Today’s Walk: A Quiet Dawn

“I haven’t got any special religion this morning.  My God is the God of Walkers.” –   Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia

Sunday morning. The mist so thick I woke to the sound of water dripping from the edge of the roof outside my window. I went out to watch a “Super Moon” descend and the morning slowly claim the sky.

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I’ve been walking for well over a year now, not every day and not always as far as I would like, but it is now part of me. I look for that moment each day when I can get outside, get my feet moving, let the thoughts in my head go for a while. Walking has become as important to my writing as sitting in the chair.

Along the way, I usually find at least one thing that catches my eye or snags my attention and sometimes I just want to share it as I find it. No long essay. No attempt to make meaning other than what is right there. If the moment captured is not from the day I post, it means I have been casting back in my memory and photo records of my walks and unearthed a nugget I think you’ll like. I invite you to comment and share your own photos of “Todays Walk.” You can  post here or join me @EGMarro #todayswalk on Instagram, or on Twitter or Facebook.

Todays Walk: Birds of Sunset Cliffs

“Birds know themselves not to be at the center of anything, but at the margins of everything. The end of the map. We only live where someone’s horizon sweeps someone else’s. We are only noticed on the edge of things; but on the edge of things, we notice much.”

― Gregory MaguireOut of Oz

The birds of Sunset Cliffs live on the edge. For so long I walked along, barely registering them except to restrain my once young dog from chasing them over the rocks into the ocean.

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Now that I’m on my own, they have moved from the periphery of my vision to the center. I look for the pigeons clustering along ledges in the cliffs. I watch for the flash white as gulls arc against the morning sky or see how close they will allow me to come before they leap off the edge of the rocks and dive to the water below.

The cormorants clustered on their own, proprietary rock just off shore,  sent me to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to learn why they were lifting their wings like Dracula preparing to swoop. Turns out, their feathers do not shed water. They are simply hanging themselves out to dry.

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I’ve begun to notice that the gulls are the early risers although very few of them appear much before  six o’clock in the morning. The pigeons emerge later, usually by 7 at one of the parking areas where a man brings bread. By mid morning, on a sunny day, all are resting on the ground along the cliffs, occupying spots reserved apparently, through some kind of avian negotiation, for their own kind.

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The pelicans command attention and resist my efforts to capture them on film while in flight. Many times, I stop walking and look up as a squadron passes overhead, chins tucked, wings barely moving, communicating so closely with the wind and each other that the rest of us are irrelevant. At rest, they are the guardians of the pier.

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Once I started paying attention, I started to see the precariousness of their lives. I’ve seen three gulls with one leg. I’ve seen young pigeons lose crumbs of bread to bigger, fatter, more experienced birds. I’ve watched winter storms drench the cliffs, roil the waves, toss the littler ones around like confetti and I’ve seen day after winter day how the gulls and the pelicans stare at the white caps of a winter ocean waiting for it to calm enough to fish.

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But I’ve also seen this: a pigeon couple courting and then coupling in the middle of long afternoon of blue sky and sun, seizing the moment and then turning as one to face the ocean and the sky and whatever the future holds.

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Sunday Sentence: Wanderlust, A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit

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“Exploring the world is one of the best ways of exploring the mind, and walking travels both terrains.” – Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust, A History of Walking

Because I love walking. And Solnit’s book.

I love reading them, so now I’m joining the #SundaySentence party started by David Abrams over at the Quivering Pen and on Twitter. It’s not a review. It’s not a story. It’s just one sentence I read this week, presented “out of context and without commentary.

Today’s Walk: Market Day in Ocean Beach

“An ordinary simple street is the mirror of the whole world!” 
― Mehmet Murat ildan

Too many days, too few walks. Then came the chance to walk to the post office to mail a book to someone and there it was: the mirror of the world. Music. Color. The smells of empanadas, tamales, ribs, herbs, lavender cream. Tastes of honey, cheese, pastries. Sounds of laughter, sales pitches called out as the parade passes by with their shopping bags. I’d forgotten it was Wednesday when the weekly Farmer’s Market sets up on Newport Ave.

