I Like to Walk:
Well. Not really. I'm more of a stroller. Like Dad always said: "There's no use making your heart beat faster."
I've read that the "average" walking speed is a little over 3 miles per hour and that seems pretty slow to start. My meanderings run about one-third slower—and that's when I pay attention to moving forward, which I don't always do because there's so much to see, even when you take the same route almost every, single day. Birds and bunnies. Kids on bikes. Clouds and sky. It's amazing how much variety there is in the things that appear to be static.
But what slows me down the most are the memories. Some are fairly recent: There's the spot where the pretty, short-shorted, red-headed woman on skates smiled at me. Some are more distant: I remember when my little kids used to ride their bikes along here with me. Others reach 'way back in time…
When I was small, I spent thousands of hours on Midway Beach, on the East Side of Conneaut Lake, PA. Us Midway Kids were there all the time; during the summer, for sure, but also autumn, winter, and spring. On the south end of that beach, near the water, grew several splendid examples of Populus deltoids, or Easter Cottonwoods. One of the largest and fastest growing native trees in North America, they had their feet in good soil, all the water they could drink, and were sheltered by the Lake's microclimate. As a result, they were very straight and tall with trunks at least 4-to-5 feet thick.
The wizened Widow McCready, who lived up Lakeview Avenue a few houses from the beach, used to call me to her front porch and give me dimes to buy us Popsicles from a nearby neighborhood grocery ("banana or root beer, or nothing, please"). We'd sit and she'd talk of her memories. I remember very few, except for her telling of her and her father planting those trees on the beach when she was a child, in the 1880s. People think the past is so very far away, but it's not, you know?
Cottonwoods are considered "hardwoods." Hearing that, most think of useful trees: Maple, Oak, Hickory. Cottonwoods are nothing like that. Their wood is fibrous and difficult to work. They're prone to rot and insect damage with limbs brittle and apt to breaking. Any good wind brings twigs and such tumbling to the ground.
They're messy, too. Girl Cottonwoods (yes, there are girl and boy trees; it's biology, for crying in the bucket), Girl Cottonwoods cast off thousands of sticky seed pods that adhere to everything they touch, leaving behind stubborn yellow stains—especially on the bottoms of bare feet. There's also the white fluffy seeds that give the trees their common name. The grassy beach, the sand, and the water would be covered in the stuff. There are two things in particular about the Cottonwoods that I remember best… A light breeze would set their leaves to shaking, producing a distinctive rattle, like pebbles in a shaken cardboard box. Only quieter. That and their aroma. A strong and pleasant smell of crushed, dry wood.
The trees were taken down decades ago when their advancing age, decomposition, and propensity for tossing large branches made them a danger to beach-goers using them for shade. I still see them though, standing tall, if not a little ragged.
My present, daily stroll takes me along a bike path close to my home. It's part of the Rails to Trails effort that converts old railroad rights-of-way to recreational use. The path is nice and flat. I like that. The part I walk takes me through back yards and wooded areas, to a small crick that's bridged where I turn back. It's a conveniently measured mile.
At the speed I travel it's easy to notice all sorts of things. How the cracks across the asphalt path are spaced either 7 or 11 paces apart. The small animal trails that leave tiny, muddy footprints on the pavement. I even once saw a tortoise out laying her eggs.
About two-thirds along the way there's a small and spindly Boy Cottonwood growing on the far side of the west ditch. I think it's a boy because it makes no seed pods nor cotton. But it does cast off branches and twigs, it does make that sound in the wind, and it does produce that smell that always hurries my slow self back to my childhood on Midway Beach.
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