We watched the Doppler radar all Sunday morning and early into the afternoon. No rain had fallen, and yet we remained cooped up. Finally, a decision was made. We’d go for a walk. We all needed it. After a final glance at the weather forecast, the odds of rain were about what they’d been all day, maybe all spring. A frustrating number, say, 20 or 30 percent. We laced up our sneakers, locked up, and began walking south, then west.
Years ago, the kids protested this walk as if it was a forced march (it was). These days, there is less bickering. In his newest book, “Freedom,” Sebastian Junger writes: “You know you’re in cadence when the rhythm of everyone’s footsteps coalesces into a long complex tattoo that evolves over hours and bears you along like the current of an invisible river you’ve been seeking your whole life.” I doubt he was describing prolonged treks with two young kids. One of the children sometimes drags behind, protesting. The other prefers to link arms with me as if we were Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in “On the Town.” My wife walks fast. I tend to amble or stroll. Sometimes, miles click by without a car passing us. Other times, it is bicyclists, flashing down the hills at blinding speeds. Once, a coyote.
On this afternoon the drizzle began about a mile and half into the walk, past Butternut Road, past the raucous flock of guinea fowl and near what I assume is a cellphone tower. Just the lightest precipitation. So scant as to hardly darken the macadam. And after months of brittle drought, a welcome drizzle. We walked on, undeterred, though we’d reached a natural turning around point. No, my wife said, let’s keep going, this can’t last.
Down the hill and past the horse barns, past the pond riotous with birdsong, busy with red-winged blackbirds. Into and out of the concrete canyons and skyscrapers of Cleghorn. Over a tiny wooden bridge that spans a no-name creek. Every time I cross the bridge, I inhale deeply: fresh creosote and white pine pitch. Past the site of the now-razed Kitelinger Taxidermy, where a massive albino buck used to “stand” sentinel in the front window. We waved to a family huddled in a garage and seated on folding lawn chairs, drinking beer. An old man waved back. We passed the town hall of Pleasant Valley and the immaculately maintained baseball diamond. Now the sky seemed to brighten and off to the west there were pockets of blue sky. Though, also a significant wall of large gray rain clouds. We pressed on. Past an old barn, a derelict windmill, and a narrow rectangle of a garden known to grow some of the proudest pumpkins around.
We turned onto Evergreen Road. Past a young woman with a half-dozen chickens resting in her lap. Past scattered houses. Newly planted corn. The rain increased just slightly, like a DJ slowly cranking the volume of the music at an intensifying party. No more pockets of blue sky, just gray clouds, and the softest ripple of thunder.
At an undisclosed location along our route, I left the road and moved into the northern ditch. My family has begun teasing me that while I’m no hunter, I’m not a half-bad forager. I did intend to do some foraging. With a walnut-handled Opinel knife I once bought in France, I cut stalk after stalk of asparagus. My son stood on the road and pointed to areas I might explore. We made a good team, even as the drizzle shifted into a light rain that was certainly beginning to soak our shirts.
With my fist full of free ditch asparagus, we finally began our last leg, north, towards our house. The rain was falling as hard as I could remember in many, many months. This was a true spring soaking downpour of the variety so many of us had been yearning for. We were still well over a mile from home with many steep hills yet to climb. We quickened our pace. We began to laugh and tease my wife for her meteorological knowledge, her radar-reading acumen. Our son took off his shirt, pale chest glistening. Our daughter pouted, but there was a smile beneath the pout. The rain was warm, after all.
How many times have I walked that same five-mile circuit? Scanned those same oak forests, corn fields, acres of soybeans, old pastures and wildflowers? That rhombus of rarely-flat country roads? Hundreds of times. If I accumulated all the hours I’d spent on that broken asphalt, it would be days of my life. Well spent days. Days exercising. Days talking to my wife. Days talking to friends. Days listening to podcasts. Days watching birds fly from telephone poles to cattail tips. Days watching deer in the fields. So many of those walks blend into one another, like steps in a marathon. But this walk was different. It was the first time I could remember walking that route in the rain with my family, laughing, rushing to get home to claim that first hot shower. Peering at the heavens for a possible rainbow.
If I had known that our walk would assuredly be rained upon, I would not have left our house. And yet, it was the rain, the rain we’d been avoiding all day, that made that walk among all the other walks through the years, memorable, perhaps unforgettable.
Sitting on our back porch, skin sweaty and rain-slicked, I listened to the rain run down our roof and into the gutters. Listened to the rain bounce off the leaves of a nearby rhubarb plant. What could be more lovely than the sounds of a soft May rain after so many days of unyielding drought? I bent down and plucked a wet mint leaf, popped it into mouth and chewed. Spring.