Two weeks of this January have been so far below zero both in actual temperature and wind chill that I have had to walk at my local YWCA. My days begin with an early morning walk of about a mile and a half, rain or shine. I walk in the street rather than on the sidewalk because my excellent chiropractor told me thirty years ago to do that if I wanted to be walking when I was eighty. It seems asphalt is much more “forgiving” than is concrete. Anyway, on those mornings when I could have gotten frost bite in 10-15 minutes, I’ve driven the six minutes to my Y and walked the same amount of time/distance as I would have done outside. I know I’m supposed to feel grateful to have a warm facility so close to my house where I pay nothing to belong now that I qualify for the Silver Sneakers program. But I have to work to get to gratitude.
When I’m outside, there are people walking their dogs. I’ve seen one dog grow into a huge black and brown adult from the days when he was a little pup. Occasionally, I’m lucky enough to meet up with one of the two shiba inu dogs that lives in my neighborhood. For truth in advertising, I need to say that I am a total cat person who often doesn’t delight in seeing the next canine. But these Japanese tan alert little dogs who so resemble foxes are something I can’t resist. If I ever had a dog, it would be a shiba inu for sure. Finally, I see very old dogs some with grizzled muzzles and bodies that limp or look stiff even to the naked eye.
In addition to all these dogs with their two-footed parents, I pass clumps of little children waiting for the big yellow school bus, playing and making happy noise while their parents converse in their own clumps. Over the years, I’ve watched the demographics of such adult groups shift from mostly mothers to mostly fathers, and registered what a positive sign that is about co-parenting in the houses I pass every morning.
In early spring, I hear the first mating calls of cardinals or see the first cadre of robins scouting out the territory before telling their fellows it’s good in South Minneapolis again. Always there are squirrels and the occasional kitty let out early by its keepers. Once I was graced by seeing a small real fox who froze when s/he saw me. I froze while we just stood and eyed one another as I tried to send out gentle energy that seemed to succeed because the fox let me pass slowly in front of it without fleeing into the surrounding bushes and I thanked her/him for sensing just how much I exulted in our convergence. Spring also brings new signs of growth as I watch trees and shrubs and then bulbs of all sorts make initial appearances and slowly but surely come to resplendent life.
When extreme cold drives me to the Y track, I simply put one foot in front of the other in whatever direction I’m told to go that morning. There is nothing to break up my movement, no sensory connections or familiar images. I merely get the physical exercise attendant upon walking the mile plus. If I think about how I feel, it’s always the same: I feel like a large gerbil in a sanitized cage. It’s become clear to me that I set out each morning not just for the physical exertion–I crave the connections to people, other living creatures, and nature’s flora. These aspects of my regimen are what nourish and sustain me for the day ahead of me. My body, then, is reluctantly grateful to the Y for a warm place to exercise its muscles and feel limber as I go home to breakfast. But my soul is expansively grateful to that larger world of the streets in my neighborhood and the life I relish therein.