Under the T tracks

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.

Asleep for the winter

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.

Seed pods

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.

Tables for two

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.