Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lunch walks

Looking all the way back to the job I began one week after college graduation, in early June of 1989, I could trace my work history by job title. Or by salary. By immediate supervisor. By office address. By length of tenure.

But yesterday it occurred to me I could also trace my work history by midday walks. I’ve always appreciated the benefits of a lunch hour spent outside in the fresh air, taking a little exercise. And each workplace setting comes with its own options for lunchtime strolls.

When I worked in Boston, I’d walk over to the Public Garden and circle the Frog Pond and the Boston Common during the noontime hour. I’d watch tourists riding the Swan Boats. I’d see well-dressed Beacon Hill aristocrats stepping along carefully, carrying their little purses and walking their little dogs. I’d see Bullfinch architecture on the skyline and Freedom Trail landmarks along the way.

When I worked in Cambridge, I walked along the Charles River, from the Esplanade down to the Mass Ave Bridge or sometimes only as far as the Hatch Shell, where the Boston Pops play on the Fourth of July. At that time I worked for a big company and a lot of my co-workers liked to go walking as well, so we’d head out together and talk about anything but what was waiting for us on our desks when we got back.

When I worked in Waltham, walking was not a popular midday activity in my company. In fact, I’m not sure I ever saw anyone venture outdoors except to get to their cars in the parking lot. We were situated in an office park on a highway exit, so the surroundings were not exactly inviting, but some of the office parks around us had relatively appealing landscaping, with lawns and manmade ponds, and I even found a cut-through to a little suburban neighborhood that backed on to one of the parking lots. It was a neighborhood nondescript enough that it could have been featured in a study about what went wrong in the design of American suburbs, and I doubt even the people who lived there went for many walks around the block. But it was better than sitting in a windowless break room.

Using the standard of lunchtime walks as a framework, though, it’s obvious to me that I’ve figuratively won the lottery at this point. I’m self-employed and get to write all day; better still, I’m at home, where my so-called office – which is actually our kitchen alcove – looks into the woods. A trail from the yard leads into the state park, with over one thousand acres of trails.

So on days like yesterday, which was an absolutely perfect New England fall day, with cool dry air, an occasional gust of wind, and yellow leaves shimmering in the sunlight, my lunchtime walk consists of grabbing the leash, calling the dog, slipping a trail map into my jacket pocket and heading out.

And once I’m in the woods, deadlines and quotes and fact-checking don’t seem to matter so much. I can enjoy the scent of the forest, the rocks and pine needles and tree roots underfoot, the rush of water from the brooks that lace through the woods. The setting is far better than any of my previous office situations, but the joy of getting out in the middle of the day is the same.

Ultimately, that’s always been the purpose of lunchtime walks: to stop thinking for a little while about the work left behind. The woods, as Robert Frost observed, are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises – and deadlines -- to keep. Still, it’s inspiring to know that as long as I keep up with my work, I can slip out to the woods again at lunchtime tomorrow.

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