It’s a gray, overcast day, the sky as dingy as a wrung-out rag. I sail briskly through my morning chores, taking the dogs out, washing last night’s dishes, starting a load of laundry, and answering a half dozen questions from my online students before floundering in the early afternoon doldrums: that sluggish, sorry space where you’re unmotivated to do much of anything other than idly browsing online for spring sandals and sighing, unwilling to tackle your remaining tasks.
I know from long experience that you can’t fight the doldrums: the best you can do is walk yourself through them. I use the excuse of having to mail a birthday card and several belated Christmas packages to walk to the post office and back, taking an uphill detour and making a conscious effort to notice as much as I can along the way.
Along the ridge of trees by the trolley tracks, I see a red-tailed hawk soar through the shadows; in a planting on the edge of an unknown neighbor’s yard, I see a smattering of red berries. It’s a mild day—January thaw—and I see several emaciated snowmen, their figures whittled by wind or bent over backwards by gravity. Overhead, three geese silently fly by, followed later by a pair of mallards, their wings softly whistling. A man and a woman pass in the opposite direction, walking a leggy beagle who hasn’t grown into his paws; ahead, a woman pushes an infant in a stroller while her husband pushes a toddler on a tricycle.
I force myself to notice details, knowing such mindfulness to be medicinal: a balm for flagging spirits. The man pushing the toddler wears sneakers with orange soles, and the toddler counts each bump in the sidewalk: one, two, three. Two teens approach, walking home from school with backpacks and instrument cases: his the size of a clarinet, hers the size of a piccolo. Walking past the local Starbucks, I see patrons looking warm and satisfied over their steaming cups of caffeine, their faces aglow with the light of laptops. Inside a small bistro, tables for two are lined in rows, each adorned with a small lit candle: tete-a-tete, tete-a-tete, tete-a-tete.
Back at home, I browse through the handful of gray and grainy photos I shot along the way, and each feels like a hard-fought victory.