Special to the Gazette
The walking group would gather every Tuesday morning at 9 AM at the entrance to the Arboretum. Named the “Tuesday Walking Group”, we walked those paths for the last half dozen years marking the changing seasons. The group would walk regardless of weather. Sometimes we were four, and other times a dozen. That is, until March 2020 when the pandemic stopped us in our tracks.
We were connected by the fragile thread of a google group, but had no formal organization. Tuesday mornings, one early riser, would check the weather and people would confirm attendance. At 9:05, the group began the walk and then concluded an hour later back at the front gate. We walked in many formations; sometimes three or four, sometimes two by two, but always as a group. The Tuesday morning walk provided connection, and an anchor to our week. Many of us are retired from full time work, but actively engaged in other work and volunteer activities. Our walks included weekly personal updates, political discussions, movie and book suggestions and a walking billboard of upcoming events. Every May, we joined together and marched in the Louis D. Brown Mother’s Day March for Peace. This year we commemorated the walk in the Arboretum.
COVID -19 came and our group went into hibernation. We all recognized our own privilege and security in the face of a world pandemic. We hoped it might be a short hiatus. The pandemic did not deter the love of walking, so many of us walked alone. As the weather improved last spring, we ventured out in masked socially distanced pairs, similar to the animals on Noah’s Ark. Our walks coincided with the bursting of spring. Suddenly there were hundreds of people walking through the parks, the pond and local cemeteries. Our walking group mixed it up quite a bit. Even though it was often in two’s, different people walked with different people during the spring and summer. Two or three was the limit. We were part of a national movement of people taking to the streets to walk during the pandemic. The Guardian newspaper named 2020, the year of the walker. Some of us were fugitives from the gym, and walking became exercise. For those who missed yoga, walking became moving meditation. Some of us were fleeing our apartments and homes seeking a change of pace and location and others created walking meetings.
We walked different parts of the emerald necklace from the mouth of the muddy river to the cliffs of Franklin Park. In the 1870s, Frederick Law Olmstead, the former general secretary of the United States Sanitary Commission, was hired to design a series of parks to respond to public health needs. Olmstead believed access to fresh air was critical and that parks would be meeting grounds for people of different backgrounds and economic means. Upon completion of his design of Central Park, he commented that the park “were the lungs of the city” . One hundred and fifty years later the emerald necklace provided fresh lungs for the city and created a place for racially diverse crowd of young and old, to walk and breathe the air of the city.
With the coming of fall, we grew anxious with the coming darkness, cold and the winter solstice. Many of us upped our wardrobe choices and learned there is no “bad weather, just bad gear.” We learned that as long as you keep moving, even the cold is bearable. Emails were exchanged on best walking routes in icy weather. Others exchanged information on new walking areas. Walking provided solace and adventure when the world stole both.
One year later, with many of us vaccinated or close to full vaccination status, we asked, “Is it time to come together as a group?” The google group is alive and humming. We started again. The Tuesday walkers are back. We first stepped a group with our masks on and ready to walk. And then as the CDC lifted its mask mandates for outdoors, the masks came down. We were all happy to see each other’s faces and smiles. If you are in the Arboretum you might see us there.
Enid Eckstein, has lived in Jamaica Plain for the last thirty years.