dispatch from the journey

Spring's arrival makes a dreaded walk feel magical

(James A. Parcell For The Washington Post)
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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Doesn't the arrival of spring make doing even the things we dislike feel so much better?

I hate walking. This morning, my knees ache, my feet hurt, I am breathless and my lungs burn. But I am ill, and I walk with the hope of getting well.

I am always mad when I start out, coffee mug in hand, my heart beating hard with dread. Today, I want to turn around about 5 feet from the front door. But I don't. In the still starkly bare dogwood tree, a mockingbird perches, the tree's only decoration. He's singing a bit of his wondrously complicated song.

Where I spent most of my life there was no such bird and no such music, a mixture of pure classical sonata and a stand-up comedy routine of imitated sounds. I feel blessed just to be where he is in this moment in time.

Beyond the yard, where the bridge crosses a shallow stream, a lone mallard spins in lazy eddies, his head iridescently emerald. I worry he's wasting his time just playing when he should be far away from here, in deeper waters, seriously looking for a mate. He pays me no mind whatsoever as I pass by, then stop suddenly to stand in a shower of sherbet-pink petals the wind has sent my way from the weeping cherry straight ahead. I am transfixed. Staring up into the cascade of flowers falling down around me from long, pendulous branches that ride the breeze against an azure sky in which a chalky moon glows softly. Even this early in the day.

There is a chattering, clattering show that instantly distracts me from gazing at the moon. Two squirrels, their sleek coats the color of onyx, chase each other up and down a huge old tree at the water's edge. I wonder what it would be like to have that much energy, that much joy and that much freedom. In fact, I realize, that if I turn slowly in a circle, I will see wacky, exuberant squirrels in every direction, in a multitude of colors -- lustrous cream, rich russet, grizzled gray, golden brown, black as night, with squirrel nests resting in the arms of every other tree in sight.

And there are trees galore! I pass under a maple with tiny starbursts of blood-red bloom and oaks still wearing last year's leaves, several magnolias completely covered in heavy, waxy white flowers tinged in crimson. I see that water from recent rain has collected in each cup. A robin stops by to drink from the rim of a blossom. I hear woodpeckers tapping out their cryptic codes on the thick barks of tulip poplars whose straight trunks soar ever-skyward.

Around a bend, in the park, two collies lie regally on the lush carpet of green, an arthritic beagle chases a ball. Along the dappled trail a man and his three old huskies move ever so slowly, in a hush, as though they travel holy ground. I stop for a long while to watch a young mother holding her baby close against the surprising kiss of the morning's cool air.

As I head back home, I saunter through a long tunnel of forsythia bright as flame. And I crunch a delicious confetti of pine cones, acorns and the spiky seed pods of sweet gums under my feet, releasing a wonderful aroma. As I reach the front door, I know that even though I don't hurt nearly as badly as I did before, I still hate walking. But in Silver Spring, I realize that I have grown to love going for walks.

-- Jana Lee Frazier, Silver Spring

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