bulb plants coming out. Although I use my 15-minute coffee breaks to walk around my block of buildings, and I’ve also taken a few longer walks, the weather has gotten to where I can now do some serious walking.

Soon it will be April, whose name, “Aprilis,” means “I open.” I find that walking encourages an emotional and psychological opening. For example, I have a problem of getting into a negative feedback loop, where with my mental voice (my “self talk”), I keep reiterating all of the negative things in my life, telling myself and the rest of my mental audience everything that’s frustrating, or falling apart, or going wrong. When I start out on my walks, the negative self talk will often start up as well. However, I have found that when I’m out in open nature, an “opening out” process ensues, where I am being drawn out of myself and more into the world of nature, which has the effect of slowing and muting the negative thoughts.

Another thing that I find good for stifling the negative self talk, (and all thoughts in general), is walking into the face of a brisk wind, (like I did this morning). Somehow that really clears the mind. Of course, where I live in Mid-Michigan, that means the West Wind. The North, South, and East winds are considerably less common. The East Wind is something else again, because it is a trickster wind—typically both the herald and attendant of freakish weather. Last year, a driving east wind cracked some of my bedroom window panes.

By the way, yesterday evening was the “Night of the Peepers,” (immortalized in an essay by Joseph Wood Krutch), and this morning I saw some poor squashed leopard frogs on the road, which means that despite the falling temperatures at night, it’s getting warm enough for frogs to get on the move. To honor my French (and, farther back, Belgian) ancestry, I should do something special, because the first frog chorus is a big event in French and Belgian folk practice, occasioning an annual festival.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Privileged Glimpses

While walking in the field to my south, I saw large numbers of robins on the southernmost edge of the field. As I approached, they started to fly up into the wood margin, so I turned around, so as not to bother them. Whenever I catch a glimpse of the bird migration, I feel terribly privileged—especially as my work load, school load, and family load prevents me from getting out much.

Having so much work but falling ever more behind is also a reason I haven’t maintained this blog. The other reason is that I have felt I should only make entries in response to direct experience from the day’s walk. However, when I am able to walk, I don’t always have significant insights or the time to write them down. So, I am going to change the rules I’ve set for myself, and try to write some short pieces on things that one may see while walking in a neighborhood, or in a cemetery, or on the beach, etc., even if I didn’t encounter all of those things that very day, because I have made a lot of observations over the years, and the blog provides a good way for me to get these thoughts organized.