A walk from the Chestnut Building to The Master’s University
“If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again, — if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man, then you are ready for a walk.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Walking
Thoreau said that the true traveler was the one who walked. The train could not keep up with him, he’d say. “I have learned that the swiftest traveller is he that goes afoot.” To prove this, he bet he could walk the 30 miles to Fitchburg in the amount of time it took his friend to earn the wages required to take the train. Thoreau would already be there by the time his friend was boarding. “Instead of going to Fitchburg, you will be working here the greater part of the day. And so, if the railroad reached round the world, I think that I should keep ahead of you; and as for seeing the country and getting experience of that kind, I should have to cut your acquaintance altogether.”
How much I agree with Thoreau, and how little I put his words into practice! Only circumstance reminded me of what it meant to walk. My brother could not pick me up from work; something about a bonfire. I debated calling other people to pick me up. That day I was told there was no more work for me to do; I was laid off. At this point, I decided to walk home, it was a nice day, and I could call my mother and let her know the news. While I worked, all I could think of was my walk. It’s a short walk, you can practically see my dorm, C-Dub, sitting on Placerita Canyon, from my work. It’s as simple as walking down 8th Street, turning right on RailRoad, crossing the train tracks into a neighborhood, hopping into the dried up river bed, and hiking up the canyon to the C-dub parking lot. A ten minute walk.
I felt free. I got my last check, said my goodbyes, and left the Chestnut building. I called my mom to break the news. I focused on the conversation, walking intuitively. I passed by some kids sitting on the sidewalk with their skateboard, though I don’t remember noticing this as I walked by, I only recalled this later that night. I don’t remember crossing the street, but I must have, for I started on the left side, but by the time I was on Railroad, I was on the right. I remember the heavy traffic; the cars were loud and I asked my mom if she could hear me. As I was waiting for the walk signal to go across railroad, an impatient man walked up, pressed the button seven or eight times, and muttered something to himself. At the same time a police car had his siren on and was speeding toward us. “Uh-oh, it’s the po-po.” I said to my mom, the last thing I said to her. She didn’t respond. I looked down at my phone; the battery had died. Now I was truly free.
I realized now that the impatient man was carrying a suitcase. When the light turned he ran across the street and up to the train station. I took my time, crossed the street, then the train tracks. I looked both ways, no train was approaching. The impatient man was in no good hurry. Had only he taken his time, as I had, all the much better his day could have been. I see nothing wrong with taking the train. Sometimes it’s nice. If you get there early, board the train, and read a book, then you have made the most of these evil days. But if you hurry, as this man did, then all you add to your day is stress. Even if he was hurrying because he spent good money on his ticket, doesn’t that only prove Thoreau right? I, by far, had the better day.
I now was in the neighborhood. It sits right next to a community center, and running behind it is a dried up canal with Placerita Canyon sitting on the other side. I used to walk this way to town and back everyday. This semester I got a car. Now I no longer walk. The minute I stepped into the canal, it all came back to me. Why did I ever stop? All the old thoughts came back: my love of birding, my fear of mountain lions and hobos. One day back here I passed by a hobo camp. I tried to keep it cool. I waved as I passed by, hoping not to get mugged. I used to walk this way in the dark, expecting at any minute a mountian lion to slash my neck, those night-stalkers. And how many birds had I seen back here: my first roadrunner, mockingbird, phainopepla, and kingbird. Today, the sun was bright, the air was dry, and the only thing I was worried about was snakes. A bird was screaming in the distance. It sounded like a hawk. I looked up into the trees to see if I could find it. Maybe it’s on those powerlines. There it is. No it’s not on those powerlines, it’s on the road next to me. Wait that’s not a hawk.
It was a quail. A california Quail. It sat on the road. I was in the canal looking up at it, it’s body obscured by some brush. It kept crying out, raising his head to the sky, it’s tuft swinging back. I never had seen a quail alone before, could that be the reason for it’s cry, loneliness? Could he be like Annie Dillard’s bobwhite, who missed the mating season, calling out to no one? The quail saw me but didn’t run, only moved out of view and continued calling. The whole way up the hill I heard his lonely cry.
I was now at the trails outside The Master’s University. A bird flew by me, a flicker of yellow and red. It landed on the shrubs to my right. It was a flycatcher, an Ash-Throated Flycatcher most likely. I watched it for a while, until he flew away, his red tail flicking up and down. It was at this point I began to formulate this essay in my mind. See, I’ve had this idea about writing an article about a walk for a while now. I didn’t know it would be this one. I started this walk oblivious to what I was looking at. Then I began to see things. How brief this was. As soon as a began to write in my head, I stopped seeing, stopped living. But such is this writing life. I kept going, the trail wrapped around the C-dub parking lot. I had to push my way through some brush. A weird green bug was on my jeans, I flicked him off. When I had to push my way through more brush, then I noticed that the trails were overgrown. These trails I used to walk everyday. I have a car now. Most other people do too. Nobody walks these any more. They all stopped when I stopped. I’m part of the problem.
I arrived at C-Dub. The whole walk took ten minutes. If I had driven I would have stopped at four stoplights and possibly stopped by a train. At the most, I would have saved two or three minutes driving, but I would have lost out on my love for walking, for birding, for life.