Thursday, January 6, 2011

Discovering Unknown ‘Egdon Heaths’ During the Urban Walk

Photo by John Allen

Feature Blog: Discovering Unknown ‘Egdon Heaths’ During the Urban Walk

A heath is a tract of uncultivated, open land with infertile soil covered with rough grasses, small bushes, and low growing evergreen plants known as heather. The Egdon Heath in Thomas Hardy’s classic The Return of the Native is so central to the plot that some literary critics consider it as a character rather than a plot device.

Heaths are not usually considered aesthetically worthy and Egdon Heath is no exception; but for Hardy, Egdon Heath became an acquired taste: “Men have oftener suffered from the mockery of a place too smiling for their reason than from the oppression of surroundings oversadly tinged. Haggard Egdon appealed to a subtler and scarcer instinct, to a more recently learnt emotion, than that which respond to the sort of beauty called charming and fair.”

One of the pleasures of extensive time periods away from one’s main abode is the increased opportunities for guilt-free walking and reading. At home, somehow our middle class value system is disturbed if we are not actively engaged in productive activity. But away from home as in the case of the MoneyWalkers since December 19, instincts can take a vacation away from such guilt ridden annoying thoughts.

On this morning’s walk, three situations aligned to define the content of this blog. One was a one-mile walk to a local coffee shop for a 30 minute session will Hardy’s classic book. Two, was a detour through an urban icon so large as to require two high rise parking garages and acres of ground-level parking—the end point for one of the D.C. Metro subway routes. And three, was the discovery of an urban heath.

What follows is the confluence. From our townhouse it is 300 yards to the Metro terminal. Always looking for coins, I checked the base of each of about 10 parking pay meters. Right off, a three quarter scatter at the base of one of the meters. On to the newspaper vending machines, about 20 in all; nothing, not even a stray penny. Then thru the walk-way over I-66 and another set of parking opportunities, this one with a row of six pay phone booths. Eureka, one of them yielded 2 quarters in the return. Then on to McDonalds for coffee and Hardy.

The main way was not the shortest way. The MoneyWalker played a hunch and cut through a townhouse complex only to dead-end at a bank that appeared to lead to a creek. A quick inspection revealed a trail that had promise. And there it was an urban heather. A meandering stream dividing scrubby trees and vines paralyzed by winter’s wrath. The trail held true and delivered me to within a few blocks of the McDonalds.

With the full attention necessary to read Hardy available, and with a senior discounted cup of decaf coffee, the next 30 minutes was used reading about Clym Yeobright’s return to Egdon Heath to pursue his dreams of romance and service to mankind.

For me the lesson was not to be afraid to get off of the familiar pathways, the ones that are “charming and fair.” To occasionally seek the heaths of the off-tracks is where I will find rich seasonings for my walks. Nearly ever urban area has hidden heaths, it is just a matter of being open to unpredictable kinetic experiences.

Oh yes, I found another quarter on the way back home.


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