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Archive for July, 2010

Got up a bit later than usual, so was not out the door until after 7:30 a.m., and walking by 8:00.  The crowd, naturally, is different, but not more numerous.  It’s interesting to me that both times of the day seem to be peopled by retirees; you’d think that earlier in the day would draw a working crowd, but the only person there I can say definitively is a worker, is a fellow in his 30s who plods around the track hooked up to an i-pod (as so many others are) — he arrives in a plumbing truck, and this is obviously his trade.  I don’t know how many laps he walks, but he’s usually still at it when I leave.

Other 5:30 a.m. walkers are a pair of women Of A Certain Age — maybe 50s — who go round and round at a good clip, talking nonstop the whole way, and a couple of men who have a look about them that I can only describe as “ministerial” — also 50s, maybe early 60s, tall, thin with just the hint of a paunch, but their faces are so peaceful.  They look, not as if they are Communing With Nature, but just as if they are in fellowship with everyone else on the Common.  Maybe they are.

Then there is The Trio.  This consists of two women and a man.  I know for sure that one of the women is 76, because she made a point of telling the immediate world about it when it was her birthday, and I take my hat off to her:  She’s even heavier than I am, and she waddles around the Common, but darned if she doesn’t waddle faster than I do!  Her companions are another woman who may be a friend or a younger sister — I wouldn’t go so far as to consider her a daughter — but the real “character” of the bunch is the man.  Every day, he shows up in jeans and a long-sleeved denim shirt, cowboy boots, and a cowboy hat.  He walks behind the women, holding onto his coffee mug, almost never saying anything, and I’m not sure if he’s protecting them or guarding them — someday I expect them to show up on a leash — or just what his function is, but he’s there Monday through Friday without fail.  (But not, curiously, on Saturday or Sunday, when the two come by themselves.)

At 8:00 a.m. there is a different pair of women walking, housewifey types, also talking nineteen to the dozen but not race-walking like the 5:30 pair.  There is also a couple walking, a man and a woman — I won’t say they’re married, because nowadays, who knows — but both are overweight and clearly walking for health.  A couple of older gentlemen, probably in their 70s, clearly following Doctor’s Orders.   The children are out playing on the playground across the street at the Children’s Home, and every morning, right around this time, a little knot of them appears, five or six, with little orange vests — and a nun, in full habit, also with her orange vest and sneakers, and a baby stroller.  They go for a run every morning, all over town.  This particular nun has been written up in the local paper as having begun this running program as a way for the children to burn off the negative energy they’ve built up from years of abuse.  Apparently she’s on to something; all the kids look happy and healthy.

And there’s my favorite, a tall, thin man in a t-shirt and jeans who just ambles around the Common at a steady lope — for four miles.  He always has a friendly word for nearly everyone he passes, but the thing that gets me about him is that gosh, he looks like my priest!  The same facial and body structure, the same grey ponytail and shortish beard and mustache, even the same crinkly-eyed smile and sense of humor.  What isn’t the same is that Father Michael doesn’t have a broad New England accent, even though he’s from New England (Connecticut).

And that’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of walking on the Common:  Listening to people talking to one another.  It’s a comfort to know that regional accents haven’t fallen off the face of the earth, despite television’s best efforts.

I have taken a few snapshots of the Common at various times of the day, and will update the blog with them once I get around to downloading them off my phone.

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Nobody is on the Common at 5:30 a.m. besides me.  I can hear you saying, “You seriously thought there would be?!” but when I began walking, back at the end of May, there actually were other walkers at that hour.  Not many, true, but they were there.  Now they show up just as I’m finishing my walk, at 6:00 a.m.  I don’t know how this will all pan out in another month, but it’s been an interesting evolution.

The temperature this morning was a most welcome 60°F (around 17°C).  For the past several days, we’ve had positively Floridian weather, and we aren’t used to that kind of thing around here.  One walker showed up one morning with a wet T-shirt, something I’m not inclined to do, myself:  Somehow, I don’t think that the judges of Wet T-Shirt contests are looking for the Little Mother Russia type.  I was able to get in 2½ laps, which isn’t even a mile (one lap is a third of a mile); but then, I’ve only been doing this for nine weeks, after having been almost totally sedentary since 2006 (see blog entries around that time for the reason why.  It takes a long time to recover from abdominal surgery!).

