It is January, the holidays are over and the decorations are stowed away for another year. This is the beginning of what is traditionally the depressing period of the year, when days are bitterly cold, nights are dark and long, and spring is too far in the future to bring a sense of hope.
The mail carrier delivers not seed catalogs, but holiday bills and an occasional postcard from a friend who is prosperous enough to be spending this month in a warm place. Longing to be in Key West, Oahu or Scottsdale, Ariz., I decide to settle for a brisk walk in a more familiar setting.
It takes me 10 minutes to assemble the necessary clothing and another five to don the layers. Feeling like the Goodyear blimp, I venture into the bracing cold.
To my surprise and delight, I do not freeze on the spot, but take a deep breath and notice that the air is clear and the sun dazzling. The thermometer affixed to one of our trees registers 20 degrees, but my heavy sweatshirt, jeans and long johns, ski jacket, wool hat, gloves, and scarf keep me safe from winter’s icy blast.
With a renewed spirit and an expanded sense of possibilities I strike out for the park along the Delaware River. Surely I shall have the walking path to myself.
It takes some time to reach the park because walking is not easy when one is wearing an entire wardrobe on one’s back. I think of the late Jack Benny and his joke about wearing three suits when boarding a plan in order to avoid paying an excess baggage charge.
This is not easy work. I also think of combat soldiers who must carry a much heavier load of gear while performing their duties in all kind of weather and remain alert to dangers at the same time. The only I face is that of an oncoming car when I cross the street, because I am incapable of looking both ways. My outfit permits only forward sight, as it’s nearly impossible to turn my head.
As I near the park, I hear the buzz of voice and children’s laughter. I am not the only one to be drawn to this place, after all.
At least a half-dozen mother are walking the path along the river, some pushing strollers while their toddlers run circles around them, jumping and whooping in the exuberance of youth and innocence. From time to time, the mothers stop chatting to remind their children of the dangers of straying too far.
It is not only the very young who have been attracted to this spot. I am particularly attracted to an elderly couple who haltingly make their way toward a bench looking across to the airport.
They walk hand in hand, supporting each other as they go. They say little, but occasionally one turns and smiles at the other. They, too, are dressed warmly, but from the glow of those smiles, I conclude that they share a warmth no scarf or gloves can provide.
He brushes off the bench, and she lays down a square of cloth on which they sit. They look at the water, each seemingly lost I some distant memory. Suddenly he takes her gloved, hand, raises it to his lips, and kisses it. I turn my eyes because somehow this moment appears to be too intimate for an onlooker to share.
I decide that I have had enough of the great outdoor son this wintry afternoon. I leave it to the very young and very old to enjoy. But as I walk a little more briskly back to my warm house and a hot beverage, I am reminded that warmth is a state of mind and can be found in January on the Delaware River, as well as in July on the Danube. Ann Dow writes from Thorofare.
Originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on January 29, 2004.
Happy Valentine’s Day!