Wednesday, January 25, 2017


By Shannon Chartrand

I 'tsk, tsk' at the litter strewn about the grass at the side of the trail. Indignantly, I note that there's a garbage can right there. How lazy can one get? Debris from drinks and snacks purchased at grocery store. Then, I remind myself that I don't want to be one of those old people who sits in judgment on the world. Am I perfection incarnate? My son once precluded family news with "Don't be judgmental, mom". I try.

      I'm walking the Hamilton-Brantford rail trail. What a great idea to convert rail lines into recreational trails. I start at the back of the grocery store, finishing just past the Hamilton Golf and Country Club. The trail is paved and snow is removed by the City, making it usable in all weather. Thank you, Hamilton.

     My eyes sift through winter-ravaged flora edging the path. Teasel is standing strong, backlit by the sun, it looks like black candelabra. Up close, it is a soft brown. Pioneers used the stiff spikes on the seed pods to comb debris out of fleece before spinning it into yarn. I am impressed by the ingenuity of our ancestors. With age, I often wonder about the origins of words and inventions. Too much time. Not enough time.

     The procession of walkers and bikers is of endless interest to me. Students zip by on bikes, heading to and from McMaster. The blue rental bikes are popular. I wonder which students are prepared for today's class. Which ones are taking their education seriously? Do they know how lucky they are?

     A young woman clad in colourful spandex passes me. She pumps her bent arms like pistons...left arm punches forward, then right. Her pace is steady, measured. Reflexively, I whip myself for a lifetime of self-neglect. I still don't take care of myself even though my expiry date is approaching. Will this weakness be a painful regret at the end? Probably, there will be more important issues to resolve as I ride into the sunset.

     Head down, a young man doggedly propels the wheels of his chair forward with his arms. I mentally salute his courage. I doubt he cares about my opinion. He is doing what he has to do to live a normal life. I think about the days when the disabled were housebound. That must have been lonely.

     In front of me is a massive pile of feces. There's too much for it to be dog poop, even for a Mountain Pyrenees. It looks like horse droppings but who would ride a horse around here? Surely not the police. They'd have a bag attached to the horse's bottom. I file the poop away as one of life's mysteries.

     Once I reach the QEW overpass, I'm almost half way. Leaning on the railing, I wonder where everyone is going - work, deliveries, visits, a woman in labour, a funeral. Ah, funerals! A topic close to my heart. Funny, that. Some funerals have long, snaking cortèges. How does one person merit that many mourners? Personally, my mourners will fit into one limousine.  Maybe two.

     When I started doing this trail several weeks ago, I used to turn around at the QEW. I felt I couldn't go further. But I wasn't reaching my Fitbit goal. My daughter suggested I go to the end of the trail. So I did. I pushed myself long after my energy was depleted. It was excruciating. I felt like I was climbing Kilimanjaro while carrying my equipment on my back. Now, it's just hard.

     So, I'm reaching my daily goal of seven kilometers a day. But, now the bar is higher. My Fitbit reports include others who have joined my account. I am being significantly out-walked by my eighty-one-year-old brother, Dan, in Montreal; sixty-year-old Sal, in B.C., is the Road Runner. I have to up my game.

     I sit on one of three benches along the trail to rest and do head rolls. It helps relieve the burning pain in a shoulder muscle. A railway yard sits in front of me. I'm at the caboose end of a train which has its engine running. An American flag is painted on the side. A sense of wanderlust wells up like when I was young. I envy the people who are about to travel maybe thousands of miles through cities, mountains and forests.

     Finally, I reach the sign that says 'Hamilton-Brantford Rail Trail'. It is balm to my eyes. Now, I can turn back. Fitbit registers my pulse at 175. I wonder at which point the heart explodes. My stop watch indicates twenty-five minutes and eleven seconds, a substantial improvement over my initial trips when I dragged myself along the trail.

     So I begin the return journey. I hear a cracking sound. A man is playing a solo round of golf in balmy January weather. Must be good for the soul. Further on, there's a beautiful cat nestling among the spent weeds. He's black with a white chest and nose. Stone-still and placid, he has no concern for trail traffic. Some unwitting rodent will become his lunch.

     An angry voice becomes louder behind me. Turning, I see he's alone and walking rapidly towards me. With no one else in sight, I'm a bit apprehensive. But, I am not on his radar. He is admonishing someone who has wronged him. Dark tights are overlaid with cotton boxer shorts. His thin jacket is inadequate for the weather. Rubber clogs shod his feet. Everything is filthy. I would like to give him warmer clothes.

     Finally, I arrive at the grocery store parking lot. Angry Man is standing among the boulders to the side of the trail's entrance, still discoursing with his imaginary transgressor. I plod towards the giant building like someone who has been marooned on a deserted island.

     My reward - coffee and bagel. I write my daily journal entry with things like 'Trump inaugurated! God help us all'. Nothing scintillating going on in my life. I spot a former writing teacher from Mohawk, Jeff Griffiths. He's having coffee with a friend. He won't remember me so I don't approach. At the coffee urns, the Angry Man is filling his cup. To my surprise, he blends in with the other customers. No yelling. He is aware and capable of adhering to social boundaries.

     There's a flutter of activity around me. Outside, a policeman is maneuvering his midnight-black horse through a narrow gate into grocery store's patio. The horse comes right up to my window. I reach for my cell and take a mug shot of the poop bandit!

     Spent and worn, I pick up 1,500 more steps walking home. What am I getting out of this? Besides the physical benefits of more energy, my brain is being flooded with endorphin's. I'm more positive, cheerful. I smile more. Enough years have been spent on stress, worry and self-recrimination. Why not enjoy what time is left? I chuckle at my competitive streak with myself and others. That's new. I wonder if it's been there all along. I wonder if it comes from being a twin - a direct comparison from cradle to grave.

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