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Molnar: Dirt Road View

(Host) As the cool days of autumn commence, commentator Martha Molnar, apublic relations professional and freelance writer, is rediscovering the pleasures of walking.

(Molnar) All summer I didn't walk. I walked around outside the house of course, but it was too warm for my customary two-miles. Until just the other day, when I put on my new, superlight running shoes and traipsed down the driveway and out to the road.

I walk alone. My husband finds walking the same two hills,day after day, incredibly boring. But to me, the same road is never boring because it's never the same road.

First, the road looks different when walking it from different directions. Walking down the hill from the house with my head turned to the right, I see the only house I pass. Up the next hill, I see a neighbor's bulls, followed by horses in the next field. On the way back down and up, I see woods, until I reach our property and turn my head to the left to check on the rogue ash trees that appeared suddenly along the fence last year.

But that's now. In spring, my attention is on the stream that follows the road. I could be looking at a thin runnel or at waters rushing and tumbling into pools. Then there are the colors. I can watch a single color, yellow for instance, as it advances from spring's first marsh marigold to late summer's goldenrod and finally up into every tree. Even the dirt road is intriguing, since it's a shifting map of whatever the daily weather throws at it, resulting in a changing maze of ruts and potholes.

Walking the same road year after year does require new eyes. It takes attention to note that the leaning birch has dropped along the maple's trunk and is now resting in the crook of a branch. It takes alertness to see that a rodent hole has disappeared but a new one has been excavated further up the hill. And it takes vigilance to observe that the nest that only yesterday seemed full of action has been abandoned.

These things can only be observed at a walking pace.The unexpected hoot of the owl in the morning would be missed while in acar or even perched on a bicycle. So would the sight of a single miraculous, ripe wild strawberry this late in the season. This familiarity with the big and small features of the landscape of my home,renewed with every walk, creates a deep sense of place and belonging.

But it's the rhythm of walking, as much as what can be seen, that draws me back. Walking a road generates a kind of thinking that almost never happens sitting at a desk or immobilized in a car - or even hiking in the woods, where the uneven trail demands attention. Walking the road at a constant cadence, past familiar sights seen in ever transforming light, lets my mind travel with my feet, steadily, freely, naturally.

I'm amazed that a single mile of dirt road can yield so much.

Martha L. Molnar is a public relations and freelance writer who moved to Vermont in 2008. She was formerly a New York Times reporter.
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