There’s nothing unusual about taking a walk.
A stroll along Portland’s Eastern Prom is glorious on these spring-to-summer days and Old Port nooks and crannies beg for it. Portland Trails maintains 70 miles of twisting paths and nothing says tread on me like the 5K that is Back Cove or the beauty of Mackworth Island.
It isn’t just the fresh air and vitamin D, or the countless health and wellness benefits that have people lacing up. And, it’s not only because gyms are still closed. Maybe B.C. (before coronavirus), it was all of these things and more. But now, even taking a walk has changed.
To clarify, it isn’t the act of putting one foot in front of the other that’s different, but the subtle, unsure behaviors of those of us on the sidewalks. That, and special things I never knew I’d see near my new downsized condo.
Except for staying 6 feet apart and wearing a cloth mask, public-health guidelines have not provided any instructions about determining the right of way while strolling the neighborhood. Most people probably agree such a mandate would not only be ignored but would be overkill.
But those same people haven’t seen a mother with a toddler walking toward a couple dragging an 80-pound dog. The walk became a standoff since one party had to move 6 feet onto someone else’s newly fertilized lawn, or down into the street with whizzing cars, to let the other pass. Spoiler alert: the dog couple won when the mom pulled the toddler onto the steep lawn.
Further down the same sidewalk is a fenced-in corner lot occupied by a tidy white cape with black shutters. Unless someone is inquisitive (aka nosey), they might not pause to look through a near-invisible broken fence slat. But they should.
Behind the fence is a large chicken coop whose many inhabitants strut around and walk over to look at the voyeur looking at them. Given the busy suburban location, this barnyard scene is unexpected and fun.
Obviously, said voyeur is me and I now time my walks to coincide with the cluckers’ exercise time. The family recently rescued a puppy and his interaction takes the entertainment to a new level.
After greeting the hens, each by the name I made up for them, I followed a decorated handmade sign promoting, “Lemonade for $1” with an address and an arrow. Although I didn’t have any money, my interest in this venture of commerce took me off route.
The lemonade stand was being operated by two middle school kids wearing matching denim shirts and masks. Before getting to the stand, which was a card table and covered cooler, I saw another poster board that read: “Lemonade for $1 cash only. Please wear your mask. Thank you for the business.” Next to the poster board was a box with a slit for paying for the product. As soon as the dollar was deposited, one of the boys pulled a cold can of Hannaford-brand lemonade from the cooler and placed it on the corner of the table. The boys then backed away, thanking the customer who walked forward to get the lemonade.
Without discussing numbers, business had been very good, they said. They needed to get more signs out and are considering adding chips or popcorn, along with a diet soda to the product line. After being asked what they were doing with the money, one of the kids said they were keeping it all and splitting it fifty-fifty.
“How are we supposed to make any money?” he said. “My parents won’t even let me do my mowing and I had 15 houses last year.”
After I promised to come back this weekend, they said to check the poster I originally saw for hours and new products. “And don’t forget, everything’s a dollar, cash,” came a voice as I walked away.
Rounding home and saving the best for last, I came to a Regan Lane yard where I’ve been stopping with daily anticipation. The owners have created a magical scene with tiny gnomes, fairies, tea parties, crystals, and sculptures. As the bulbs and fauna grow in, the scene evolves; before long, many of the statues and creatures will be hidden until the fall. The owner once told me they’ve been doing it for years and keep making it better.
“People really seem to enjoy the yard, so it’s important that we keep doing it,” he said.
Stapled to a wooden spike, on a laminated piece of paper in the shape of a starburst are the words, “Everythings gonna’ be alright.”
Taking a walk and discovering new things isn’t unique. The mix of the familiar and the new makes the walk more enjoyable. But discovering treasures hidden in plain sight brings a deeper pleasure.
Maybe being cooped up isn’t such a bad thing after all.
Natalie Ladd is a Portland restaurant veteran, freelance writer, and connoisseur of all things Bruce Springsteen. She loves Boston sports, chewy red wine and has never sampled a cheese she didn’t like. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.