Margaret’s Musings: Walking the Burg

I’m sure everyone has a different way of staying sane as we “shelter in place” during the current pandemic.

Each to his own, but my response has been to take a daily walk—a commonplace occurrence for many, but new for this normally sedentary individual.

And what an eye-opener it’s turning out to be. What an exercise in training the mind’s eye to see deeper, to really observe. What a lot of things I’ve never really paid attention to before. It’s like finding multiple new lenses for the camera. One sees so much more when on foot. 

I have a wonderful garden of my own, but the daily glimpses of other people’s Edens offer even more perspective. 

It’s an exercise involving the eye, the ear, the sights of daily life­—all set against the background of the lurking danger posed by COVID-19 that could strike any of us, out of the blue—and heightening one’s senses. The air is chill, but bracing.

Suddenly, I’m alive to sounds: The hum of early May bees, the whir of what seems an army of lawnmowers cutting the lush early grass, the joyous and lilting voice of a would-be Franco Pavarotti in a back garden as he works.

Wistfully, I envy the birds as they flit from tree to tree, swooping and dallying with ease. The neighborhood seems alive with cardinals, their colorful red hues dappling the shadows on the street, alighting on a vine-clad iron railing to observe a garden—then flitting.

“They can escape,” I think resentfully, wishing I had the ability to leave my earth-bound existence and fly wherever I wanted.

Taking that idea even further, what fun it would be, I think, to have a bird’s ability to splat his droppings on the shoes of an imagined enemy. 

Even as I examine that entertaining possibility, a squirrel on the other side of the street sits up on his haunches and eyes me while having his version of early morning coffee and Danish, before scampering up a tree.  

I love peering into other people’s gardens. Here and there, I take in the vista of a few late tulips, shrubs and trees, glimpse the shimmering silver blue of an iris bud, the graceful white flowers of bleeding heart framed among ferns, or some early old-fashioned roses budding out, and the bright colors of azaleas. 

Sometimes I’m alone on my walk, sometimes others are walking alone with their dog, or in pairs, often pausing to chat with friends. And when we pass on the street, one of us will cross to the other side of the street, giving a small, half-abashed wave of the hand in acknowledgment.

On one street, there is an evocative chalk message drawn on the pavement—“Thank you to our postal workers.”

My favorite part is observing the different color and sizes of the bricks on a particular stretch of the sidewalk, seeing where no matter how carefully the bricklayer did his work, here and there a brick has interfered with his orderly work—heaving out of the ground, impelled by the unruly soil underneath. I rather like that disruption—it parallels what’s going on in our world today.

Farther on, the bricks give way to large flat stones—some broken in places, allowing small weeds to flourish in the cracks—and there is the remnant of a cobblestone pathway. It gives the sidewalk character.

As I walk it each day, I’m reminded of a verse in A.A. Milne’s poems, Lines and Squares, from “When We Were Very Young.”

Whenever I walk in a London street,

I’m ever so careful to watch my feet;

And I keep in the squares,

And the masses of bears,

Who wait at the corners all ready to eat

The sillies who tread on the lines of the street

Go back to their lairs.

And I say to them, “Bears,

Just look how I’m walking in all the squares!

We do not face bears today, but we all have to find delight and courage in facing present danger.

As a child during World War II, I learned how to find beauty and meaning even while living in a world where danger lurked. And today, sadly, many already are experiencing suffering and death.       

But as I turn toward home, two small tots run up the sidewalk toward me, screaming with excitement, as their fathers walk behind them.

And’s all well in their tiny world­—and in mine.

A graduate of Edinburgh University in Scotland, Margaret Morton left her native Britain in 1966 to come to America after marrying Virginian W. Brown Morton. She entered the world of community journalism at age 55, when she joined the staff of Leesburg Today in 1992. She continues to cover Loudoun’s people and communities for Loudoun Now. She and her retired architectural conservationist husband live in downtown Leesburg.

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