Wednesday, March 19, 2008
When I was a kid growing up in the St. Paul, Minn., suburb of Roseville, I used to stay overnight at my cousins' house in Minneapolis on Thanksgiving weekend. They lived on Penn Ave. S., near Minnehaha Creek, in a modest but nice neighborhood. I recall being particularly impressed by the fact that they had sidewalks.
In Roseville, if you went for a walk, you strode down the middle of the street; but in the city, there was this marvelous paved way just for pedestrians. It was so nice to walk with my cousins to a little store only a couple of blocks away and not have to worry about cars en route.
It was so civilized.
I now live in Minneapolis, and sidewalks are still one of the reasons I like living in the city. But lately I have found myself walking in the street more often than not when I take my dog for her daily stroll; the sidewalks have been treacherous, as small patches camouflage themselves among the shallow puddles and wet pavement.
I am not a perambulator; I prefer to walk somewhat briskly. I engage in these daily walks not only for the fresh air and to see and hear the crows, cardinals and woodpeckers that enliven my neighborhood, but also to raise my heart rate just enough and work up a bit of a sweat to burn off the fat I have accumulated over the years. So when I have to slow down to a careful crawl to avoid injury, I am more than a little dissatisfied with the whole experience.
The dog doesn't seem to mind; she has more time to sniff when we go slow. Conversely, she is not happy when I lead her out onto the rough but unslippery asphalt road, where there are no smells to engage her. I compromise on these occasions and take her back onto the sidewalk whenever I see a stretch that is dry. In fact, our route is pretty much determined by the condition of the sidewalk on any given block: Shall I turn or go straight? How does the sidewalk look this way compared with that?
My own 40 feet of city sidewalk is nearly always clear and dry. I have no qualms about sprinkling grass-killing deicing salts after shoveling to ensure that no slick spots remain behind. I do buy a product with minimal environmental impact, at least among those available at my local hardware store. But I am more concerned with safe sidewalks than with keeping the grass healthy. It's easy enough to reseed it in the spring.
And I am looking forward to more of spring and less of this not-quite-spring-not-quite-winter that plagues my daily walks with uncertainty. I enjoy the kind of surprise that involves sighting an unexpected migrant bird passing through the neighborhood, but not the sort that has me finding myself suddenly sprawled on the pavement.