The Artist Date is a dream-child of Julia Cameron, helping readers learn how to become a better writer. We’ve discussed her book, The Artist’s Way, and highly recommend both the book and the weekly date. An Artist Date can be life-changing. It can open your creativity like nothing else. Today, bundle up and take a winter’s walk on the ice.
I don’t take many walks in winter. Call me a fair-weather South Dakotan if you must, more content to pull up to a heavy oak desk with a hot cup of Earl Grey next to the black plastic hearth of a Holmes space heater in my office. From November to March, maybe April, I abdicate my cardiac care to a treadmill, allowing the experience all the symbolic resonance of walking and walking and walking and getting nowhere it desires, red sneaker soles pushing the worn treads of a black conveyer belt through its repetitive loop with dizzying constancy, save the few times when a daydream makes me miss a step and I’m thrown to the wall while the machine keeps marching on, grinding “with or without you” through its gritted toothy gears.
This morning—God only knows why—without checking the weather, I went for a walk. I bundled up in a soft fleece neck gator and heavy brown boots, a black and white striped knit cap and a down vest under my jacket and left the house, something I rarely do on the weekend. I had no more destination in mind than where the treadmill might scheme to take me. I had no notice of the conditions except to expect the cold, which is always biting, even on days when it gets close to 40 degrees and we say it’s balmy and some folks peel down to sweatshirts and cargo shorts to prove the point.
But we had ice overnight. Enough freezing drizzle to glaze every surface, which was just now beginning to thaw. This made a frictionless peril of every step, as though the whole world had been polished, then oiled to a glossy perfection.
My first steps from the driveway were dainty. There’s no point in denying it, for any of my neighbors who might have peeked out through their drapes could testify to all strapping six-foot-plus of me stepping gingerly off the slope, hands out to offset any teetering and looking every bit the kindergartner on the first day in skates minus the waist-length stocking cap, the promise of hot cocoa in the end, and, well, the skates. I found my footing with the grit of a scattering of sand on the pavement meant to keep radial tires from carrying their fiberglass and sheet metal bodies onto my yard, as well as those of my peeking neighbors.
I made it to the park without a stumble, only a few near-miss slip-n-slides, and stepped off the asphalt path and into the snow, only ankle deep at its worst thanks to a few of those recent balmy days that flattened the tall drifts into snow patches that looked more like they belonged in Nebraska than South Dakota.
In the Sunday morning silence, a step sounds like whole armies marching in conquest of something, though it’s a single footfall, my leather boot breaking through the icy crust that encased snow that had, just days ago it seems, fallen in fluffy, weightless flakes without the tiniest sound.
The noise is empowering and my steps become fierce, almost victorious, though a walk in the park where the start of a path is also its end yields no more destination than the feckless inertia of walking while standing still in my basement. Still, my steps echo sounds of progress, purpose, of accomplishing something even if it is nothing and even if I walk not following a path at all, stomping to and fro across the snow-capped grass searching out more ice crust to crash my foot through.
But it’s cold, as I knew it would be, and my patience is short, as I also knew it would be, so I direct the army south, send the two solitary foot soldiers back toward my street, taking care as I reach the sheen of the pavement.
I stepped gingerly again as I went up the walk toward the house, not yet fallen.
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