If you read my columns, you know that I walk 5 miles every morning. Leaving the house at around a quarter after 5 A.M., I stop at my wife’s drive-thru coffee shop, almost a mile from home, make coffee, replenish supplies, take out the trash and generally get it ready for opening time at 6 A.M.
I then leave and continue my walking. You would be astounded at what one can learn walking in the dark of the morning, before most people have stirred from their homes.
I have learned that my neighborhood is home to a small pack of 4 or 5 coyotes, none of which are the least bit frightened at seeing me. In fact, on more than one morning, our paths have either crossed or paralleled each other. Being an amateur naturalist, I have no fear of them, though I do exercise caution. I am comfortable with our relationship as it is and I have no desire to hand feed or pet them. I feel quite certain they entertain the same cautious outlook. In the meantime, I am satisfied that they are here, for I recognize that we have mostly destroyed their natural habitat, as well as that of their natural food supply.
I am quite content to co-exist with them.
I have also learned that we have a red fox in the area, and possibly two, based on the range of my encounters. Like the coyotes, he/they is/are wary of me, but not panicked by my presence.
Another unusual creature, which seems to like our area, is a large (about 12-14” in diameter) mean- tempered snapping turtle. On the one occasion when I attempted to remove him from the road, in an attempt to see that he did not become road kill, I was attacked for my efforts. Fortunately, the only thing he left teeth prints in was a large tree branch, with which I was attempting to move him. On our lone other meeting, I chose to leave him to his own devices. Tipping my hat, I bade him a “Good Morning” and passed by, on the other side of the street.
But, by far the most interesting creature I observe in the wee hours of the morning is the one referred to by author Richard Connell as “The Most Dangerous Game”, my fellow man.
Regularly, I see one neighbor sneak over next door and take the newspaper from the driveway. He goes back to his mailbox and, with the aid of a small flashlight, proceeds to read the paper. Though I have never seen him, I am quite certain he returns the paper to the plastic bag, in which it came, and puts It back on his neighbor’s driveway. Seems like a lot of trouble to keep from subscribing.
One of my rare miscreant pleasures, I enjoy while walking the rear of Parkaire Landing Shopping Center. Almost daily, I encounter some soul placing his household trash/garbage in one of the commercial dumpsters located there. I have always carried a flashlight on these walks, as one never knows when one might encounter a snapping turtle. Long ago, I also started carrying a small, pocket sized notebook and a pen. When I encounter someone disposing of their trash in someone else’ dumpster, I pause, take out my notebook and pen, shine my flashlight on the car’s license plate and pretend to write in the notebook, laughing to myself as they hurriedly make a departure, sometimes burning rubber. I told you it was perverse, but, Hey! I am an old man. There has to be something to life besides waiting for the dogwoods to bloom every year, or asking to put a small bag of M & M’s on layaway at Wal-Mart.
I also take pleasure in greeting the people I meet with a smile and a cheery “Good Morning”. Reactions to that are varied and interesting. Some people are out walking like I am, and after greeting them we sometimes stop and exchange pleasantries. Others are either walking or jogging and most have some kind of listening device in their ears and never hear my greeting. They also never hear the wind rustling through the leaves, or the sounds of the birds as they awaken and announce the new day. I feel sorry for them, for what they are missing.
Others are so tied up in their own thoughts and worlds that they either do not hear me, or they ignore me, or they look at me and continue on their way without an acknowledgement. Thought I wonder, I try not to judge, for I do not walk in their shoes. They may be dealing with a personal tragedy, or in the midst of a life altering decision. Of course, there is always the possibility that they are just a big jerk.
The reward, though, comes with the ones who look up, break into a smile and return the greeting, because I can think that maybe I made a tiny difference in their day. I can believe that a smile and a friendly greeting can make a. miniscule difference in how someone’s day goes. How much different would the world be if everybody, for one day a week, made it a point to greet every person they encounter, from the time they leave home until they have lunch, with a smile and a “Good Morning.”?
During my morning ramblings, I have a lot of “alone time” when I am free to contemplate the meaning of life, or decide what I want to have for lunch. It is also when I do some of my best creative thinking and “writing”. It is here that I discover some basic truths such as “Nobody has ever become a great fighter, without first having been whipped. Until one has been whipped and realizes that, though it may hurt like the devil, it won’t kill you, one fights to keep from getting whipped. After being whipped, one fights to win. Without being whipped, one can become a good fighter, but not a great fighter.” And, “It is not possible to put on your left shoe first. Whichever one you put on, the other will be left.” Well, not all truths can be great.
Come walk with me some morning, I will introduce you to the coyotes, the red fox and a neat snapping turtle.