The ordinary is extraordinary in Ocean Beach.

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i’ve been walking regularly for over a year now, not every day and not always as far as I would like, but it is now part of me. I look for that moment each day when I can get outside, get my feet moving, let the thoughts in my head go for a while. Walking has become as important to my writing as sitting in the chair.

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Today’s Walk: Everyday Magic

“The sun set, which is everyday magic…”
― Terry Pratchett

A long day inside and then one healing step after another along the cliffs into the end of it all. And then home.

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I’ve been walking regularly for over a year now, not every day and not always as far as I would like, but it is now part of me. I look for that moment each day when I can get outside, get my feet moving, let the thoughts in my head go for a while. Walking has become as important to my writing as sitting in the chair.

Along the way, I usually find at least one thing that catches my eye or snags my attention and sometimes I just want to share it as I find it. No long essay. No attempt to make meaning other than what is right there. If the moment captured is not from the day I post, it means I have been casting back in my memory and photo records of my walks and unearthed a nugget I think you’ll like. I invite you to comment and share your own photos of “Todays Walk.” You can  post here or join me @EGMarro #todayswalk on Instagram, or on Twitter or Facebook.

Today’s Walk: A Sunday Morning in January

“I haven’t got any special religion this morning.  My God is the God of Walkers.” –   Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia

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I’ve been walking for a year now, not every day and not always as far as I would like, but it is now part of me. I look for that moment each day when I can get outside, get my feet moving, let the thoughts in my head go for a while. Walking has become as important to my writing as sitting in the chair.

Along the way, I usually find at least one thing that catches my eye or snags my attention and sometimes I just want to share it as I find it. No long essay. No attempt to make meaning other than what is right there. If the moment captured is not from the day I post, it means I have been casting back in my memory and photo records of my walks and unearthed a nugget I think you’ll like. I invite you to comment and share your own photos of “Todays Walk.” You can  post here or join me @EGMarro #todayswalk on Instagram, or on Twitter or Facebook.

 

Walking With My Wedding Dress(es)

IMG_20151226_095421208December 26, 2015*

This morning I carried my two wedding dresses to the end of Ocean Beach Pier. I’d planned to drop them at the dry cleaner shop down the hill but when I found it closed, I decided to alter course and head away from the cliffs to town where there was another one.

That one was closed too. So I just swung them along in the plastic bag I’d stuffed them into and carried them with me. I carried them with me to the end of Narragansett where the ocean crashed against the boulders below, biding its time. Sooner or later it would prize them loose.

Then my wedding dresses and I sauntered towards the Ocean Beach pier where the morning walkers, fishermen, dogs and seabirds crowded the rails, looking over the edge for fish or back onto the pavement for scraps.

This is how my walks go. I start out with one thing in mind and something else entirely happens.

It’s the same with my plan to walk 15 miles a week in 2015 which would add up to roughly 800 miles in a twelve-month period. I thought that some of these miles would cover the California Coastal Trail.

By the time the year ends, I will have traveled only 420 miles give or take. I’ve traveled most of these within a five-mile radius of my house. The exceptions are exceptional: fifteen  miles in the calli of Venice, Italy, three more in the labyrinth of the complex at CERN outside Geneva, Switzerland, twelve among the fruit stands, orchards, farms and paths that line the river to my son’s home in Palisade,Colorado. You could say I’ve walked approximately 150 miles of the California Coastal Trail or you could, more accurately, say I’ve walked the same three- to seven mile stretch of it over and over again. I’ve walked to the library, the drug store, to church, to meet friends in Ocean Beach, Shelter Island, or Liberty Station. When I carry anything, it’s a few Kleenex (you can’t count on finding t.p. in a porta potty or public restroom), a camera or phone, my backpack with some shopping bags, maybe some library books.

I wore one of the dresses when I married my husband nearly fourteen years ago. The other is not, technically, a wedding dress. It was the runner-up, the one I would have worn if I hadn’t found the raspberry silk Nicole Miller on one final desperate day of shopping with my mother. The runner up is a rich, deep red with a neckline that makes me feel a little like Audrey Hepburn. That’s the one I want to wear on our anniversary although I have no idea why. It’s not as if we are going anywhere or doing anything. I don’t have shoes for it. I guess I just want to give it a chance to do what it was made to do before the dress and I go our separate ways. As for the original, well, I decided that cleaning it couldn’t hurt. We’ll see what happens after that.

