Prudence and Paranoia
Abandoning my computer and writer's studio in the late afternoon, I set out to explore a section of the local walking path. Map in hand, I head down Railroad Street, a long, residential street with a few well-kept homes sprinkled among lots of houses in various states of decrepitude. In spite of the lowery weather, there are guys hanging out on their porches, a group of small children and earnest mommies planting trees on the library grounds, and a surprising number of loud pick-ups cruising past.
All signs of residential life end, though, as I gain the other side of the bridge. The wind whistles through the trees, driving sullen clouds across the grey sky. In the sudden quiet, I'm aware of a creeping sense of vulnerability, a feeling that walking alone on a deserted road may not be a particularly good idea. For a moment I consider turning back, but I keep walking, finally arriving at the Rail Trail behind the lumber yard.
Now I'm well and truly alone, hoofing along an empty trail with nothing but leaf litter, bare trees, and the occasional derelict warehouse or manufacturing plant for company. I can't tell what manner of business these old buildings represent, but the abandoned structures and cast-off piles of rotting wood and rusty machinery do nothing to lessen my foreboding.
Adding to my alarm, I hear behind me the rattle of an approaching bicycle. I do not look back, simply step to the side of the trail and keep walking. Coming abreast of me is a hefty bearded fellow on a beat-up bicycle, clad in a frayed woolen jacket, baggy pants, and worn work boots. This is no exercise-crazed cyclist in garish compression gear, this is a man whose battered three-speed provides transportation, not recreation. He passes with a friendly greeting and for the next five or ten minutes, I contemplate the likelihood of his turning around and ambushing me.
Off to my right, I spy a large field beside which several cars and trucks are parked. Briefly, I consider making my way down the steep embankment to take refuge in the crowd gathered there, but their raucous laughter and thumping country music convince me to take my chances with the lone bicyclist. Walking briskly along, I give myself a stern talking to. You know better than to believe everything you think, I say. Stop being so paranoid. You need the exercise, you're out here, now get on with it. Then I check my watch and am relieved to find it is time to turn back.
In the way of return journeys, the walk back to town is considerably shorter and less angst-ridden than the walk out. In no time I am turning onto Main Street where Friday evening rush hour a la Johnson, Vermont is in full swing. There are few discernible crosswalks in town, but I pick a likely place and wait for a break in the traffic. Several vehicles pass by in either direction, but no one stops, until
an eighteen-wheeler, shiny brown and new-looking, roars toward the intersection. With a mighty exhale, the behemoth slows, laboriously grinding to a halt directly across from where I stand. The driver grins and gestures for me to cross the street. Thoroughly nonplussed, I wave my thanks and am rewarded with two loud blasts of the titan's horn.
All through the walk I'd been plagued with apprehension, constantly alert for danger. Instead, one stranger slowed his bicycle to deliver a cheery hello and another reined in five hundred horsepower to see me safely across the street.
There's a fine line between prudence and paranoia. It's sensible to be careful, but lunacy to look for the boogey-man behind every tree.
I'll try to remember that the next time I walk in the woods alone.