First of all, you have to get yourself out of the house. This, I find, is difficult to do at any set time. So resist the urge to walk with friends. They will want to go at 2 o'clock or 4, and they will talk. They will also turn around too soon and head back down the hill. Go when you feel like it. The shadows are always different and you can change sides of the street when you choose. Wear comfortable shoes. You will figure out soon enough which ones they are. If it looks rainy, take an umbrella and hook it over your arm. You're going to revel in it.
Although I would like to walk in different neighborhoods, there are few sidewalks in my suburb. I have charted a route I enjoy very much. Two miles long , it starts up a hill around the corner, winds through a residential area, and ends slanting down a gentle slope three blocks away. The more I walk it, the more familiar I become with it, and the more it is a part of my separate life.
In the spring, I study the burgeoning of the trees, the building of new nests , the momentary visit of a migrant bird. Spring, the renewing season, chills the hands but warms the heart. You stretch a little taller, look at everything a little closer.
Summer is a wonder. I pick up fallen leaves to identify when back in the kitchen with my book on trees. I had the book around for months before I realized what a small treasure it is. The first tree I put a name to was a sweet gum with its star-shaped leaves. One street I traverse is lined with sweet gum. The book told me they would be brilliant red and gold in the fall. I looked forward to it. Summer days I would arrive home with a double handful of leaves in different sizes and different shapes, and a full-blown curiosity. July sunshine finds you seeking the shady sides of the street. Walking when the shadows stretch over the sidewalks takes some reckoning, for the shadows change as the days do.
Fall is a splendid time. I find acorns, different kinds, and pick up 10 or a dozen for my resident squirrels, hoping, of course, the owners of the trees won't mind my cleaning off the walk. Their resident squirrels watch my garnering , but I note there is plenty for them and me.
The walkways themselves are fascinating. In our suburb, someone at city council walks the streets and marks the squares with red when repairs are needed. I wonder who it is, and does he enjoy his ramble as much as I do? As a result, new squares and sections of sidewalk appear from time to time. They bear legends: ''A quality job,'' and ''Another job well done.'' Makes you feel good that there is such pride in smooth surfaces and clean divisions.
There are days I see only a few observers of the scene, although the post man and I have become quite friendly. When I go away, he asks about my trip on my return. Quite frequently, he has been there also and we polish off the names of places and comment on the greenness of the day or the possibility of rain. Saturdays and Sundays bring out the joggers and the brisk walkers, the car washers and mowers of the grass. In football season, these activities take place early so as not to interfere with the big game.
In fall, when the leaves turn heart-rending shades of crimson, scarlet, russet, and topaz, the little nests begin to show, and I can count them on each street, wondering, always wondering, which little bird lived in the nest, how many eggs were comforted within, and how many nestlings prospered to fledge. I watch the nests all winter, looking forward to spring again, when perhaps I'll learn a smidgen more.
Back from a walk, I go through my gate having experienced an hour unique to itself. I close the kitchen door reluctantly. I contemplate tomorrow, when I will open the door to the fresh adventure, walking up the hill in the center of the universe.