I step outside, avoiding the water puddle on the concrete breezeway as I move my way out into the cloudy day. I should sweep that for my dad when I come back. The rain has stopped for now, and inches of water are either rushing downhill or coming to rest in low spots. I gain the road and turn right, beginning my walk. I always turn right, unless I’m thinking about it and change directions.
The warm moist blanket of air settles around my head and on my shoulders. Maybe I shouldn’t have brought my jacket. Instead of going back, I take off my hood and keep walking. Wet wood and decaying leaves invade my nose, scents heavy with moisture and rot. My eyes search past the houses on my right, seeking the ranch across the valley that has a red barn and white picket fence. The clouds still hang low, and my eyes don’t reach the bottom of the hill.
The asphalt bends to the left, beginning my circle, and my cheeks are slapped with misty fingers of the South’s winter hand. I zip my coat up to the top, huddling my chin a little lower. A neighbor’s steel lawn ornament windmill creaks in a steady rhythm of a paused rain storm.
I hesitate then turn to my left. I will take the long route today. My father and stepmom live in a development on top of a hill; the road is designed in a sideways digital eight sitting on three legs. My father’s house sits on the far right of the eight, with a left turn out of his driveway taking a traveler along the lower right bend and past one leg. The center leg is a switchback road driving off the hill. Walking the eight including the center cross section is one mile. Today I will walk the full eight and two of the three legs. One and a half miles.
The red birds that chirp a nonstop chatter by my dad’s house are missing as I cross the eight. The deep silence pushes my ear drums, wrapping me deep in thoughts as my indifferent eyes mark red brick houses they’ve seen several times over during this vacation.
Yesterday we went into town for lunch and a movie. Designing our day based on Denver time, we ended up with a lot of time to waste. So we took a small drive to Lake Dardanelle, walking around the visitor center and out to the fishing dock. The ecological study of the lake does not interest me much, especially as the visitor center hasn’t changed in the 6 years since my last visit, so I wandered around looking for photo opportunities.
Maybe I should take more interest in intellectual studies. I love learning about new things, but I’m easily bored. I count the chairs on a front porch I pass, all of them aimed across the road. Chairs for watching, not conversation.
The conversation during our meandering around town and towards the lake was about architecture and old houses. “I really like that house,” I said, trying to peer at a green Queen Anne Victorian with a full wrap around porch while focusing on the car in front of me.
“We could buy it for what we paid for our tiny house, and probably have some left over,” he quipped. “But then, we would have to live in Arkansas.”
My measured steps drive this thought between my ears. We could buy 4 times the house here, in this beautiful housing development on top of a hill. I pass a For Sale sign before bending to the right onto the lower line of the main eight. Vivian could live just down the street from her grandparents, and living in a small town isn’t so bad.
“But then we would have to live in Arkansas.” I shudder.
I mock myself for my elitism, but I acknowledge the reality of his statement. I turn left down the third leg. The South moves at a different pace, at a leisurely jaunt through the week and church on Sundays. Urban hurry is my standard pace.
Bored with houses, my eyes wander beyond to the breathtaking views of valleys and trees. The houses sitting on the inside of the eight are the only ones without a view.
Brown wetness surrounds me. The earth, unable to drink any more water, forces swamps to develop. I fill my lungs to the bottom with damp molecules as I reach the end of the leg, turn around, and head back to the main road. Pausing, I watch water rush from under the road and down an aqueduct made of lichen covered stones to pool in another pond. Ugh, mosquitoes in waiting.
A bend to the left. Sundays in a secular city are more likely to involve mimosas and brunch than church. I don’t really participate in those, either. Following the road past a low portion filled with water, my ears differentiate the freeway hum and a helicopter. Water pushes through a drainage pipe under me, letting out on the downhill side of the road. I follow the water in its trenched path, past a sodden white farmhouse. No views but water drains away, flooding their neighbors.
Vapor is settling on my hair and cold cheeks, my lungs pulling in film it’s unaccustomed to. I should have brought my inhaler. Wait, no. There’s so much oxygen here, my lungs are doing half the work. Dampness makes my lungs feel like I’m being smothered.
My legs move faster as I cross the eight again, horses who sense the barn is close. I ponder if I should skip the leg closest to my dad’s house and just head home when my brain realizes my feet made that decision 10 steps ago. I continue down the leg, looking at the houses with wide front porches and four car garages.
Summer here would be unbearable. My internal heat pushes against the clamminess of the air, creating a sheen on my exposed skin. The slow pace is a matter of survival for those who live here. The current speed of my legs would not be possible in condensed mugginess.
I would not survive the humidity. My mental health would not survive the banality. There is not enough healthy activity to burn off mania nor urge me out of depression.
I stop before heading down my dad’s jagged, root filled asphalt driveway, sweat meeting dew to create fog on the inside of my glasses. Idyllic for visiting in the winter, this is not the place for us.
I do this every time I travel, wonder if I might want to live where we are visiting.
I saunter down the driveway, my eyes noting the moss and mildew bleeding from mortar between bricks on my dad’ house. I squeegee standing water on the breezeway concrete into the decomposing leaves rotting on a flower garden before stepping into a kitchen warm from holiday cooking.