We live in a fast-paced society. Walking slows us down.
In Kensington it seems that everyone walks. Some folks drive up to Tilden Park and pick a trail, others just head out the front door and see where the road takes them.
After all, walking is the perfect antidote for what some authors call the "disconnectedness" of modern American life. If you read Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, or more recently Peter Lovenheim’s In The Neighborhood, you know what I’m talking about.
Many walk for exercise, which is one of the driving forces for my meanderings, but I also walk for education.
Walking, unlike running, or cycling, gives you a chance to notice things, if you pay attention.
A few examples from recent walks in the Kensington area will prove my point.
When you walk you notice which neighbor has decided to store a used bathtub on the front porch, standing up no less. I drive by the same house four times a week but until I walked by, I never noticed.
You learn that a dark section of driveway, concealed by overgrown branches, is the perfect spot for that used car that hasn’t moved in five years. I couldn’t tell if it wasn’t worth the trouble to donate or the owner had convinced himself it was a "classic" just waiting to be restored.
You get a good feel for the real estate market. If you repeat the same route regularly, you see “For Sale’ signs sprout, then expand to “Open Sunday” and then “Sale Pending.” When this happens in a two-week period, you know the market is good.
When months go by and the sign either doesn’t change or suddenly disappears, you know the housing market has tanked. I can read in the newspaper that values in Kensington dropped about 4 percent over the last few years, but my informal walking survey gives me better data.
A favorite real estate sign, which I saw this week, reads “I’m Gorgeous Inside,” which I guess, is the agent’s way of apologizing for the outward appearance. But I have to ask, if the owner doesn’t care enough about the outside to fix it up, why would I want to go in. Maybe it’s just me?
Walking helps you learn who really cares enough about their garden to battle the deer that also roam our neighborhoods. Who has bothered with fences, or netting, or like Meg McDowell, have a more resigned approach.
I met Meg planting her front yard flower/vegetable garden one pleasant afternoon recently, and when I pointed out the feast she was laying out for our four-legged neighbors, she just said, “Whatever, I use Liquid Fence and it helps, but if they eat some, it will grow back. What can you do?”
I use the same product (Liquid Fence) and know that it's only a temporary solution and that eventually the deer will have a meal, so it was a good jumping-off spot for a nice friendly chat about Kensington. I learned she was an acupuncturist and knew my wife, even though her house is a half mile from ours.
If you walk from the Arlington Strip to Colusa Circle, you learn that drivers can just follow the dotted line along Coventry to get down the hill, but if you’re walking you’re better off heading down Lenox to Beverly because there are a lot more sidewalks. (Really experienced walkers know the Stratford Path helps to some extent.)
I haven’t figured out an easy way back up the hill, yet.
Walking allows you to view construction projects, both major and minor. I assume they all have the approval of the Municipal Advisory Committee, but I don’t ask. The construction can also prompt questions, particularly if it’s major work on a home that you’ve passed many times in 10 years. Suddenly, there’s no one living there and just bare studs are left standing.
What happened to the family? Will they be back?
A similar mystery occurred to me when I saw a box filled with books with a handwritten note attached saying simply, "Free." I began to wonder when I started reading the titles:
Fertility for Dummies
Pregnancy for Dummies
Getting Pregnant and Staying Pregnant
High Risk Pregnancy
There were a few computer books thrown in, but I wondered: Did she get pregnant? How is the baby? Is everything OK now? I’ll never know, but I’m sure there’s a story in that box.
I walked by the same corner four days later and the box was still there. The computer books were missing. The only books left were the ones on pregnancy.
Oh, the stories I could write.