The Wall

First cold snap of the 2021, with a projected high of just 19 degrees Fahrenheit.  My mind remembers Chicago winters, how springlike a 19 degree day with no wind felt after weeks of windy days with where the thermometer didn’t crack 10 degrees, but my body doesn’t.   I’ve acclimated all too well to mild Massachusetts and can’t imagine going outside.   

Facing a cold, snowy February, I feel frustrated.  Walking’s one of my favorite ways to self-soothe and think.  I used to spend hours on the treadmill in our basement when the weather was bad, but its motor died last winter.   I paced around the house (barely satisfactory) until the weather improved, then went  outside.    As often happens (possibly it’s an autistic thing),  I soon became absorbed with the idea of systematizing the activity.  It was irresistible, the notion of strolling down every avenue, court, street, circle, road, place, and terrace in town.  This led by degrees from April, 2020’s “Hey, what’s down that side street?” to July, 2020’s daily sessions with Google maps to pick walking routes to January, 2021’s trip to Staples to turn a foldable street atlas made of slippery paper into a 25”x 20” map.   I decided to start from dot (“dot” being my home address, located in the upper left quadrant), this time tracing my progress in markers of many colors.       

January had been pretty mild, so I did a bunch of walking, but now there was black ice on the streets and a frigid wall between me and my project.   I drank hot coffee and cleared out my inbox.  Bulk mail from our town community center showcasing the February calendar, don’t know why I opened it.   Book clubs, craft clubs, activities for seniors and toddlers.  Some chocolate fondue drive through thing.  And then a pair of items that made my clicking finger twitch:  an Around the Town photo challenge and a 1000 Hours Outside 2021 challenge.      

The Around the Town photo challenge involves a weekly mystery photo.  The challenge is to identify the location of the picture, then take and post your own photo.   I won’t be posting snaps, but this contest seems made for me and my map.   It got my toes wiggling, warming up.     

“1000 Hours Outside”  (  promotes the idea that people (especially children) should be spending at least 1000 hours outside per year.  This averages to around three hours a day.    The site feels a bit mompetition-y, as it seems to assume surroundings and resources that not everyone has.   I agree that being outdoors is a good thing.   I easily got more than 1000 outdoor hours as a kid most years.  So did my friends: this was how the moms on the block got some peace and quiet in their days.  While I went to parks with my parents fairly frequently, and brought home the ticks to prove it—ticks luuuurve me—I remember more fondly the interesting indoor spaces they took us.  Museums and concert halls, etc., which doesn’t seem to count for the 1000 Hours people; ah, well.   I think it was the idea of setting an annual time goal, always appealing (even though I know I’ll probably fail).  Plus the 1000 Hours Outside website had a page with dozens of printable trackers, featuring all kinds of designs, plain to fancy.  I found some very pretty ones, but ultimately I figured that my map of many colors would serve me best.    

I can’t wait to see the first Around the Town photograph (set to appear in just three days!).  Probably they’ll start out with something easy: the gazebo, the cannon across from Town Hall, the train station, swans on the reservoir, stuff like that.  I hope they’ll go farther afield, though: the candy company in the industrial park, that former nursing home out by the highway that is now…something mysterious.  The log cabins (I’ve found two—one in at the north end of town and the other in the south).  That house with sooo many garden gnomes.    

I doubled my socks, put on my puffy coat,  tugged a wool cap over my ears and stuck Blue Tooth headphones on top of it, and did a trial stroll.  It was reasonably, bearably toasty.  Thanks, Universe: the very day I hit this wall, you passed me a stepladder.  

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