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Here’s what happened when I stopped at the end of the pier to snap a photograph or two of a pelican. I placed my bundle on the back of a bench and began to click while the pelican eyed me with little interest. A gull, though, edged its way toward the bag with the dresses. I snatched it back up, tucked it under my arm, and kept moving. I wondered, though, what it would feel like to see the gull light on the bag, tear it open and then pick at the dresses or carry them aloft. I envisioned them in the water floating like lost autumn leaves before sinking into the depths.

We carry our pasts with us wherever we go but this is the first time I’ve carried tangible pieces of my past on a walk. The bag was light enough and I guess I’m not ready to let the contents go.

I don’t wear dresses much any more. For work I mix and match t-shirts and sweat pants. When I walk my most familiar routes, I wear sunscreen, baggy pants, smart wool socks, hiking boots and giant sunglasses. I look like the Maxine character featured on those Hallmark cards women give to each other when they reach a certain age. Which I guess means me.

No one is looking. No one is listening. Mostly, I am the one doing the looking and listening. I like it that way. For the most part, my walks have been solitary although the exceptions to this have also been exceptional and very welcome.

The writing that I thought would come from my walking hasn’t shown up on my blog. I sat down this afternoon to write something, anything. To try to capture the glimmers each walk produces, that are now part of me. They aren’t forming a complete, coherent narrative. The images are all in motion, like movies that replay. Trying to harness them now is like chasing fireflies with an empty mayonnaise jar. My journal shows a collection of phrases, ideas, observations and mile counts that swelled and dwindled through the course of the year according to my focus, health, whatever was going on with my writing, my family, the effort it takes to be fully present.

Sometimes I am just too overwhelmed with the possibilities that spring up with each step. The stories playing out in front of me. The ones forming in my head. The fragments of overheard conversations that make me want to turn and follow the speakers until I’ve got it all.

It’s not until I return to my desk that I realize how much my time spent traveling even a small distance by foot has shaped me and my writing. My body is aligned, energized. The muddle on the page I’d left has sorted itself out. Not every time and not perfectly but enough to make me want to stay with this.

As the first of the year approaches, I am ready with some intentions. I will keep walking. I will try to cover more of the CCT from the end of my street towards its end at the border with Mexico. I will walk at dawn, at least once. I will try to walk more miles than I walked last year but if I don’t I will be glad for the ones I have.

I will wear the runner-up wedding dress on our anniversary, even if all we do is go to In ’N Out. Maybe we’ll walk there.

*This turned out to be my last walk of the year. I didn’t know that, of course, when I wrote the essay. In keeping with not knowing how things are going to go, I was planning to run this earlier but various technical problems ensued which brought me to today. To new starts: wherever they may take us!

 

Weights and Measures

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Since January 1, I’ve walked 153 miles, more or less. I’ve lost ten pounds. I’ve consumed an average of 55 grams of fat a day that account for roughly  30% of 1,440 calories net, per day. I’ve lost the tips of three different fingers on my left hand to knives wielded by my right.

I lost a friend.

I’ve caught a single cold that lasted for 10 days, driven 262 miles to the UCLA campus in Los Angeles by myself to spend two days with over 200 women writers at BinderCon. I’ve read seven books and bought or borrowed 10 more.

I didn’t lose my friend, she died. Every time I look across the yard separating ours from hers, I expect to see her shoving her walker along the edge of her retaining wall where she planted fennel, a plant that was supposed to be a yellow tomato, and ran her hands through the dirt which anchored blooms planted by her daughter-in-law.

I am not walking to lose weight and I am not restricting fat in order to fit into a pair of jeans. The walking project was planned before an unexplained, out-of-the-blue bout of pancreatitis in December altered my dietary habits. The kitchen accidents, one every ten days over the past thirty days leave me mystified and make it really hard to wash the dog. And my hair.

