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.

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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