No posts since May 1. I gotta do better in 2017.
An update to an earlier post from September, 2014: I’ve continued to walk. Since August 2014, I’ve walked 3,146 miles – 6,768,965 steps; I’ve worn out 4 pairs of shoes; and I’ve seen lots of things and thought about many more. It’s still the best part of the day.
About 9 years ago, I started walking in the morning before work. I hadn’t exactly been slothful before that, but I hadn’t approached walking as a regular form of exercise. For several years, I was pretty consistent, walking 2-3 miles a day; then a series of injuries, minor and less minor, began to interrupt my schedule, and consistency became less so. I still walked, but instead of every day, or 6 days a week, it might be 4 days a week, or 3, or 2. And I might only walk for 30 minutes or so.
Fast forward to last winter. For years, I’d been having occasional episodes of atrial fibrillation. The episodes would typically last for less than a day, I would convert back to normal rhythm on my own, and move on. At some point, my cardiologist put me on an anti-arrhythmic drug, which worked well for about 4 years; then I had a episode that didn’t convert back for several weeks, and he changed me to another drug, which worked for a while. Last January, I had another episode, short-lived again. But at that time, he said it was time to consider cardiac ablation surgery. The drug I was on wasn’t working like it had, and the drugs beyond that had more and nastier side effects. We decided to to discuss it again after my vacation to Greece in March; when I got back, we scheduled the surgery for July 1. In May, I had another episode; I didn’t convert back, so they started me on a blood thinner until the surgery. Once again, my walking got interrupted, because in a state of constant atrial fibrillation, I really didn’t have energy for long walks. On July 1, I underwent cardiac ablation surgery. It went fine, I was in the hospital overnight, and went home the next day to recover. After a few days of a very sore chest and throat (from the things they had shoved down my throat during the surgery), I was getting better rapidly, until my left leg began hurting. No blood clot, but the cardiologist wasn’t sure what was going on. Additional CT scans and ultrasounds didn’t reveal the cause; finally he said I should maybe go see my orthopedic surgeon (which I had wanted to do days earlier). When I was finally able to get in to see him, he diagnosed the problem in 5 minutes – bleeding into the quad muscles, which caused my left leg and knee to be very swollen and stiff, and very painful. He prescribed a month of physical therapy, which worked wonders in fairly short order. And while I was going through the weeks of PT, I started really wanting to be walking again. By early August, I was pretty much back to normal, and decided to start getting out of bed and getting out the door again. Since retiring from my state government job last year (I now work as a consultant part-time) I have a very flexible schedule, so I can get a good walk in and still have a leisurely morning most days before going to work.
So, I started walking again. At first I took walks like I used to take – 30-45 minutes. But I soon realized that (a) that wasn’t really long enough, and (b) I had time for a longer walk. So I began adding time and distance, and finding new walking routes. Some days I walk in the neighborhoods near my house. Other days, I’ll go to the multi-use trail along the Natchez Trace. That’s where I can get some really good, long walks in. My Fitbit measures the distance and number of steps, and I’ve found that the Fitbit’s distance measurement is pretty accurate. Now, most days I walk at least 4 miles, and I often get 5 miles in, all before breakfast. I take my Walkman radio and listen to NPR’s Morning Edition, and walk, and walk. It’s often the best part of my day. And my reward is scenes like this:
or, at this time of year:
And most days, when I’m walking along the Natchez Trace trail, I have the trail to myself:
Right now, I’m averaging about 25 miles a week on my morning walks. According to Fitbit, if you include all the steps I take during the day, I average about 40 miles a week. I guess when winter sets in I’ll see how dedicated I really am. For now, it’s just one foot in front of the other.
There’s a pond that I often go by on my morning walks. Every year there’s at least one pair of mallard ducks that set up housekeeping and raise a family. Last year there were two families. But several years ago the mallards were joined by a small diving duck with a black head and black and white body, which I (mis)identified as a bufflehead. Loren pointed out my mis-identification, noting that it was likely a scaup or a ring-necked duck.. I liked that duck – it almost looked like a toy next to the mallards. It spent the winter diving in that shallow pond for whatever diving ducks dive for, but there was no sign of it the next winter. I thought maybe I saw it once or twice on a larger pond a couple of miles away, but I was never sure. But when I walked by this morning, there amongst the mallards was a little black and white duck. I snapped a photo with my iPhone:
WordPress scaled the image down and it’s fuzzy, but click on it and you’ll see a better image. It’s at the top, above the mallards. Watching it for a few minutes, I realized that while it tends to hang around with the mallards, the mallards don’t particularly like it, and they’ll try to chase it away when it gets too close – nothing too intense, just a swift swim-by. Then order will reassert itself and the ring-necked duck/scaup will hang around like a pesky kid brother until it gets accosted again. I don’t know why I especially like that little duck, but I do. I hope it hangs around all winter.
There’s an old cemetery that I’ve walked through on occasion – a couple of times when I was helping to clean up and plant some antique roses among the headstones, a couple of times when I was just walking around. The cemetery dates back to the 1820s, and holds the remains of several Mississippi governors and other notables, including those of Eudora Welty. There’s also a section of unknown Confederate soldiers. The cemetery lies in sight of Mississippi’s State Capitol building and other state office buildings, but it’s surprisingly unknown to many people. One gray January afternoon a few years ago I was wandering through some of the older parts of the cemetery and happened to notice something at the base of a large tree. When I looked closer, I saw that it was an old headstone.
I’ve thought about that headstone many times since. It’s almost a parable about our relationship to the world in which we live. Or at least, a reference to Ecclesiastes Chapter 1:
What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
In the end, the trees win. Time wins. Time always wins.