One doesn't expect it — wet gray sidewalks and soggy grass at 7:30 on a January morning in the Rockies. Everywhere, rather than white or even dirty snow, is slick water runoff and that thin green in the grass sprinkled over the weary mud-yellow the now-melted snow flattened. Such a color Crayola cannot duplicate. What would they call it? "Warm winter."
Birds chirp outside the apartment and flit between the buildings, trying to keep warm. An alien but welcome sound in winter. Though the weather app has promised snow for the last three days straight, the sun diffuses pale through friendly white, harmless sheets of cloud.
I still bundle up to walk. In the hills, where I'm from, I put on fewer layers for romps on January mornings. But these are the flatlands; half the exertion required, and thus twice the cold felt.
I miss the hills—the trails, and even the roads and neighborhood streets that wind and rise at unexpected angles and gradients; no grids where I come from. Here it is flat, civilized, loud, and hazy with exhaust. Ambulances and police cars wail past at all hours. I climbed the hills in the dark of morning; here I have to wait until it's light. The least square path I can find is a cement track that winds in a circle around the soccer field at the local high school. More often than not I wend my way there and walk laps. Strange when you're used to just hitting the hills and never hitting the same point twice until it's time to bend home again.
In the summer when I started I would most often meet white-haired men and women walking along the track: the men in single file, the women in chattering twos. They walked slowly, the women, but I suppose that had to do with the fact that some of them didn't stop talking long enough to draw a breath the entire time they walked the track. I nodded at them once, twice, and then by mutual consent, we kept our eyes ahead as we passed each other.
Two men I remember well. Both tall, but one more broadly built than the other. This larger man beat me to the track every morning. We would pass each other five or six times before one of us left, and every time, he'd give me a big smile and a different, friendly comment—about the weather, my pace, his pace, etc. It warmed me clear through, and I made sure to give him a big grin back every time. What did he used to be, I wonder? I could picture him an officer in the army as easily as I could picture him a friendly grocer. I never asked. We just smiled.
The other gentleman, more spare in build, took a creaking jog around the track, so we passed more often. A smile did not come as easily to him, but every time he passed, he told me "Good job!" or "How far are you going?" I was sad when the cold weather crept in on the flatlands and I no longer saw them at the track.
Now the older walkers are gone, shut indoors by the cold. Younger women come jogging in their bright tops and huggy bottoms, and we don't speak or smile. I walk in broad, exposed daylight on a flat track, the soggy winter grass keeping pace with me. I fill my time, and walk home again. To have an enjoyable walk, I think, one must have either wilderness and hills for the imagination, or good company. I shall be glad, then, when the warm weather returns and the two gentlemen shuffle along the track again too.