I think of my father, a cowboy rancher of the old school, every dawn when I set out on my walk. Watching us board the "yellow monster" bus to ride the mile to school each morning, Dad would grumble, "Mark my words, those girls will lose use of their feet and legs by the time they're grown."
Then, shouldering his shovel, he'd set off - walking, of course - for his daily chores. "Shifting the water" was one. This was moving small earthen dams to divert water from a stream into ditches that irrigated our fields. He walked miles every day as he tended crops, mended fences, and - twice every 24 hours - herded the cows from pasture to barn to be milked.
Dad brought observations from his daily treks to the dinner table.
"A big rainbow trout jumped behind the dam this morning," he'd say. This was for my benefit. The dam was at least half a mile away, by trail, and I liked to fish. "A bindlestiff walked all the way from Los Angeles," he'd say, making eye contact with whichever of us girls happened to glance up at the moment. "Bindlestiff" was his word for hobos who, bedrolls slung from their shoulders, walked the roadways in the Depression.
Pointing his fork at Jan, he said, "The apples up on the bench are near ripe. Next week hike up there with a gunnysack and bring a load back for Mother." Addressing my youngest sister, "It's your turn to run the bottles for me on Saturday." "Running the bottles" meant taking them from the cases in the back of the Model A pickup, glass quarts or pints, and carrying them to customers' porches. He delighted in giving us chores that required using our legs.
Dad would have felt confined and stifled where I live now, in Sedona, Ariz. He'd hate the way the precious earth is so paved over. But he'd be glad to know that I am charmed by what I see, and that my legs haven't withered away. My daily walk is as important to me as food and drink. Sedona is torn between preserving its rural attributes and accommodating the burgeoning population attracted by its climate. Its streets offer charming windows on nature and human enterprise.
I've city-walked in Alabama, New York, Washington, and Colorado, but this is the only place where city fathers refuse to uproot trees whose giant roots buckle sidewalks. Repair crews here regularly patch the cement cracks with asphalt, leaving black-veined humps for walkers, stroller pushers, and skateboarders to negotiate.
I pause to check out the stream that still flows through town. Odors of moss and mud waft up to me. Minnows dart from beneath rock shelters in the shallow water. If I wait silently for a few moments, frogs resume their songs at this early hour.
Victorian houses, lovingly preserved, their foundations wreathed in cineraria blues and bougainvillea reds, are prizes for my camera. On one less-elegant porch step, below a planter box of pink and white impatiens, sits a pair of worn running shoes, miniature ivy cascading from a pot nestled in the cavity of each.
Just as they passed by our ranch in the old days, "bindlestiffs" - now called "the homeless" - walk these streets. They are drawn, as are the affluent, to the coastal climate. Three times, walking though the town plaza, I've seen the same grizzled man pause to paw the coin slot of the public telephone, his plastic sack of aluminum cans at his feet. I bet that - like the Depression-era hobos who passed our ranch - he could mend a fence if asked.
By 7 a.m., I wave at cyclists, students, and - repeatedly - a bearded and helmeted man, knees pumping almost at chin level. His is a recumbent cycle. I think Dad would have appreciated his use of feet and legs.
Last week, a woman about my age shifted the weights she carried to one hand when she spotted me and reached out as she passed to touch my shoulder, never breaking her stride. "Good morning!" Her voice was exuberant, her smile broad. It was as though she shared the knowledge that Dad was right about using shank's mare every day.