A few years ago, early on a Sunday, I was walking in the Salem Common with my dog Finnegan, and suddenly on the other side of the Common there was the sound of a classical piece of music being played on a French horn. The early morning crispness of the air, the singing birds, the slapping of the flag’s halyard against the pole all came together beneath the canopy of trees, in this outdoor cathedral of French horn and nature sounds as the dog and I walked, suddenly blessed by all of this.
We stopped and watched the guy play the horn as he sat on a bench near the playground. The dog rested on the grass and I leaned against a tree as I watched people, also out for a stroll with their pets. Yet the vast majority booked it right by the French horn guy, barely noticing him, with one hand on the leash and the other on their cell, eyes down. Some stopped to text, others continued to talk to whomever was on the other end of the phone clasped to their ear.
People can’t seem to put the phone down, long enough to enjoy a walk, or the morning,
Whenever I walk Finnegan, I never take my cell phone. I figure the guy has been by his lonesome little self for long enough, playing with his toys, listening for the sounds of other people and their dogs on the sidewalk, napping, guarding the house — all those doggie duties that makeup his day when I’m at work. So when we are finally together, I believe I should talk to him, pay him some attention. We might note a cardinal’s song and discover him high in an evergreen, or note the robins hopping across a lawn, the groundhog rumbling along a fence line.
What I cannot get over are all the other owners having spent the day at work, would rather stare at their cell screens, or text or talk as they dutifully take Bella, Max, Bandit or Lucy out for a stroll.
I feel bad for the dogs. I feel even worse for their owners.
To go for a walk is to experience where you are and live first hand — the colors of doors, flowers, homes, architecture, children on swings, the sounds of birds, other dogs, the color of the ocean, the breeze on your face, how one block can smell in good ways and bad, differently from the one before.
Here on the North Shore there are so many venues for walking: there are sea sides, mountains, cities large and small, wetlands, bike paths, woodlands, meadows.
What I love about walking, besides spending time with my good friend Finnegan, is that as exercise goes, walking is hard to beat as there is no need for expensive equipment, no membership fees — just you and the earth’s free firmament. As well, after a few minutes the litany of the “to do’ list falls from my consciousness and scatters like leaves. Or if there is something, a problem, a difficult conversation I need to have, the time spent outdoors, without a phone allows that exchange to come together, my mind is somehow cleared of the clutter of the phone.
Many afternoons I take Finnegan along the bike path that heads out towards Salem Harbor and boarders Salem State University — he loves it as we don’t have to be mindful of cars and crossing streets, the expanses are greater and best of all there are students coming from classes, who love to pet him, scratch his head and smile, and they have to put their phones away to do that.
To feel the sun on your face or the rain, or witness the winter’s first snowfall, or the walks Finnegan and I both dread on January’s frigid days are all good, because even then, with our breath in small clouds before us, we discover the tracks of squirrels, bunnies, the neighborhood cat in the snow.
We’re also fond of discovering new friends in our neighborhood, both the four footed and two footed ones, or the newest community members in strollers.
My wish for us all as we enter the fall, certainly the loveliest of seasons here in New England, is to leave the phone on the table by the door, and go out for a walk, and relish each and every astonishing step.
Regina Robbins Flynn is the coordinator of the Professional Writing Program in the English Department of Salem State University. She makes her home in Salem.