I have entered a cabal. A whole congregation of crows flutters and disperses noisily at my approach. Another item for my list of hazards: acorn shells, unsuspected bicycles, treacherous leaves, and cars that mysteriously appear the wrong way on a one-way street. Fortunately the crows do not attack en masse. They would surely win.

I keep my eye out for joggers. A single jogger is usually harmless even on a narrow sidewalk, but joggers barreling three abreast are a marathon and dangerous. Maybe joggers need a special whistle when they overtake walkers from the rear.

It is a cardinal rule that joggers never notice walkers. We could be trees. They also ignore joggers running at a slower pace. When I first acquired a new kind of strap-on hand weights, I received curious glances from joggers so that for a week I felt higher in this pecking order.

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Walkers come in many species. Fast walkers so busy rotating their hip joints that even when in pairs, they seldom talk. But how they cover the ground.

Dog-walkers in my neighborhood are morose, perhaps because they go in fits and starts or because they are also on the end of a leash. A squat woman with two boxers always glowers. Sometimes others nod to me, though one Labrador owner complains that I walk too quickly. ``My dog doesn't like it.''

In the early morning, I meet two women in duffle coats walking briskly, their voices and faces contained and serious. Then I feel a bit like a child skipping school. Surely walking is no time to shoulder the world.

Not long ago an expert suggested meditating while walking, but I find there's too much to see: crows, kindergarteners (smaller each year) on their way to school, squirrels' nests exposed now that the leaves are down, a pale lemon sunset, or an early snowdrop. And, of course, the house whose walls and roof appeared overnight after months of trucks and mud in the street. I had thought they were fixing the sewer.

Sometimes I overhear snatches of talk.

``I'm taking chowchow, Oreos, and the swordfish Jack caught at Nag's Head.''

``I'm sure it was pistachios we grew in Bavaria.''

``Luckily, my job kept me so busy, I didn't marry until now.''

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