It’s early when we arrive, and noisy. I forgot how loud morning birdsong can be.
Out beyond the tree line, the sun is still a low red smear behind the clouds. In the back seat, the dog, delirious with expectation, is whimpering to be let out. After a moment we oblige. The sigh of car doors hinging open. The slow unfolding of limbs. In the parking lot, Jes stands grinning, hands flexing against the predawn chill. She had to put on her winter jacket for our walk. She adjusts her glasses. I adjust the leash. We’re ready.
On the far end of the park are what we’ve come for: the cherry blossoms—rows of them, clustered branches arching delicate and white and subtly sweet over the narrow footpath. We’d come to see them earlier this week as well. Then the florets, pink still, were just beginning to open. Then too because of the lateness of the day, the paths had been packed with undergrads from the university, phones out, posing. It’d been nice that afternoon, for all that it had been busy. But the dog hadn’t liked it much, and it’s hard to have a conversation when you’re constantly slipping in and out of single file, accommodating your body and wants to the movements of a crowd.
Six o’clock, predictably, depresses turnout. I count four others in the park this morning, two with expensive-looking cameras slung around their necks. We avoid them and take the long way round. Out in the retention pond that horseshoes the park, a mallard paddles. Two geese—ornery this time of year and often downright hostile—honk mildly beneath a willow. We stop for pictures beneath the blossoms. We idle, we talk. The dog, taken by her own pursuits, seesaws haphazardly at the end of her leash. Nose down and snuffling, she is the lone force of chaos in the park this morning—a hunter of all things rank and piss-stained—but not out of place for it.
We complete one leisurely circuit. We breathe into our hands and eye the sun. We start again in the opposite direction, savoring.
More than anything, it’s the quiet sense of time slowed down, of time doubled back on itself, that I enjoy about this morning walk. Back home after all is the rush, the busyness. Back home are dishes to do and emails to answer. Back home is a dissertation going poorly, and unwelcome medical news, and an endlessly repopulating to-do list. Back home, as the old cliché tempts me to say, is life—only here too is life, with Jes and the blossoms and the leashed-tight dog. The difference only is in the pace, the rhythm, the steady, cardiac pulse of it so strong but so unhurried that I find it hard these days to recognize.
Six-forty, and by now the park is starting to fill. The sun has passed from red to yellow, and the birdsong, windchime-bright when we arrived, seems somehow less pronounced. Angling back toward the parking lot, we find ourselves behind a couple, younger than us, easing along the path in a geriatric shuffle. So close to the car, I feel impatience start to bloom. I want the couple to pick up speed. I want to cut around them. We don’t.
We match our stride to theirs.
Ben DeVries (’15) graduated with degrees in literature and writing. He and his wife Jes, a fellow Calvin grad, live in Champaign, Illinois, where Ben is looking to add some letters behind his name. On the academic off-seasons, he reads fantasy and works as a glorified “go-fer” at the Champaign Park District. He’s been known to make a mean deep-dish pizza.