In my neighborhood, I’ve always done a lot of walking. I walk in the morning and late at night with my husband—John marked out a mile some years ago and likes to stick to the same route—and often in the afternoon. Our dogs are frequent companions. I would like to tell you that this activity has become my daily meditation, one that has taught me about living in harmony with my surroundings, but anyone who has seen me trying to corral two stubborn and erratic golden retrievers would know that isn’t true.
Instead I think of these walks as an opportunity to secure the perimeter of my domestic life. When we first moved to this inner-city Houston neighborhood, Woodland Heights, 25 years ago, I was particularly fond of the elderly women who sat on their porches all day or devoted hours to sweeping the leaves from their curbs. Like them, what I felt was pride of place. It was in those early days that I developed an appreciation for the more creative gardens in the neighborhood, like the collection of cacti that took up an entire lot and the few near-perfect replicas of English cottage gardens fashioned with purple iris, sage, rosemary, and other native Texas plants. These days I check on my friend Marci’s ornamental cabbages and bottle trees and my neighbor Joan’s collection of edible greens, which often make their way into my white bean and sausage soup.
On the surface, there’s a soporific sameness to these walks. Mornings we see families trotting to school and moms racewalking after drop-off. Nights are more sociable, particularly among the childless dog-walkers: we fall into step with the owners of Copper and Bella and Putty and Smokey, slapping at mosquitoes in the thick summer air or stamping our feet on chilly winter nights as we discuss the news on the neighborhood website—sometimes about crime, usually about lost pets—and gossip about bungalow warts, the local moniker for bad remodeling jobs.
In other words, nothing seems to happen. Except that, imperceptibly, our route offers a series of associations that are always fading in and out: I see our grown son, Sam, splashing at age five in Marci’s pool, where she taught him to swim; I wonder how Joan’s cancer treatment is going. Here is one of Sam’s kindergarten classmates back from Spain, more beautiful than ever; there are the night herons, nesting again in the oaks on Bayland Avenue, just as they have every year since we arrived, in 1989.
It’s a little like dreaming, these daily walks. I live and relive, reorder and reset our lives in probably a hundred different ways, until we are back at our front door again. Twenty minutes, three or so times a day—when you have lived in one place as long as we have, there’s a lot to process.