There are times when I long for the country. Down the windy road, up the hill, into the forest, to a house surrounded by trees, with a view out over the water. No neighbors within sound. Nothing to do all day but hike up through the ferns and the moss or down along the creek to the path that cuts through the rock and then down to water, where I could wander all day.
Or I long for the sea, for a house on the shore where I am surrounded by the sound of the waves pounding the sand. At first they are soft, then they grow louder until they fill your body and your soul; the blood in your heart sloshing back and forth with each wave and seiche and wave again. It’s only when you walk away from the ocean, toward the silence inland, that you recognize the silence that the waves disguised.
I’ve lived these places, the woods, the shore. And suburbs, where your world is bounded in squares, fenced, and there are constant sounds of neighbors, of children laughing, having a much better time in their backyard than you are in yours. Cookouts and pool parties, and cycling along the warm pavement to the park.
And a farm, where days stretched long and empty ahead of you. Rise and feed the cows and catch a horse and saddle up for a ride up and down the long driveway. Or don’t. Rise and fish a book out of grandma’s office and curl up in the air-conditioning and read, silent, lost in other worlds. Suspended in the huge empty house until the prince comes to break the spell and free you to live again.
The city has come to feel constricting lately. Hemmed in by buildings and concrete, by the four walls of my apartment. And yet, there is an underlying excitement when I venture out, a potential. Walking home from the office after dusk, as the lights are revealed around me in the growing dark, the streets filled with people going some place fast, striding home or to meet friends or go to a show or catch a train.
I feel as if I have become separated from nature and I’m not feel why I have let this happen. Why, when several years ago, it felt easy to get up early and walk to central park or along the river, to stretch at yoga, to get ready for work and still make it in before 9 am, to spend whole weekend days exploring the park. It was as if time stretched for me in a way that it doesn’t now. Now I feel like I don’t have the time or the energy to explore the way I had been. And, perpetual cycle, I feel tired all the time, and my ankle hurts and my knees. And I don’t have time to do everything I want to do. And so I do nothing that I want to do.
How does this come about? And, more importantly, how does it end?
With a step.
Not a step backwards, towards something once lived or once had, but a step forward into something new. A step towards action. Towards… something.
Thinking about the step isn’t enough. The step has to come physically. And, although the first step may be uncomfortable, a second step must follow, and a third. Until it feels natural, a habit.
And yet a step feels large and daunting, when it is cold outside and the apartment feels like shelter. My feet and back and hips and shoulders already hurt doing nothing; how much more will they hurt if I take that step?
I remember once walking with a niece when she was about three. It was the end of a long day, the adults were tired, the stroller with her brother was heavy and slow, and the sidewalk stretched endlessly in front of us back to the hotel where we were staying.
“I’m tired,” she moped for the hundredth time in the last five minutes, dragging her feet.
“Do you know why you’re tired?” I asked, tired myself of the whining. She glanced up at me, sparrow sharp, tilting her head. “Because you’re walking. If you ran really fast, from here to that Stop sign and back, you would stop being tired.”
And, with the energy of the young, she was off like a shot, faster than the wind, sneakers slapping on the pavement, hair streaming back, and then like a boomerang, returned to us, eyes bright and smile wide.
“It worked!” She said, and taking my hand, skipped beside us, singing and laughing, alive once more.
So perhaps a single step isn’t enough on its own.
Perhaps it starts with a sprint.