Not that I haven’t tried.  Taking Russian classes since 2001 involved a considerable bit of walking around a college campus, in the truest sense of the word “campus” — the University’s buildings, by and large, can only be reached by hiking across fields, up and down hills, and through sylvan paths.  Very lovely and idyllic, but it’s a workout and no mistake.  Why it didn’t work out in terms of fitness is a mystery to me; I can only think that perhaps it was because those hills were so steep that I had to stop often to catch my breath, whereas the Common is level, so I can walk at a steadier pace.  Whatever.  It seems to be working, at least in terms of toning muscles and losing belly fat.

However, I must confess that Walking For Health And Fitness was not remotely on my radar screen when I began, nor did I start trotting out to the Common at oh-dark-thirty for a Morning Constitutional.  No; the entire reason for my Common forays was — my prayers.

For about the past ten years (a little more, actually), I’ve been praying Matins and Vespers, offices of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.  Priests tell us that lay people shouldn’t actually do these prayers, but at the time, I didn’t know that; all I really knew was that I’ve loved the idea of having fixed times of day to devote exclusively to worship ever since I first learned of the idea, somewhere around, I don’t know, second grade?  Certainly no later than fourth grade.  I used to be able to say my morning prayers in peace and quiet any time between 4:30 and 7:00 a.m., since my husband left for work around 4:15 a.m.  After attending a music school over four summers at a monastery in Upstate New York, I learned the music needed for singing these offices, and I tell myself (and my priest) that I need to be able to keep my hand in by singing Matins and Vespers regularly.  Well, that’s partly true; in reality, I just love the prayers.

This worked very well until last October, when the hubster retired.  That wasn’t the catastrophe I had feared; he’s had too much to do with getting his father’s house ready to sell, and now that it’s summer, he spends a very great deal of time out of doors.  But early in the morning, he likes to watch television news.  And in a house that measures less than a thousand square feet, there isn’t a lot of room to get away from each other.  Even the back bedroom is uncomfortably close to the living room.

I tried various solutions, but nothing seemed to work until I hit on the idea of taking myself off to the Common, really early, and taking my prayer book with me.  That lasted all of a day, by itself, before the hubster came up with the brilliant idea:  Wouldn’t you like a Nice Little Walk Around the Common? Well, actually, no.  I’m there to attend to my spiritual life, not my physical well-being.  But the next day it occurred to me that I could actually get in a walk if I took into account the rest of my prayer life:  my “rosary.”  Orthodox Christians use a string of beads that looks like a Catholic rosary, but functions quite differently:  By saying the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on…”), you can achieve a great degree of flexibility in terms of whom you pray for.  I’ve used mine for years to pray for my husband, our children, various friends, my spiritual father, a whole raft of people.  And it dawned on me:  Orthodox monastics walk while saying their prayer ropes.  I can do that too!

So I do.  I head out the door within about 15 minutes of waking up, grab a cup of coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts because without warm liquid, my voice would put a frog to shame at that hour of the day, and walk.  Twice around the Common is worth six turns on my prayer rope.  Once the weather cools off sufficiently for me to walk in the afternoon, too, I will add another 2/3 of a mile around the Common, and six more people.  If I ever get to a point where I can walk a full mile around the Common without feeling as if I’ve run a marathon, well, I have more people I can add to the prayer rope.  Keeps everybody happy, including, I hope, our Lord.

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Since it was pouring when I woke up at 4:30 a.m., I decided to forgo my morning walk.  So today is as good a day as any to introduce the Common.

Most New England towns and cities have a Common, a place where townspeople could graze their one or two family cows and a few family sheep without having to use good planting soil for pastureland.  After all, so many of our towns and cities go back to at least the eighteenth century, and a few, like the city to our south, back to the seventeenth century (1623, in that case).

They served that purpose until the Industrial Revolution, and then, many were converted to city parks, places where Victorians could stroll and picnic and listen to Sunday-afternoon concerts; so, many commons have a gazebo for the brass band (ours does), and some have really beautiful plantings and garden spaces (ours doesn’t).  Some boast monuments; ours has a Civil-War monument, and the names around its base are ancestors of people who still live in this city.

