It is strange to think that just a couple of months ago I was living on a few acres in central New York, carpooling with my fellow crew members to a farm just down the street. It was less than a mile really, or, measured in time (as we like to do ‘round here) “about five minutes.” I often thought how seemingly ridiculous it was to be driving and not walking or biking. We were farmers, after all. Presumably tree huggers, as green in spirit as in thumb. Still, I knew perfectly well that for the lot of us, it made perfect sense. Every second of our breaks was invaluable (read: food; rest). Every ounce of energy saved, much the same.
At present I reside, once again, for this brief moment, in bustling city of Ann Arbor. I can’t walk a dog in five minutes, much less get to work on time. I have my own wheels, but until recently, haven’t had much income and so burning gas seems counterproductive, not to mention contradictory to, what is, my true tree-hugging nature. What are the alternatives you ask? They are endless. I can walk 5 miles to work (highly unlikely and supremely time consuming, not to mention mildly unpleasant in the winter, even with the climate change), bike to work (also not entirely safe/appealing/and-we-all-know-how-fun-it-is-to-pack-two-meals-AND-a-change-of-clothes-every-morning), carpool (extremely time efficient and generally inconvenient, given I’m not the one with parking pass and flexible faculty work hour), or take advantage of local public transit.
This morning was my second consecutive ride into work on the university commuter bus. To get to this bus, I have to book it on foot for just under a mile. These walks are hurried, but also entirely pleasant and awakening. I find myself enjoying the fresh air, the damp chill, and even the seemingly permanent grayness of the sky. Thanks to the alignment of the stars, luck, or something of the sort, I consistently manage to make it to the bus stop in-the-nick-of-time. I arrive breathily, squeeze into the sardine can that is campus transportation and say a silent thank you to the God of All That is Timely and Good.
It is then that the meditation begins. My fifteen minute walk is nearly a warm up. I move past memories–flashes of packing into busy trains in other cities, other countries–and observe my surroundings. I am swimming in a sea of college students and I feel like a century-old sea turtle amongst a school of young fish. They look like children and I find myself both fascinated and disturbed. I feel out of place and wonder if they can sense my age (Do I smell older?), or maybe spot one of my many gray hairs. In the end, it doesn’t matter really. I retreat from my people watching and move inward. I chant silently in my head or sometimes just fix my gaze on something innoccuous (How did I become that women covered in dog hair?). I sit down, if and when the opportunity presents itself- typically a whopping two stops from my destination, as students pour out by the dozens, off to their classes. Ready to start their days; start their lives.
Yesterday, on my way to work, I listed off reasons in my head to excuse the purchase of a parking pass, to warrant a daily (independent! Expedient!) commute that would relieve me of this twice daily pilgrimage. By the time I was walking home, I had thrown those excuses out the door. This is a practice of its own. It is an opportunity. It is saved energy and expenses. It is fresh air and exercise and an extra forty minutes (at least) of time well spent. For a woman who just recently transported back into the office from a glorious, wide-open field, it is even, perhaps, a blessing in disguise.