Last Saturday morning I went out for a walk in Central Park. It's rare with all the lessons and family trips and business trips and bad weather, and also with my tendency toward inertia, to go for a walk on Saturday morning, but this morning was too amazing. A force beyond myself pulled me out the door.
The park road is closed to traffic on weekends, and it was already swarming with bikers, walkers, roller bladers, and runners when I arrived. The sky was pale blue; the air clean and sweet as a summer early-morning beach after a night of storm. Sunlight speckled through the new leaves on the trees. It was a gentle, perfect morning light. Everyone was happy. It was Virginia Woolf's morning of the party; it was my grandparents, as children, swimming in the Hudson River off the Palisades. It was the west coast. The morning, so beautiful, was not of this world. Not of this world. I felt like I had been released from a long, sterile winter in a retirement home.
I like to walk. Most people in New York prefer speed---they run or swish by, they bike the entire island and over a bridge and across another borough; they leap tall buildings or swim up the East River and then meet friends for brunch. But for me, it's the beauty of walking. With Bowie, Elvis and Bon Iver on the ipod, sunglasses and a baseball hat---hiding from the world and yet navigating through it---I can walk for hours. There is rarely physical pain or agony in walking. People complain that it's boring, but the tedium is part of its reward: after a mile or so the mind unwinds and enters a rhythm of effortlessness, peace and monotony. Time suspends.
The pedestrian traffic in the park moves in one direction, like a river flowing north. I join the current. Men in their 70s jog past me, pregnant women do too. Very heavy people whose thighs can barely move pass me. The professional runners pass me like a train hurtling by, their wake of energy puls me ever-so-slightly ahead. A group of seven or eight runners pass by, beautiful runners, their steps light and effortless, swift, it is almost flying, like egrets lifting off the shore.
As I watch the backs of the runners and bikers and bladers who constantly pass before me and then disappear ahead of me, I laugh at a line about Mick Jagger in Keith Richard's recent memoir, Life: "Shit, Charlie and I have been watching that ass for forty-odd years..." I love how the romance of such a grand, fabulous career and life can, in one off-hand comment, boil down to the essence of what work and toil is all about.
A week has passed since I wrote the above. I haven't done much with my life.
I can remember the walk from East 86th and York Avenue all the way down to the west village in the 1990s. I did it often from work, passing along the park, through midtown, the quiet zone, until the trees beginning again the village. I remember the hot air off the savannah in Tanzania and the avocado trees at the end of the road in Rwanda. Those luscious cows in Normandy. The drought-stricken fields in Maryland. The weird suburban hills in Kampala. The baby nodding off in his stroller after lunch in Kenya. The bridge to Brooklyn with Star. Norway. A million walks around the resevoir. The waves breaking in San Francisco, and on Long Beach; and in Maine... I remember walking across all these lovely years. The walking, the walking, and all I can think is, where does the time go?