Walking is my meditation. The rhythm of the steps, the slow passing by of scenery and people, the time alone to think, all bring me peace of mind. I needed some of this calming activity recently and was lucky to be where I could take one of my very favorite walks – down the lane on Whirlwind Hill.
Starting at the barnyard across the street from the farmhouse, the rutted path we called “the lane” meandered past the cow pond and the stone walls and barbed wire fences that delineated the lane from the open fields, joined up with another lane called “Strawberry Hill,” and eventually ended at the property known as “Peterland.”
Unlike the romantic and sometimes dark and sinister country lanes of Miss Marple and Thomas Hardy, our lane was used mostly for business. It took cows and tractors and horses and farmers where they needed to go. It connected the pastures and the orchards to the barn. And it provided a pathway to the pond for children carrying their fishing poles or ice skates.
But when fall comes each year I remember the walks we took with our great-grandfather, Joseph Biggs, who traveled from his home in Glastonbury, Connecticut to spend summer and fall weeks at the farm. He was a kind man with large hands and a bristly white mustache that tickled us when we kissed him hello. He smoked a pipe and wore suspenders. While he was at the farm he tended gardens, dried dishes, and entertained his great-grandchildren.
If he visited in October, Grandpa Biggs did “nut duty.” We went with him when he walked down the lane to gather hickory nuts. Into our baskets we put the light brown gems that lay tucked among the fall leaves. Our grandfather Ellsworth let the nuts dry out in their baskets behind the kitchen’s wood stove. On winter evenings he sat in his rocking chair by the stove and cracked the hard little shells one by one with a hammer, then slowly picked out the sweet nutmeats and ate them as he rocked. No one seems to have the time to pick out hickory nuts anymore, but for my grandfather it must have been, like walking is for me, a kind of meditation.
Over the years the old laneway has changed its course, but when I took my calming walk a few weeks ago, the trees still stood in their places to show the old route. Nuts continue to fall from their branches and add their bounty to the old path’s autumn tapestry .
On Wednesday: Autumn Leaves