Over the past few years, with more time unoccupied and available, I’ve started doing a fair amount of walking. As someone who prefers the comfort of consistency, instead of exploring new routes and places, I tend to walk the same path over and over again. I walk not to explore outwardly, only inwardly.
Walking is cathartic; I hear, smell, see, embrace nature, but mostly it gives me a chance to think, or, when I so desire, to not think. I prefer to walk late in the day, when darkness is creeping in on me, and if it is raining and cold, that is better still. I like the dark because within it I feel more invisible, more within myself. The solitude does me good and brings me peace. Being exposed to the elements is beneficial; bad weather calms my brain and eliminates its need for stimulation.
I drive a short distance from my home since I don’t want to walk through my neighborhood to start off, as running into friendly neighbors where I have lived for many years means discussions of children or the weather or of a new home going up that no one likes. I drive about six blocks and park on the side of the street. I pull out my earbuds that I keep in the glove box, run the cable under my sweatshirt and plug them into my phone. I find my SIRIUS XM app and turn on the Sinatra channel, the perfect music to accompany my walks.
As I said, I value consistency and pattern as opposed to exploration and adventure. It’s certainly not something to be proud about, but neither is my desire to be alone at home as opposed to attending a large party. That’s all part of being an introvert. I walk many blocks to and around Burgess Park, which is less a park really, when I think about it, than a home to many Menlo Park places: the library, the city services center, the police department, a soccer field, a Little League field, some tennis courts, a swimming center and more. But it is a good place to walk around and I can do so unfettered and without running into anyone I know.
From there, I track backward until I hit Oak Grove Avenue. One of my favorite things about going north on Oak Grove used to be that one side of the street remained in its natural state, with dirt and broken tree limbs and leaves—lots of leaves in the fall. I liked walking along there as if I were in the countryside, kicking up the brown debris and hearing the rustle of the leaves. But now they are paving it, reminding me of the Joni Mitchell song about paving paradise.
My path takes me down Oak Grove to the most beautiful little church and grounds: Church of the Nativity. Though I have not been inside, it is a sweet, small white church with a gleaming tall steeple. I read that it was constructed in 1872 and was moved on log rollers twice before arriving at its current location in 1877. On the grounds is a home—I suppose for the pastor—that is similar in style to the homes in the neighborhood where I grew up, and there is a bubbling fountain and brick walkways. I long ago decided that if I were a Christian, I would be a Catholic, specifically for the churches. Walking into giant European cathedrals—with their towering heights, slight echoes and gleaming stained-glass windows—always makes me think that there must be a God to inspire such brilliance, especially when I consider that they were built long before modern machinery.
So I walk around the little church and stop and watch the fountain as the water splashes and sprays. There is a nice bench there where I sometimes sit and think. Sometimes there is a mass (I guess that’s what it is) and people come and go from the church. I try to stay out of their way. Then I start heading back, formerly through the leaves and dust, circling around a bit—depending on my schedule—before heading back to my car.
I’m always refreshed and can take a good, deep breath after my walk. I slide my earbuds out from under my sweatshirt and roll them up and place them back in the glove box. Someone once said that golf is a good walk spoiled. Though I love golf, I would agree. On my walks I can let my imagination go, my heart wander and my brain relax, and I never have to wonder if I can find my lost golf ball