I jumped nearly 3 feet in the air and had travelled half a block before feet fully hit the ground! My heart pounded in my chest and I could barely breathe. I cast a frightful look over my shoulder and my fears materialized...
What happened? Let me give you a little background: I was enjoying one of my favourite pastimes – a night walk around my neighbourhood. There’s nothing quite like it, especially in the summertime. The streets around my home are lined with tall, stately pine trees towering year round like wise guardians above the clustered houses. In the summer the surrounding flora comes to life, bursting onto the scene with bright colors and verdant blooms that cast their scents across the night air as though attracting lovers. I, for one, am completely drawn in. I love to walk through the darkened streets where hushed houses close their shuttered eyes to the surrounding world and crickets and frogs punctuate the stillness with their constant melody.
These walks were one of the things I missed most when I lived in Thailand several years ago. Going for a walk at night in the city we lived in could not hold a candle to Kelowna. The streets bore a sheen of dirt, scattered with neglected litter where cockroaches periodically bustled across the sidewalk as if on an important errand. The roads were framed with many cement walls, often topped with broken glass bottles to keep the unwelcome outside. And the smells could be both overpowering and foreign as one walked along the cracked pavement; a mixture of garbage, fish and something like “wet dog” permeated certain areas. One of the only shared characteristics were the frogs, but these were broken by the brash noise of motorcycles rushing through the streets, carrying weary partiers or workers home.
Another commonality was that night walking in either location could sometimes creep me out. As you may have observed if you have read my column for any length of time, I am prone to a rather active imagination. So, a haunted looking house or a shadowed person walking towards me or just a fleeting thought could suddenly put me on a macabre track. Soon I would be imagining monsters or murderers and my pace would move from it's contemplative usual to a brisk and stressed trot accompanied by a 360 degree awareness of my surroundings and a skittishness usually associated with young deer or a co-worker going through caffeine withdrawal.
Not that my usual pace is all that slow to begin with. For some reason I really like walking fast. It comes to the forefront when I am wading through a crowd of people, cutting and dodging around this person or that group, all the while imagining myself to be a star running back looking for the seam to open that will lead me to the end zone. It’s all well and good until I get into that one narrow walkway with the slow walker in front of me. Suddenly I’m trapped and frantically looking over their one shoulder and then the other, trying to see a way around them. When an opening beckons I burst through, almost tumbling them over, but as I look behind me they are like a happy turtle meandering along and totally oblivious to my angst or relief.
This type of walking stood out like a sore thumb in Thailand. The people I met there could never understand why I was in such a hurry. They were happy to wander and pause without warning – to the extent that I wanted to install brake and signal lights on their rears. My group of friends in particular could drive me crazy with how slow they liked to walk. It’s not that I don’t know how to stop and smell the roses because I usually do. But for someone who enjoys walking quickly, they were the ultimate foil. They were simply not in any hurry to go anywhere and in that culture the group defines the pace. I remember one time thinking that I would “show them” by walking so mockingly slow that they would notice and possibly feel chagrined. So, I was agonizingly sluggish, walking as if in a slow motion replay. I felt sure that the extent I went to would cause them to notice my silliness and get my point. Then I turned around and realized that I still had left some of the group behind me!
So, flashback to that fateful night where my knowledge of (and respect for) my own gymnastic abilities increased substantially. As I said, I was enjoying one of my many night walks, thinking and praying and generally sorting out my life under a canopy of stars and solitude. Or so I thought. Walking along the street I came upon a house with a drainage pipe built into the front lawn. At the exact moment that I came abreast with that corrugated metal cylinder a ferocious growl erupted! I did the aforementioned leap and dash all in the space of 0.73 seconds (I know because if the heart stops longer than that it is remarkably difficult to get started again). I was halfway past the next door neighbor’s house before I looked back to see a scraggly coyote emerge from the pipe and trot off in the opposite direction. Hardly the stuff of Armageddon. However, to this day, I walk a little more carefully and watch more cautiously a certain drainage pipe in front of a certain house. It was definitely a memorable walk and thankfully did not put me off of night walks altogether. I don’t know if that would actually even be possible. Regardless of where I roam, the night times will always find me putting one foot in front of the other, taking it all in and loving every moment.