Now, for those of you not from East Texas or any of the Southern states, a bayou is a body of water typically found in flat, low-lying areas, and can refer either to an extremely slow-moving stream or a river with a poorly defined shoreline, or to a marshy lake or wetland. Houston is silly with bayous that meander throughout the city.
And while the park might have been built for strictly mercenary means, it’s lovely. It’s surrounded by a two mile paved jogging trail with manmade inclines for extra caloric burn, a very zen-like tai chi space, a picnic area near a duck pond, a cool playground, BBQ facilities, lovely flora and in the center of it all, a retention pond (fully stocked and fishing is permitted) with a multi-fountain water feature in the middle.
I go to Art Storey Park to walk and I love to do it without an iPod. It’s built along the very busy Sam Houston Parkway, a tollway which completely encircles the city and the noise from the constant flow of traffic, regardless of hour, can be deafening. But after 21 years in this city, I’ve learned to drown out the noise. The drone of revved engines, honking horns and sirens are just a part of the everyday audible ambience. Besides, when I walk on purpose, I’m driven so noise isn’t an issue and when I’m driven, I do some of my best thinking. In fact, my mind is never sharper than when I walk.
In the process of all this ambling, I’ve resolved many issues (global and my own). I’ve given numerous award-winning speeches, told off adversaries, redecorated my living room, envisioned a first date….and the last one; went through the motions preparing an entire Thanksgiving dinner for 12 hungry, but finicky Kendricks AND….had mind-blowing imaginary sex with Mad Men hottie, actor, John Hamm.
I’ve also used the time to compose many blog posts and this is one of them.
It began innocently enough.
It was just the other day, as I completed my first quarter-mile, I began to notice things I’ve never seen before. Usually, I walk with my head down. When I’m accepting my Pulitzer or being interviewed for my literary prowess on 60 Minutes in my head, I keep my gaze downward. It helps the focus. Plus, passersby can’t see the goofy smile on my face–especially when I’m having a John Hamm moment……puuuuurrrrrrrrrr.
But yeah, I noticed a lot of things I hadn’t before. Birds, for one. I saw Cardinals, Blue Jays, all kinds of ducks, plus several graceful egrets–the bastard cousins of the swan and other birds I couldn’t identify, which only proved my ornithological ignorance.
I also saw something us city kids hardly see anymore: big snapping turtles, lizards, squirrels, a flying fish and what we here in Texas call Pill Bugs; those strange, armored looking black critters that curl up in a ball when threatened. I haven’t seen one of those in forever.
And then after the thrill of all that fauna passed, I started people watching. Every kind of ethnicity was represented, as was every body type. The thin, the heavy, the short, the tall. Some people wanted to optimize their workout by wearing sweats which at 94 degrees, even in late afternoon, made them running/walking sweat lodges. There were the thin, pretty girls, who even while exercising are so very well put together. They even look cute panting. They don’t sweat either. No, thin pretty women in Lycra midriff tops that expose well-carved abs and ass-hugging shorts “en-dampen”. Women like me who cover our multitudes of corporeal sin with baggy shorts and even baggier T-shirts that some old boyfriend left behind…one that escaped being used to clean our toilets….we sweat.
And then it hit me. This is what it’s all about!!!
I walked up an incline with a Gulf breeze head wind. It made the walk tougher. I rounded a curve, headed in a different direction and started walking down hill with a tail wind. That made the walk easier. Having the contrast of the uphill battle made me gratefully appreciate the downhill ease.
And then I noticed everyone else around me. We were all there, experiencing the jogging track at the same time, but with different goals in mind. Some people ran, others walked. Some got tired and stopped along the way. Some chose walking or running partners; others chose to tackle the course alone. Some chose running or walking in an opposite direction. Some only ran the two miles; others ran the circuit twice and got four miles in.
I have no idea why these very different people were at Art Storey Park that day. Their motivations were their own. But there was one thing we all had in common: regardless of who we were, why we were there, how we ran, how long we walked or what we wore when we did it, we ALL started out the same: fresh, eager and pristine. Then, we all finished the course we chose to take, tired, sweaty and ultimately, happy the exercise was over.
It was an accomplished mission that involved a very defined start….and the goal of finishing.
And in between the two, it’s an incredible journey rife with uphills and downhills, effort and ease…all kinds of scenery that represent so many variations on every possible theme. It’s a sojourn that we take on our terms, at our pace, at our discretion.
Now, tell me THAT’S NOT a metaphor for life and living.