Once, I watched through the window over my kitchen sink while my friend stepped out onto her upstairs porch and bowed to the morning sun. Her long wet hair spilled forward in a shimmer of white gold.

Counting does not come easily to me. I tend to think in round numbers, approximations. I never know how many gallons of gas our car holds, or how many people live in our city, or any of the other numbers that many people note and retrieve.

I don’t remember how many minutes I stood at my sink, watching my friend shake her hair, then brush it, then twist it into the bun she wore every day that I knew her.

When I set the goal for my walking project — 800 miles for the year or a bit more than 15 miles a week — it dawned on me that I had no idea how many steps it took to get from my house to the cliffs or from the cliffs to town. I had even less idea of how many miles I could walk in an hour. I needed tools. I started with the pedometer I gave my husband a couple of Christmases ago. Now I have two apps on my iPod Touch that help me track my steps and miles. I have another app that tracks my caloric intake. We returned from our last trip to Costco with a sleek scale that is see-through and flashes my weight to the tenth of a pound in brilliant blue digits. The old scale, it turns out, was fine but that needle wavered too much. We were constantly fiddling with it to make sure it read “0” before stepping on.

I count with the fervor of a convert. I count everything, even when I know the numbers will tell me I failed to meet my objective. My weekly mileage is closer to ten miles and most of the miles I have walked have been in January, February, and March. I count with optimism. The year is only one quarter over and I’ve already walked far more than I ever would have if I hadn’t set the goal in the first place. I count the fat grams convinced that keeping the count low will ward off a recurrence of the pancreatitis and a return to the far more restrictive diet of boullion, tea, water, and other see-through liquids.

When I first started drinking tea with my friend, I had two dogs and she had one husband. After she became a widow, we visited more often. I would walk over at “the usual time” once or twice a month with my  terriers and we would sit in her backyard or at her dining room table, sip, and talk. We talked about our gardens, our children, her frustrations with the insurance industry, and we took turns tossing a ball for the dogs. Then the dog who loved the ball the best died. My friend gave me tea. She held my hand. We sat in her backyard sometimes not saying much of anything.

No matter how closely I believe I am keeping track, some numbers slip away from me. I can never remember how many steps equals a mile according to these apps I have. I can never be sure they are telling me the truth because they each say something a little different. Sometimes I guess at the calories and fat of the various foods I am eating because the app I use for that doesn’t have the exact thing its database. More and more, I test the limits of my tolerance. After all, the pancreatitis didn’t kill me and more and more it appears to be a fluke that will not repeat itself.

It’s becoming clear that recalling the numbers is not the same as remembering the sights that greet me as I walk, or the laughter over a meal I shared with my family without obsessing about what might happen. The number of books by my bed is meaningless when I am deep inside the world of each one.

I forget when my friend stopped making stars at Christmas. I forget when she started to let me make the tea for us. I forget how many times I meant to call her but let the moment pass.

I remember her laugh. I remember being enfolded in her large, welcoming arms. I remember the warmth of her cheek against mine each time we greeted each other and each time we said goodbye.

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On the Ground

“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” – Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life

The phrase “on the ground” morphed into cliche eons ago. There are no signs, though, that it is fading from the language. Instead, more and more of our newscasters, policy makers, military leaders, and talking heads use it. When they do, they establish the vast distance between their insulated offices and those who are face to face with the consequences of disasters, war, and political decisions.

I am not a fan of this phrase.

However, if used literally — if used, say, to describe what I have found when I looked at the actual ground, I can feel the words perk up. The phrase “on the ground” straightens its shoulders and does the simple yet useful job it was always meant to do.

I found this orange on the ground as I trudged in unseasonable heat near my stepdaughter’s house. I was thirsty. I had looked longingly at the branches full of fruit hanging just out of reach over the walls that lined the sidewalk. I heard a muffled “whump” and looked back, then down. There it was.

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When my feet move along the surface of the ground, I can read the changes through the soles of my shoes. There is the give of a dirt path, the unyielding concrete of a sidewalk, the slippery squish of wet leaves, or the grit and sink of walking in sand.