When we moved here, in the mid-1980s, the Common had been allowed to fall into disrepair.  I remember thinking wistfully what a great place it would have been for our son, then 7, to run around and play, but the grass was scruffy and unkempt, there was no play equipment whatsoever, no place to sit with one’s knitting or a book, no trees — nothing but scrub grass, and a field for pick-up sports games.  That all changed around 1988, when the City finally realized it was sitting on what could be a good recreational asset.  Now we have stone benches set around the walking path on the perimeter, nifty play equipment, picnic tables, plenty of trash receptacles, a defined sports area (used mostly for baseball in the summer, and flooded to make an ice-skating pond in the winter); and the gazebo, now cleaned up and freshly painted every couple of years, hosts summer-evening concerts that are free.  (I hasten to add that I have never gone; I love concerts, but the thought of spending a hot evening slapping at mosquitoes doesn’t appeal.)

The Common was originally much larger than it is now, but portions of it were sold off for development.  Now it’s about a third of a mile circumference, with a wide variety of activities on its four sides:  on the north side is a large mansion that now serves as a home for children who have had to be removed from their families.  The Children’s Home, as it is called, is staffed by an order of nuns that still wears a traditional habit.  The east side of the Common is the main route into and out of town; across this road is a wide variety of businesses (real estate agent, accountant, U-Haul depot, to name a few).  The south side of the Common consists of private homes in various states of repair; some are very lovingly cared for, and some are clearly just roofs over someone’s head.  It irritates me daily that of this latter, two are classic Craftsman homes, which are currently in great demand in this area — but these two are not for sale.  And the west side of the Common is the road that angles, gradually, to join with the southern route out of the state.

So why the fuss about the Common?  Because, for the last nine weeks, I’ve been walking it on an almost daily basis, and it occurred to me that the place has a life of its own:  times of its own, seasons of its own, denizens of its own — of which I have most recently become one — and I thought it might be fun to describe all of those.  How I came to be a Common Walker — well, that’s another tale.

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Well, except that I am so close to finishing that dratted train cross stitch (see blog header) that I have been putting in most of the hours of my day on that.  Also, because nothing much has been going on around here.

We did finally unload my father-in-law’s house.  I didn’t want to blog about that until it was a done deal, but now it is.  We sold it for half its assessed value because, frankly, the place was a fixer-upper; you wouldn’t expect that in a retirement-condominium community, but it was:  My in-laws bought the place new and never did a thing with it, except for necessary repairs.   So the stove is old, the fridge is old, the dishwasher is old — like, 1972 old, all of them — the carpets have never been replaced, it needs fresh paint, etc., etc.  We had the option of getting it fixed up to sell at a higher price, or letting it go for a song so that the new owner could fix it up to his own taste, and as it happened — that’s exactly what the buyer was looking for, someplace she could have renovated to suit herself.  Well, if I were buying a house, I’d want it to look like my house, right?

So that’s done, and we are finally done with New Jersey.  I keep thinking of that old Lyndon Johnson ad, when he was running for President:  Barry Goldwater had said something about sawing off the easternmost part of the country and letting it float out to sea, and the Johnson ad showed someone taking a saw to New Jersey.  I keep thinking, What’s wrong with that?  There’s no excuse for New Jersey, and the people are worse drivers even than Massachusetts drivers, who have a nationwide reputation for it.  (Though I’m told that Florida drivers are even worse.)  NJ drivers have to be the very rudest I have ever encountered.

Okay, enough of that.  As ridiculous as it sounds, I’m thinking of starting a new blog.  After all, I’m hardly ever on this blog, but I have an idea for a new book, different from what I usually write, and the title of the blog would be the same as the title of the book.   For the past nine weeks, I have been getting up at the crack of dawn, most days, and walking around the Common, which is a grassy patch of land in most downtowns of New England where they used to graze sheep and cattle.  Most places have fixed theirs up as recreational areas; ours is rather tame by comparison, but it serves very well as a playground, baseball diamond (skating pond in the winter), and walking track.  I’ve been walking this track for the past 9 weeks, and I had the idea yesterday:  Why not a book called Common Life?  I could write about the Common at various times of the day and of the year, who’s on it, what they’re doing, the weather and how it impacts Common activities….

So I was thinking about a blog called Common Life, but as I’m writing it occurs to me:  Just create a tag, Common Life, and stick with this blog.   It needs all the help it can get.

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