Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time. Steven Wright
One step at a time is good walking. Proverb
It wasn’t my intention when I started out. I had been planning a short walk behind Snyders on the two-track that winds its way back through the woods and out past North Lake, but the puddles covered the path and there was no getting around some of them. And my second choice also had been a bust. Stoneville Road was being paved and there was no place to park my car by the Heritage Trail west of Ishpeming. So I drove east a few miles to the town of Negaunee and started trekking down the trail that follows the historic mining route from town to town to town. The air was fresh and crisp on this Tuesday afternoon in late August in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the sun was poking through the stacks of billowy clouds and the Queen Anne’s Lace was swaying in the breeze and I was swooning and swaying too, with all this clarity of air, all this August lushness laid out before me. Why not go for it? I thought. Why not keep walking?
I love to walk. I have loved to walk forever. When I was a little girl, it was the granite sidewalks with their ancient jagged cracks and the stonewalls that stood tall beside these sidewalks and the shortcut paths that criss-crossed our town in coastal Maine that called me forward into adventure after adventure. It was like a board game of possibilities, the routes I could take to my elementary school. I could leave my big rambling house on Washington Street and turn in either direction, one way meeting my friend Sally at the corner of Middle and North and heading up High Street by the house with the very old dog who was missing an eye, or I could make another choice, in the other direction, climbing onto the stonewalls that lined the sea captain’s homes in my neighborhood and then up the giant hill that would lead me to the shortcut path and our brand-new school with the rickrack roof. After school, the town was our playground and the world never seemed to be in a hurry. My friends and I lingered on street corners and paved paths, explored the river’s waterfront, made our way to the downtown sometimes, to the park with its pond and the cannon that once had been real, to the library and the Y where we lifted our walking feet, swam for an hour or so, then walked our way back home again. I walked my way through childhood and into adolescence, from small town sidewalks to college campus, from the paths and country roads of coastal Maine, to the city streets of Ann Arbor, Michigan to the two-tracks and trails of the Upper Peninsula. Day after day, year after year, I have walked my way on adventures far and near, have walked my way into this moment, and this day and this particular walk on an afternoon in late August.
Why not go for it? It was eleven miles on this trail to the center of Marquette and my husband Cam was planning a trip into town for groceries. He could pick me up in the early evening, and, in the meantime, I could walk, for hours, without an agenda, one foot in front of the other, soaking in the wonders of this day. And that’s what I did. I walked past a field of wild flowers and into a hardwood forest and out into the open for a long stretch along a marsh. I felt as though my feet had wings and I was as free as a bird in the sky. I found myself humming under my breath, “Tis a gift to be simple,” and it was a simple gift, this walking. And it wasn’t a problem, my lack of preparation. I didn’t need water. At first, it was the blueberries that showed up for me, a little shriveled but sweet and tasty. And then it was the raspberries, and a few heaping handfuls of warm ripe blackberries. But it was the deep red thimbleberries poking out of their wide maple-like leaves that appeared in a abundance, sweet and tart and as refreshing as any drink I could have stuffed in a pack. So I ate berries and I hummed my simple tune and I allowed my cluttered mind to empty itself — because that’s what happens when you walk a long ways; your mind becomes spacious like the sky above you and your thoughts, they blow on by, like the billowy clouds.
I love that about walking, that my mind becomes clear. And I love that it then fills itself up again with no effort from me, with inspirations and insights and maybe even a poem or an essay or the seed of a story. And, on this day, it did exactly what it needed to do; my mind became a still clear pool reflecting back to me the gifts of this summer, a summer so fully-packed that I hadn’t known how to digest it all. And so, with each step, past the quarry and under the railroad bridge and into another hardwood forest, I soaked it in, the trip to Maine in late July. I needed this afternoon of walking to absorb the bounty from that trip Downeast, the wonderful day and evening spent on a river boat and in a sweet downtown restaurant with Cam’s mother and her beau, the re-wedding of a relative to his first wife after years and years apart from each other, a memorial service for a dear beloved uncle, and all the visits and pauses in between. And there was the adventure to western Canada with women friends, and the fortieth wedding anniversary a week later with our kids and grandkids at a rental townhouse in the mountain/lake town of McCall, Idaho.
The sun warmed my shoulders as I walked eastward on the woodland path toward the outskirts of Marquette, and I felt warm on the inside too as I thought of these trips. There is nothing more wonderful than a summer breeze in northern Michigan and the sun on your shoulders and the taste of thimbleberries on your tongue, while, at the same time, thinking of McCall, Idaho and the glacial lake and an impromptu renewal ceremony of vows in bathing suits and beachwear, with your daughter-in-laws as bridesmaids, your granddaughters as flower girls, your grandson holding the rings and playing Batman Lego’s theme song on his mother’s phone, one son as best man, the other officiating. This particular eleven mile walk was big enough to contain it all, the Black-eyed Susans sprinkled in the field beside the trail and the Black-eyed Susans in the hair of an infant and a toddler granddaughter at a beachside ceremony three weeks earlier.
It was dinnertime when I found myself skipping off the path and onto the streets of Marquette. I met Cam at Border Grill. I was hungry, hungry for fish tacos and the company of the man I’ve been married to for forty years, and I was satiated too, filled to the brim with berries, and a summertime of memories now saved in some deep part of my marrow, and with this walk, an unexpected gift on an afternoon in late August.
A walk on the Heritage Trail from Negaunee to Marquette, Michigan: Late August, 2017