My Morning Hills

Stonington is a town built on hills, like a San Francisco writ small.  There are hills everywhere.  In fact, you can’t walk 30 yards from our front door without encountering a hill.  But on my morning walk, two hills in particular loom large.

I’m a creature of habit, and I always take the same path on my 6:30 a.m. strolls.  I follow Main Street to reach the downtown area, then turn right to head down to the mail boat dock and the east end of the harbor — encountering a few mild hills on the way.  But after I enjoy the smell of the ocean air and sight of the boats on the water, I turn left and head up Granite Street — and I do mean “up.”

Granite Street (pictured above) is aptly named, because the Granite Street Hill is hard and brutal — like the stone that gives the street its name.  The hill rises like a massive fist from the harbor, heading directly up at a constant 45-degree angle, so abruptly that you need to lean forward into the hill to keep your balance.  The only redeeming quality of the Granite Street hill is that it is short in length.  By the time I reach the top my legs are groaning and I’m breathing hard, gulping down big mouthfuls of that seaside breeze but feeling good that the first hill is behind me.

Then it’s down a gentle slope that heads back into town, past the coffee shop and library, where the second hill challenge is found.  Pink Street (pictured below) heads north from town, past the motel cabins, and then winds to the left in a giant arc that skirts a stream that runs down to the harbor.  The slope of the Pink Street hill is blessedly more gradual than its Granite Street counterpart, but the path is much longer, running about a quarter mile, at a constant 30 degree uphill slope, past houses, lobster traps, and the old high school turned community center.  Every morning, I wonder if the Pink Street path will ever end.

Of course, it does, and when I reach the end I’m far above town and sea level, ready to head down a few more hills rising from the west end of the harbor to get back to our place.  I’ve got one last little hill to climb, just before turning onto our street, but it’s puny compared to what I’ve done already.  With Granite Street and Pink Street behind me, I’m ready to face the day. 

Old Habits . . . Die Surprisingly Easily

For years, my daily routine when I’m at home has been unvarying:  when I get up in the morning, I take a brisk walk, on the same route, in the same direction, to get the blood pumping and the brain engaged.  I did it rain or shine, hot or cold, without exceptions, with no ifs, ands, or buts.

When we lived in New Albany, my route took my around the Yantis Loop.  When we moved to German Village, my course changed to circumnavigation of Schiller Park.  But in either case, the early morning walk was a key component of the day, mixing inner compulsion, simple enjoyment, and a desire to be sure to get some exercise before plopping myself down behind my desk.

I would call my morning walk routine a “habit.”

But when we came to Maine recently and had to self-quarantine on the footprint of our cottage for two weeks, I was unable to take my morning walk.  The first few days I got up early anyway, but in short order I realized that I there was no need to do so because I couldn’t take my walk, so I might as well roll over in bed and sleep a little longer.  And that turned out to be pretty enjoyable, actually. 

By the time the 14 days was over, I found that my routine had been shattered.  On the first day after the quarantine ended, I took my walk, but on the second day it rained, and I decided I should just stay home, without really giving it much thought.  But when I did think about it, I thought:  “What the hell?”

So clearly, my long-standing habit has been broken to pieces and needs to be reestablished.  I thought the saying was, “old habits die hard,” but that turns out to be totally wrong.  Maybe it should be, “good habits die easily.” 

At Quarantine’s End

Some time ago, earlier in the coronavirus crisis, Maine’s Governor imposed a mandatory 14-day quarantine on all “non-essential” people entering the state. We’re deemed non-essential — which delivers a severe blow to my sense of self-worth, incidentally — so we’ve been complying with the order and have kept to the footprint of our little place for the last fortnight. We understand and respect why the Governor issued the order, and we want our neighbors here to see that we do. It’s important for “summer people” like us to acknowledge and abide by the sensitivities of the year-round residents.

Some time last night the quarantine period ended, so this morning I seized the opportunity and took an early walk to experience the newfound freedom and get some fresh air. It’s hard to overstate what a pleasure it is to stretch your legs and get some exercise after two weeks of being cooped up, and to see some different scenery, too. I enjoyed the flowers, the abandoned boats, the deep whiffs of harbor air, and just about everything I saw.

You can’t fully appreciate the simple pleasures of a walk until you’ve been deprived of one for days on end.