Look down and the ground becomes a canvas that stretches out in all directions. Camellia blossoms die a beautiful death in one corner.

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A sunny sidewalk captures the shadow I make when I walk my dog and reminds me that I really must look insane in that hat.

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A walk in Balboa Park reveals a message scrawled in chalk that makes me wonder how it was answered. I’ll never know.

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And of course the ground is peppered with the scuff marks and foot steps of those who have traveled before me. Their prints are there along with the scratchings and droppings left by birds, lizards, rats, dogs, or other animals that share common ground with me.

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I think sometimes of people who lived here years before any of us did and relied upon the signs they found on the ground that led them to food or helped them to avoid danger. When I think about this, I feel the vast distance that still exists between me and all that lives beneath the soles of my well-shod feet. Walking on the ground still keeps me well above it. Perhaps I’m too quick to dismiss the news anchors, talking heads, and the others who operate far away from the consequences of all of the ways we humans mark our ground.

The Edge of the World

 “Home is everything you can walk to.” 

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On February 7 I sat down for the tenth time to write a blog post about my walks. I consulted my photos. I consulted my notes. Then I consulted the tally I’ve been keeping (or trying to) and found that another two or three miles would put me at nearly 16 miles for the week, a first for me and exactly the number I need to average in order to make my goal of 800 miles by the end of this year.

Through my window, I saw the sky had already softened. The marine layer crouched on the horizon ready to enfold the sun as it sank into the Pacific.

My hands slipped from my keyboard. I got up and walked down to the edge of the world.

This is how I’ve come to think of the cliffs that run along the ocean a few blocks from my house. When I started out last month, my feet took me there without asking. It is the place I first walked after moving here nearly fourteen years ago before the boxes and furniture had even arrived from New Jersey.

I recall the moment I turned left at the bottom of the hill and almost forgot to breathe in the middle of all that blue above me and at my feet. I braced against the joy that stole over me, the way I used to when I was on vacation and had to remind myself that I’d soon be going home.

Then it hit me. I was home.

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I don’t know how many times I’ve walked along the cliffs since then. There were the times when we had two terriers who lunged after the seagulls instead of the single, elderly girl who doesn’t often make it down the hill. There were the times when people came to visit and we would all troop down at sunset to watch the show. There were too many times when I decided that I’d seen all there was to see there, and just kept my head down and thoughts to myself as I headed out the door on an errand.

When I set out on my inaugural walk of the year and for this project, I believed I was starting with the familiar cliffs just because they were close and easy. Then I learned they are not familiar at all; they are shape shifters, sirens. The world of the cliffs alters with the light, the tides, the surges of people who visit with their dogs, their surfboards, their car stereos. The surges of storms that start somewhere near Hawaii.

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As I walk along them, edging closer and closer to the chapped lip of sandy path high above the water, I see for myself how fragile the cliffs are. They slope and crumble towards the water that swirls below. They make no promises to those of us who are traveling along the path, or the barefooted surfers who run past the warning signs and down the sides like amphibious goats, or even those who simply come to park and look. There are deaths here every year. People tumble off. Surfers who are not from around here find themselves trapped in an unpredictable winter ocean, unable to ascend the cliffs.

Still, they are holding me these days as I make my way along them and into the rest of Sunset Cliffs National Park. They also hold surprises. Here are a few they offered me: an art installation, a bride and a groom, a piano concert on a late Sunday afternoon.

Before I do, though, here’s an update on my trekking. In January: 47 miles. February: 16 (so far). I have a few thoughts about the counting and the measuring not to mention the shifting landscape in my body and my mind which I hope to touch on soon. The problem is, the more I walk, the more I want to walk. As I type these words, I’m stealing glances out the window. My feet are squirming in the slippers I wear around the house. Maybe this is the enthusiasm of a newbie. Maybe it will wear off. Guess I’ll find out.

It’s time to get out there.

Art on the Edge of the World

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Love at the Edge of the World

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A Man, His Piano and His Dog: Beautiful Music at the Edge of the World

Late in the Day at the Edge of the World

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