It was Phil's night to put the daughter to bed, and to expedite the process, I left the house and took a 55-minute long walk.
Although Troy, NY, was not nearly so bucolic as Blacksburg, it was still night-walkable, provided you kept your eyes and ears open. My second year up there, I lived down the street from the Mt. Ida cemetery, and there were many autumn nights when I'd linger among the tombstones, enjoying the way the moonlight washed them clean and readable in the dark.Then I left the cozy confines of assorted university towns and lived, in quick succession, in Washington, D.C. and then San Francisco. It took a while to find routes that met my criteria -- safe, well-lit, few stoplights to slow my pace, the potential to drop into a rhythmic gait and stay there for an hour at a go. But I did it. Flashes of those walks still surface in my memory from time to time: Strolling under an alleé of cherry trees near Gallery Place in D.C. after swimming until closing time at the YWCA, rushing headlong into the fog along Irving Street until I reached 19th street.I began walking at night because it was a great way to escape people. Dorm life is rough if you need a lot of alone time, and so I coped by signing up for lifeguarding shifts that began at 5 in the morning, or I wandered around late at night, winding through parts of the campus where I'd never have classes, discovering lovely courtyards or striking tableaux alone in the dark. As a young adult, I walked alone because it was how I found the peace and quiet to think my way through challenging situations or reconcile messy emotions.(Don't get me wrong: It wasn't all walking and brooding. I remember one night, I was so intensely happy about a career development, I walked the four miles from my Cole Valley flat down to the Pacific Ocean, ran and danced along the beach, then walked home again, trying not to audibly whoop.)Tonight I walked because it was a nice way to cap a nice, low-key family day. I walk now because it's the only opportunity I have to check out my neighbors' yards and see what gardening ideas I can steal or adapt. I walk because I'm curious to see if the deli that's never open actually has posted hours anywhere on its windows. (It does not.) I walk because there is one family that dresses the cement lions on its front stoop in seasonal costumes and I like that I can walk by two lions that are currently dressed in pink tulle tutus and bunny ears, with Easter baskets swinging from their upraised paws.
For whatever reason, walking during the day doesn't offer the same meditative opportunity. I don't know if it's because we share the streets during the day, while it's easy to feel as if you have the world to yourself at night. Or perhaps it's that there are fewer artificial distractions at night, so your senses are more fully engaged in the sounds and sights around you?
I'm all too aware that I've been lucky. In twenty-odd years of ripping around the streets around the country, I've only been chased by strange men a handful of times and I've never been caught. I've never been robbed. I always head back out, into the night, alone with my thoughts. A buffalo gal, dancing by the light of the moon.