Headlamper Season

We’re nearing the end of Daylight Savings Time for 2021, which officially ends at 2 a.m. on November 7. That means that, right now, it is pitch dark at 6 a.m., when I take my morning walk around Schiller Park, and we’ve reached the period I call headlamper season.

You can see one of the headlampers approaching in the above photo, which I took yesterday morning. They are joggers who wear a bright light on their heads as they run, apparently so they can better see the sidewalk as they scurry along. This distinguishes them from the other joggers who carry their own light sources on their arms or torsos and look like characters in the movie Tron.

Unfortunately, the bright light worn by the headlampers, which is right at eye level, has the effect of blinding the luckless walkers, like me, who happen to be heading in the opposite direction. When the headlampers get within a few feet the light is so dazzling against the darkness that I’m left sightless and stumbling forward, hoping that I don’t trip over an uneven part of the pavement or step off the sidewalk into an unbagged pile of dog doo. It should be obvious that the bright light is disturbing others–I always try, unsuccessfully, to shield my eyes with my hands and squint against the light–but the headlampers don’t seem to care. They are lost in their own personal headlamper world, no doubt congratulating themselves as they trot along for being able to afford the wondrous technology that allows them to bring their own light rather than relying on plentiful street lighting like the rest of us.

Evidently it’s the headlampers’ world. The rest of us just live in it.

On The Chicago River Walk

The Chicago River cuts through the heart of downtown Chicago as it heads out to Lake Michigan. The river has clearly been a focus of civic improvement over the past few decades–which is a big change from the days when the river was an industrial waterway and the big effort was to dye it green on St. Patrick’s Day. One improvement has been to work on the Chicago Riverwalk, which you can see along the river to the right of the photo above. We got a chance to explore the Riverwalk yesterday on a glorious autumn day, when the temperature was in the upper 40s under blue skies and bright sunshine.

The Chicago Riverwalk, like any urban path or trail that it left uninterrupted by crossing streets and traffic lights, attracts a significant number of joggers, dog walkers, and casual strollers, like us. If you like to get a close-up view of urban infrastructure, and I do, it’s a great walk that takes you under multiple bridges and past boat docks. I can happily report that the bridges looked to be well tended and in good shape, other than an inevitable coating of rust, and there were lots of boats out on the river, including both tour boats and smaller craft. You could also rent kayaks and take them out on the river, although it was a little cold for that. You know you are in Chicago when the tour boats tout that they are the one recommended by architects or offer the best architectural cruise.

Along the Riverwalk there are lots of places to eat and drink and get a hot cup of coffee and a doughnut on a brisk morning. Given the number of tiki bars and signs identifying the boundaries for alcohol consumption, I’m guessing that the Riverwalk is a favorite place for partying during the summer. We were mostly interested in checking out the older buildings and new skyscrapers as we walked along. You’ve got to give credit to the Chicago architectural authorities: the new, gleaming towers blend seamlessly with the older buildings, creating a very attractive cityscape as you move along the river. You can see the familiar clock tower of the Wrigley building in the photo below, nestled among the more recent additions to the skyline.

By the time we reached the end of the Riverwalk, the colossal office buildings had given way to condominiums and apartment buildings, and some boats were out patrolling the waters. I was impressed that, along with the tiki bars and beer joints, the Riverwalk planners had ensured there were lots of trees, some small green spaces–the dogs being walked certainly appreciated that–and playgrounds and plenty of benches where you could sit and enjoy the view. Because it was chilly, though, we kept walking to stay warm.

Our Riverwalk exploration ended after we passed through this cool tunnel, which features colorful panels depicting various scenes from Chicago’s history. With our coffee cups empty, we decided to turn around and head back to the hotel. Because the Riverwalk was such a pleasant stroll, we elected to retrace our steps along the lapping water rather than head up top to street-level and the hurly-burly of big city traffic. And the Chicago Riverwalk was just as pleasant and interesting on our return journey.

Appreciating A Wet Walk

It rained for most of the day yesterday, rained some more throughout the night, and is raining still this morning. As this look down our road/driveway shows, my walk today is going to be a wet one.

I don’t mind a wet walk. In fact, I appreciate them as a real change of pace. You’ve got to adjust your mindset for a wet walk, because you’ll need to really pay attention to what you’re doing. I don’t wear my earbuds and listen to music on the wet walks, because I want to stay actively engaged with my surroundings. No wool gathering is permitted. You’ve got puddles to dodge, and an umbrella to maneuver against the windblown raindrops, and potential splashes from passing pickups to watch out for.

But once you get out into all that rain and wetness and puddled terrain, you find things to like. The road has a special shine to it. The rain makes drumming and popping sounds against the fabric of the umbrella and the leaves on the trees and the surface of the puddles. The wet air almost seems to hug you, and the watery breeze smells fresh and clean and good. And when you get back, wetter than when you left, you feel pretty good about going out at all.

New Shoes

I needed some new walking shoes, so I went to the shoe store looking for something suitable. I’ve bought shoes on-line in the past, but I figured that in Columbus—unlike Stonington—actual brick and mortar shoe stores with sweeping selections are close at hand. And, when it comes to footwear, there’s a lot to be said for looking around at different options in person, grabbing a few boxes to make sure of sizing, sitting down on one of those communal padded stools, and trying shoes on. On-line shopping is convenient, but you’re never really sure about shoes until you’ve removed the paper wadding, laced them up, and taken those first few tentative steps.

My feet have taken a beating after 64 years of hard daily use, and I was aiming exclusively for comfort, rather than style. I opted for these Vans Deluxe Comfort Ortholite sneakers. it was an easy call, because when I put them on my feet immediately communicated to my brain: “Hey, these are comfortable. I mean, really comfortable!” So I bought them, and it turns out my feet were right.

A few days of morning walks hasn’t changed that opinion. The shoes have lots of padding on the sole, and it feels like walking on a cloud. I always enjoy my walks, but these new shoes just make the walks that much better.

In The Inland Mist

Recently I’ve started trying different routes on my morning walk, just to mix things up a bit. One new route takes me away from the shoreline and downtown Stonington and instead follows Route 15 up the hill to Cemetery Road, then across the interior of the island, and then back down the hill toward home on the Greenhead Peninsula. That inland, tree-lined route gives a decidedly different perspective on our little town.

On foggy mornings, like this morning, the mist rolls up the hillside and encases the countryside in a blurry, moist white blanket. It gives the landscape a kind of mystical look that makes for a very pleasant, and very quiet, walk. Earlier this week, on a similarly misty morning, I saw a large herd of deer that included a few youngsters that hadn’t lost their spots nosing around in this same spot. I surprised them as I walked past, and they looked up, startled, and then bolted gracefully into the tree line and vanished into the mist.

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.