Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Walk

Long solitary walks produce a kind of silence. Even when my head happens to be busy as I set out, busy in a directed sort of way, that process is sure to fade, eventually to end. It isn’t countryside around here, but functionally close. Depending on the route, I meander through one or two of five small but old communities. To the east the waters of Lake St. Clair. To the west the great vast dirty broken-down sometimes empty, abandoned Detroit metroplex extends—to a man on foot infinitely deep. I’d probably have to walk for days before, eventually, genuine country would open around me somewhere west of Anne Arbor, Michigan.

Around me here houses, sometimes grandiose mansions, always trees, lawns, parks, bushes, yards, streets. Surprisingly few people. They’re all inside. TV. Whatever. Out here lots of squirrels, birds, rabbits—and in season butterflies. Cars pass, but I no more consciously notice them than I see the electric over-grid when I look up into the branches of the trees.

Sometimes I pass places surrounded by walls too high to see over easily, but stepping to them I can rest my arms on neck-high parapets and look into empty private places—and there I’ll see a bird pecking at something, itself all alone. Equally silent bushes and grass, sometimes flowers; lonely lawn chairs wait for warm weather; pots left over from the fall stand mute against some wall. And always that peculiar silence of nature, not really an absence of sound but, instead, the absence of that something else we call civilization. The pecking bird is very much at home, oddly centered in itself, unaware of names. Startled it flies away—and its flight is spontaneous, swift, clean, and empty of all qualities we associate with people—anxiety, embarrassment, hurry, discomfort. Nothing of the sort. Just peck-peck-peck—a swift straight flight.

Sometimes, to be sure, in a big store, observing women shopping by themselves, I see the same total absorption—the same unity of total identification with a task, faces without makeup, just shopping, concentrated, hands helping the eye sorting through some pile of something. And then a swift turn to another rack, another stand on which more blouses hang.

But on my walks I see this always, no exceptions. Even when birds arrive in flocks, even when they make a great noise, even when they push and shove competing around a feeder—while others wait on gutter edges for their turn—even then, in social manifestations, still a kind of silence rules, the absence of something—an absence that, oddly, means peace.

Walks that last long enough, walks that outlast the mentation in which they begin and endure until the eye sees what is all around, walks that last beyond an hour and take place without the sense that I am exercising or trying to arrive at any point at all, just movement, sometimes a stop, arms on a wall, or a stop, hands on the bars of a wrought iron fence, such walks wash away the accumulations of grit and dust and grime deposited while pursuing strictly human occupations so that I arrive home and, at the door, I slide it open with a kind of sigh.


  1. and a silence-breaking shout: I'm back!! the noises of the kitchen and the TV.

  2. There's beauty everywhere: the lake, Belle Isle, the Pointes, the old homes along Lakepointe and its brothers, the islands west of Alter, Windmill Point, and the ruins of Bellevue Avenue and its auto plant.... from the magnificent Edsel Ford house in the Shores to the enduringly ruinous Michigan Central Terminal