I've always a been a walker. Funny, my mother's maiden name was Walker. She was a 'walker' too, at least until she got too old and feeble. Even in assisted living (Alzheimer's) she continued with her walking regimen. She walked up and down the halls of the Oak Ridge Retirement Center, purposefully every morning, in order to get her exercise.
My dad was a walker too. Tremendously vigorous in youth, he was a fine physical specimen until his heart gave out. Sorrowfully, his good heart started giving out at age 62, when he got his first pacemaker.
But before heart disease, I remember watching him do his push ups downstairs in the old Ditman Lane house: 100, on his fingertips. And like my mother, even in old age, Daddy continued walking, albeit slowly, laboriously, a frail old man with his walking stick, a notepad and mechanical pencil tucked in his shirt pocket, ever ready to capture his thoughts and ideas.
Like Daddy, I walk with a notepad and pencil tucked in my pocket too. It is when walking alone, while my mind is paradoxically at rest yet alert, that I make unbidden leaps of insight, connect the dots and hatch new ideas.
Daddy's notebooks were full of numbers, he was a mathematician. My notebooks are full of words and music.
But now, I'm floundering like a fish on this wide ocean of a king sized bed, my right leg in a rigid cast, confined to the house and unable to get outside and walk. And because my body has stopped its free flow of movement, it seems that my mind has done the same. I have a sense of mental lethargy, as if my brain were stuck in a morass of sticky molasses.
How, oh how, to get the creative juices flowing again?
Yesterday, I decided to close my eyes and 'think' a walk. As I began my reverie, I was struck by the typical mid day silence, indeed abandonment, of the streets out here in West Oak Ridge. In the 1950s and 60s, the residential streets of Oak Ridge were alive with children, housewives, and cars: in short, Life.
Now, the old neighborhood streets are dead, the houses silent. Vitality has vanished, activity ceased.
And so, as I mentally walked out West Outer Drive yesterday afternoon, I wrote these two little cantos:
Locked and shuttered frozen tombs
Dozing through the afternoon
The only voice the stricken hum
Of heat pumps clicking off and on
Stone gray dome of yawning sky
A funeral wreath circles high
On wide black wings, six buzzards fly
Waiting on Lord Death
They're always overhead
I was born in the Secret City in 1952, the crest of the baby boom. In the 1950s and 60s, Oak Ridge and the nation enjoyed an intoxicating sense of power and wealth.
In Oak Ridge, our brash young fathers, scientists and engineers, were masters of the universe, the lords of life and death, alchemists and arbiters of global survival or destruction. Our mothers were fine, beautiful and modern, relieved of drudgery by a host of new appliances, happy homemakers eager to stay home, bake cookies and make babies.
Federal money flowed into our little town: Oak Ridgers were special and superior. We were prosperous. We were home owners. We were proudly, even arrogantly, different. We were splendid nuclear families.
But life isn't lived backwards. We're not special or superior any more. Federal money is no longer unlimited, not all the fathers are high salaried scientists and engineers, and few women have the luxury of staying home to be full time homemakers and mothers.
Like the rest of 21st century America, people here are struggling just to get by. Over half of our school population is on free or reduced lunch; and more than half of Oak Ridgers are currently renters, not home owners.
Our little Secret City is being dragged, kicking and screaming, into a future of normalcy and belt tightening frugality. We're not what we were in the 1950s and 60s. We haven't quite figured out yet what we are now and what we want to be in the 21st century.
Be Well and Good Luck,