Waiting Room, Walking Trail

imageWashington Duke Inn Trail, Durham, NC.

(Originally published in The Sewanee Mountain Messenger. Reproduced by permission.)

“Breathe in.

“Breathe out.

“Stop breathing.”

That last command always tickles me — even, or maybe especially, because I’m in the middle of a PET scan when I hear it. You’d think that the doctors would prefer you not to stop taking in air and letting it out.

I’m about halfway through a five-hour process of getting poked with needles, being weighed, measured, and examined, and in between all that, waiting.

Then, finally, it’s done. We drive to my nephew’s house, change clothes, and head to a local walking/running path.

The path is mainly in woods, although a golf course, parking lots, and roads can be glimpsed without too much effort. The wide, hard-dirt and gravel surface is obviously well-used, and there are water fountains (with dog bowls) every so often — along with, sadly, call boxes and signs telling users to always walk with someone.

We’re in a major college town, so on the path we encounter all sorts of people. Two women in floppy hats gesticulating vividly as they stride briskly along. Serious runners, scantily clad, lean, somber, and fast. Large, hefty men huffing and puffing with headphones on. Dogs on leashes. Professorial types. Retired-professor types, such as the thin gentleman in khaki pants and khaki short-sleeved shirt who quickly passed us seemingly without exertion.

The path crosses several creeks (or perhaps the same creek several times), and we stop to lean over the rail and look for wildlife. All we see are the occasional tennis ball or water bottle, until we reach a longer wooden bridge over a restored wetland. There we spy turtles large and small, some perched on tree limbs protruding just above the water, others hovering on the surface.

Below us on the other side of the bridge a snake sits curled atop a pile of brush — flotsam from some recent storm. We debate its type until another walker looks over the side and says, “Black snake!” 

A half-mile or so later we are back in the parking lot, having walked almost three miles and worked up a late-spring sweat.

As it turned out, we had good news from the checkup, so our mood was relief and enjoyment of the day. But even if there had been a different outcome of the tests and scans, getting outside would have been one of the best ways to deal with the stress, uncertainty, and physical discomfort involved.

Walking — moving — is so good for our psyches, no matter what we’re dealing with. I was glad that we instinctively had made the choice to leave the artificial, high-tech world of diagnostic medicine and head straight outside. 

That evening we sit on the screened porch and see the first fireflies of the year. The next morning we will drive back home to the Mountain, but that night we can listen to the evening birdsong, enjoy fresh watermelon, and look back on a day which had been improved so profoundly by a simple walk.