A Walk With My Students


365/329: Split-rail fence

Image by riekhavoc via Flickr

Feels good, putting shoes back on, packed, “en-wombed,” fundamental security to have one’s feet protected.  It is a somehow male feeling, to be dressed, to be prepared.  And walking, an ancient art.

Stepping, a small pressure forward in the shoe.  Too fast.  Don’t walk so fast.  Walking fast is a sign of insecurity, a lack of confidence—not confidence—trust.  “In movement and deportment, I manifest the Ancient Way.”

Sodden day.  Pavement of the parking lot crumbling along the edge, like a blackened loaf of bread, scalloped and scooped by running rain water.  Worms struggle in their cold skins, “opalescent,” nude, vulnerable.  Why don’t robins eat them?  Puddles among tufts of fresh, green grass, beading water.  We walk toward the slope and the old split-rail fence, mince over the ditch-sluice, wetting our shoes anyway.  Steep climb up, pushing down with knees, thinking “How is Heather doing with this?” (Kidney stones.)  Thinking “They’re all behind me,” like Orwell in Burma.  I know what I must do, but here, now, it is to give up control, not seize it.

Here the ground is very lumpy.  Feel the knobs and cups through my rain-softened shoes.  And the grass, longer here, is matted, tousled, “bed-head grass,” cured golden brown, with gray elements of year-old Queen Anne’s Lace sticking up everywhere.  And then, the gargling sound of a beige pickup with wupping boards in the bed, hurtling down Sugar Grove Road.

We gaze down, then, into the pre-spring woods, the birds a series of loud bells and sirens in their hiding spots among un-leafed trees—though those trees’ gray-brown is decidedly fuzzed, either going vaguely reddish or gold, not yet green, but becoming.  (Frost’s “Nature’s first green is gold/ her hardest hue to hold.”)  A robin dares the top of a tree for a trill, louder than all the rest.  Pieces of rain-limp trash lie wrinkled under shrubs, almost like small mounds of forgotten snow.  We leave it there.

We flank the woods for eighty feet.  The green spruces meld among wetted, leafless maples.  Birch trees, like wet paper bolts of lightning, are benignly staked into the gold-gray-brown leaf mold forest floor.  How loud their white is.  And then a loud cracking sound somewhere in the woods.  Nothing moves.

Returning along one side of the fence, which is very old, deeply creviced, gray, and soft, lichen and moss, different grays have crusted over the old wood, and we follow its strict discipline until we reach the spot where a rail has fallen and step over it, and then down the wet slope—slowly, slowly, feet forcing their way into the toe-box of cold-soaked leather.

The world, the outer world, returns to me.  Trucks and music from a radio, a familiar face.  The ugliness of institutional buildings, seen through glasses starred with constellations of rain drops.  And worms struggling out of the earth so as not to drown, drape themselves like over-cooked noodles on the asphalt.

Our whole life has just been out for a walk.  We come to the door with many things carried in our minds.    And some of us picked things up along the way with our hands: Hanah, for example, has a humming-bird nest.  I, four nails.

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