It is 30 degrees and the only thing I have packed for my week in a small town is a bright yellow windbreaker that is appropriate only for Spring or a Curious George couple’s costume. Shockingly, the thin running shirt underneath isn’t adding much insulation. It is mid-November. I am grateful for the NYC Marathon cap that I bring almost everywhere. I’m convinced it’s keeping the freezy air from infiltrating the top of my head. My ears do not understand why they aren’t included in its protection.
The dog at the end of the leash is quite happy. It is her first walk of the day and she has to catch up on what neighborhood news has occurred since the night prior. So we stop at the light pole. And the speed limit sign. And the tree. And the unassuming patch of grass next to the baseball field. This is a very red light / green light walk.
I’m listening to a newly released song that makes me think of everyone I’ve ever loved and everyone I’ve ever lost. There is nobody out this early. It is me and the dog and the music bumbling through my headphones. Then, a phone call cuts in and I am not alone anymore. I talk to a friend 400 miles away. Now that I’m talking, I can hear the slight teeth chatter. I notice the tingling in my icy fingers.
We walk slowly—mostly on account of the exciting smells the dog must engage with. But I am miles away in a conversation. I do not notice the gravel beneath our feet. There’s no agenda this morning. We’re walking for the sake of fresh air in our lungs. We’re walking to stretch our legs and feel the color cloud our cheeks as we adjust to the changing seasons. We are content to be in this moment. We have everything we need.
And yet, I realize later, how unaware I was.
Thirty or so minutes after, I quietly lock the door behind me. The dog is content to burrow into the blankets. I am appreciative of the 3 degree rise in temperature. This time, I am on a mission. I am heading to the grocery store with a specific item in mind and, as a special treat, will stop and buy myself a hot chocolate for the walk home.
I am filled with purpose and suddenly aware of how quickly I can walk when I’m not stopping every 30 seconds to sniff a shrub. This keeps me warmer. I know there is music playing in my headphones but it does not register. I am hyperfocused and my mind seems to only be capable of processing the next steps.
The sidewalk is blocked off. Without hesitation—or looking—I walk into the road around the construction. I don’t know why, but I feel invincible—albeit cold—in my bright yellow windbreaker. The cars go around me. I am in and out at the store, and it is only as I am walking to the coffee shop that I finally wake up to the world around me.
I am looking at my shoes. My magenta running shoes with the hot pink laces. My yellow windbreaker. My purple library bag that proclaims how I “love to read.” I suddenly find myself transported back to another November and a beautiful month and a half I spent in a small town in the Pacific Northwest. I had been wearing my purple winter jacket and carrying a camping backpack that was every color of the rainbow if the rainbow had been made of highlighters. I stepped into a boutique and the woman at the counter immediately exclaimed, “Why aren’t you vibrant today! How colorful!”
I hadn’t thought about the Washingtonian boutique owner in a while but now I can hear the sounds of that town mixing into the moment. Suddenly, I am very much a part of my current Pennsylvania morning. The cafe is busy. People are laughing. Someone has ordered pumpkin pancakes.
The hot chocolate has dairy in it. So, I leave with a tea latte that has more caffeine in its small cup than I will typically drink in 2 weeks. And then, as I am about to turn off Main Street, I see a man hanging twinkle lights on a storefront. I look up.
In the patchwork of streets that lead home, I begin to notice. Some stoops don sagging pumpkins, remnants of a Halloween two weeks removed. Next door, somebody has decorated a Christmas tree in their front window. This is mid-November.
My playlist changes to a French song that reminds me of my time in the Pacific Northwest and the people I love there. I think about how the air feels different in Washington in November. I remember that 30 degrees near the ocean is not the same as 30 degrees in a landlocked state. I remember the bookstore that sells hot chocolate in wide blue mugs that mold perfectly to your hand. I remember their patchwork of streets and homes and overlapping holidays.
I am almost home when the song changes to one about New York City. I laugh as the musician says the name of the street I lived on—I loved on—for almost four years. I am smiling now—full teeth grinning at nobody on this empty street. I know my drink is getting cold. But it is better than burning my tongue. There are bumper stickers to read and leaf piles to shuffle through. I wonder if the dog misses me. It has been 35 minutes.
My greeting at the door responds affirmative. But now a fun, jazzy tune has entered the queue. And I no longer feel pulled to the fuzzy blankets and hot beverage. I bring the dog outside. And suddenly, we are dancing. The temperature hasn’t changed but somehow everything feels warmer, closer, better. The dog does not want to dance. In fact, she seems to think that it is just as cold as it was this morning. Surely, snuggling in her blanket is the preferred course of action. And so after she indulges me in the nearly 6 minute song, we step inside.
I down my lukewarm tea. She returns to the sofa.
I unplug my ears. There’s no music now. I don’t want to hear what comes next. Because right now, I am caught in a moment that feels too pure to shake. And so I open my laptop, confident there is a story in how one tea, two walks, and three songs can put your heart at ease. I am convinced there must be something more to delicious desires to dance by yourself in the dewey backyard of a temporary home.
But maybe there isn’t. Maybe there doesn’t need to be. Maybe this is just one of those moments I want to remember for a long time. I want to tuck it away in some corner of my mind—like the lady at the boutique in Washington. I want to file it in my brain so that some day, Novembers from now, as I walk down a new street, I am reminded of the day I was wildly underdressed for the weather and walked out the door anyway.
I am reminded of how it felt to walk slowly even with chattering teeth. To walk with intention and to walk with ease. To let myself be completely overcome with musical memories that I dance atop fallen leaves in November, pumpkins to my left, snowman lights to my right. To know that there is a place for me in each of these blurry seasons. To understand that I can choose which direction to move next. And, perhaps most importantly, to enjoy each step of the journey.