Once More Into Darkness

I may be the only non-farmer in America who dreads the “spring ahead” point in the year — which happens tonight, in case you’ve forgotten.

Why? It’s not that I don’t like having sunshine later in the evening, for sure. No, it’s because I walk Betty in the morning and we’ve just gotten to the point where the sun peeks over the horizon during our morning walk time — as the picture of one of the Schiller Park aerial sculptures that I took recently shows. With clocks moving ahead an hour tonight, Betty and I will once more be plunged into darkness on our morning stroll. We’ll have to deal with a few more weeks of darkness before the lengthening days give us sunshine at 6 a.m.

Swan Serenity

For all I know, swans are inwardly tormented creatures. They could be wound tighter than a coil, churning on the inside with deep-seated angst and concern. But if that is in fact the case, swans are masters of concealment — for no other animal or bird projects a more placid demeanor than a swan gliding gracefully and calmly across the surface of a lake.

When you can start the day with a few laps around a peaceful lake on a crisp, bright morning, with a swan for company, it’s sure to put you in a serene frame of mind.

Morning Walks With Kasey

The last few days I’ve been responsible for walking Kasey in the morning.  We’ve got a routine going:  she sleeps in while I take my lap around Schiller Park, she barks angrily when I return, she waits impatiently while I shower and dress, and then we set out toward Frank Fetch Park.  On the walk, Kasey smells everything there is for a dog to smell — namely, everything — and along the way she answers the call of nature multiple times, leaving it for her trusted aide to clean up after her.

Some might argue that picking up after your dog helps prepare a lawyer for the work day ahead.

Last Loop

This morning, for what will almost certainly be the last time, I took my morning walk around the Yantis Loop walking path.

IMG_4250For many years now — I’m not sure exactly how long, really — I’ve started my day with this walk.  I’ve taken it virtually every morning we’ve been home, rain or shine, save only days when we’ve been blitzed by freezing rain or I was laid up after foot surgery.  I’ve walked it with Dusty, Penny, and Kasey, or accompanied only by my trusty iPod, in darkness and in the golden rays of dawn depending on the season and the vagaries of Daylight Savings Time.

And every day, the path is precisely the same — something that Kish finds very amusing.  It’s left out of our house, left on Alpath Road, right on Ogden Woods Boulevard, and then right — always right — on the Yantis Loop itself, so that the familiar white fence is ever on my left.  Then, past the top of the Loop, over the boardwalk around the pond at number 5 North and following the curves of the Loop as it heads back due north, then veering from the Loop to head up Route 62 to join up with Alpath once again.  All told, it’s about a two-mile circuit.

The sameness of this early morning journey is part of its enormous appeal.  My feet know where to go, the walk clears my sleep-addled brain, and the quiet and peaceful surroundings of the stroll make for ideal thinking time.  I get a little exercise out of it, too.

I’m looking forward to our move to German Village, but my walk on the Yantis Loop is one of the things I’ll really miss about New Albany, so this morning’s final effort was a wistful experience.  I’m going to try to replicate the Loop — somewhat — by regularly walking to work from our new place, but moving through the streets of downtown Columbus can’t really fully substitute for the familiar, bucolic path along the white fence.

The Penny Chronicles

My name is Penny.

The Leader has been gone the last few days, which means we’re stuck with the old boring guy,  That means no snuggling, no kisses, and no treats thrown to us when the Leader leaves the house.  The old boring guy doesn’t do any of that good stuff.

IMG_3064Kasey and I sure do miss the Leader!

When the old boring guy is in charge, we know he’s going to take for a long morning walk.  And when I say long, I mean long!  It takes forever!

But there is one good thing about it.  The old boring guy always walks by one of my favorite places and let’s me stop and have a good sniff around.  I love that little stretch of fence and patch of ground.  I’m not sure why.  I’ve been stopping there since I first joined the pack, smelling the smell and leaving my own sign for any dogs that might follow.

And in the morning, like this morning, when it is cool and dark and peaceful, this little patch of grass and fence is a wonderful place.  When I come home and lie down on the kitchen floor, sometimes I think about it.  And then, eventually, I get hungry.

The New Albany Walking Classic, 2014

IMG_3008In a few minutes, the New Albany Walking Classic will begin.  It’s a beautiful day for the walk — crisp and clear, with blue sky and a nice chill in the air.  The finish line is ready, a band is already playing, and the contestants are getting primed.

As usual, this latest New Albany event goes right through my North of Woods neighborhood.  This year, though, I’m talking a different tactic.  Rather than trying to go about my business and try to navigate the event, I’ll be staying home and enjoying a nice cup of coffee and conversation with my lovely wife.

It’s not quite if you can’t beat them, join them, though.  I’ve already taken my pleasant, solitary morning walk, and I won’t be joining the contestants. 

Bicycle Hit Man

On this morning’s walk I came within a whisker of being struck by a bicycle.

It happened on one of the darkest parts of the leisure path, where there are no street lights.  The cyclist didn’t have a headlight.  I could see him because there was a dim red light on the back of his bike, but he apparently didn’t see me.  I moved to the right edge of the path, but he kept veering inexorably over in my direction.  I’m guessing he was fiddling with his gear or water bottle and wasn’t paying attention; I’m fairly confident no one has put out a bicycle hit on me.  Finally, I trotted off the leisure path to get out of his way, and the sudden movement got his attention. He said “Sorry!” as he righted his bike and went whizzing past, and I emerged from the encounter unscathed, with only an adrenalin surge to remember him by.

There’s always been an uneasy truce between cyclists and walkers on leisure paths and sidewalks. Bicycles move much faster than pedestrians, of course, and it’s unnerving to hear cyclists shout “On your left!” from behind you before they go flying by.  When I see cyclists weaving though the people on the path, I’m tempted to think that the path should be reserved for walkers and joggers.  Then I remember that I ride my bicycle on the path, too, because it’s a great ride — a smooth path, unhindered by stop signs or cars that drive too close, with a cool tunnel, little hills to get the blood pumping, and long coasting runs.  It’s perfect for cycling, just as it’s perfect for a brisk, head-clearing morning walk.

There’s no reason why cyclists, pedestrians, and joggers can’t share the leisure path, day or night or early morning.  But the cyclists need to really pay attention, especially when it’s dark outside.  Having a light on the front of the bicycle would help, too.

Red Cones In The Morning

IMG_2460Red cones in the morning, North of Woods take warning!

Well, that’s not quite a saying, but whenever you see red cones across the streets in our North of Woods neighborhood on a weekend morning, you know there’s another walking, running, or biking event going on in New Albany.  Today, it’s part of the Challenge New Albany series and is a triathlon competition, so on our walk today Kasey and I saw lots of runners and bikers — and even the full complement of the New Albany Mounted Patrol, which was out in full force.

Having our streets blocked regularly is a pain, but I’ve grown reconciled to it over the years.  Our neighborhood is one of the most centrally located in New Albany, within easy walking distance of the “downtown” Market Street area and the golf course.  Traffic detours and red cones now and then are just part of the price we pay for being close to the library and the post office, and we wouldn’t trade that proximity for anything.

Animal Eyes

On the home stretch of this morning’s walk, as I moved along a section of Route 62 where there are woods on both sides of the road, two deer stood on the pavement while a car approached.  Fortunately, they crossed over without incident, and the car slid by.

Normally the deer would promptly vanish into the trees.  This time, though, the female stood, framed in the glow of a street light, and stared at me, her primal black eyes glittering in the lamplight.  It was unnerving — and suddenly I felt all of my senses on high alert, providing the kind of acute awareness of my surroundings not felt since I was in a movie theater with a high school date, conscious of every movement she made and trying to figure out whether they meant that she was receptive to holding hands.

The deer wasn’t watching to admire my walking form.  The only logical conclusion was a fawn was still on my side of the road, and the mother deer was waiting and watching to make sure they were reunited.  If so, that meant I needed to get out of the area without confronting Bambi, or the two deer might come down on me in an unpleasant New Albany version of When Animals Attack.  So I listened carefully, sniffed the air and smelled the lingering musky odor of the two deer that had passed, kept one eye out for the mother and the other for the child, and kept moving ahead at a steady pace.  The mother watched me the whole way.

My primitive senses aren’t very sharp, because I never saw the fawn, but after I passed I turned back to see what was happening.  Sure enough, the mother crossed the road again, and a small deer emerged from hiding right where I had passed.  The mother sensed my presence and turned and stared at me again with those intense, wild eyes.  I decided it was wise to move along.