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xi First comes the Cape Cod walk. Past the private beach, past the houses, out to the bluff below the scraggly scrub oaks and toward the cluster of rocks where the cormorants gather. How many times have my feet padded along this sandy path? Hundreds, I think, until I do a little math, and realize the answer is thousands. Thousands of times, then. Occasionally as a child, often as teenager, daily as a young confused man fresh out of college, and then again for six years after the return from Colorado with my new wife. I would like to say I was loyal to the Cape walk when I headed west at thirty, that I pined for it. This would not be true. In Colorado I daily hiked a squiggly red line, heading straight up into the mountains—leading from the room I rented in the blue gingerbread cabin in Eldorado Springs, the hippie / biker / rock climber town where I’d landed—up into the sandstone flatirons that shot up in the sky like a ripple in the land’s carpet after the thousands of miles of flatness called the plains. Swifts carved the sky overhead. I stared at the nearly fluorescent lichen that glowed on the rocks hanging above me, stopped to splash my face with the cold creek water, crushed sage like smelling salts, and inhaled an odor that reminded me this was a whole new place. I had moved west directly from Worcester, Massachusetts, a town that was the opposite of Eldorado in every regard. I’d gone to Worcester with my companion of seven years, so that she could attend medical school, but I was not unfamiliar with the city, having grown up there. We did not move to the town proper, but just outside it, in part so that I could have daily access to the Wachusett Reservoir. There, only a few miles away from the border of that gray dying industrial town, I walked out to the hidden cove where I would pay my daily respects to a certain great blue heron. Cambridge lies an hour to the east of Worcester, but a world away. After Worcester, after six years in Colorado, after six years back on All My Walks out of place xii ecotone Cape Cod, my wife and I moved to Cambridge for a year (which, for what it’s worth, would make my total time spent in that town almost six years). I was there to teach and to wait for the birth of our daughter, but there was plenty of time each afternoon to walk down to the river. “Your beloved Charles,” my wife teased me, mocking my fondness for that snooty and sooty corridor of nature. But it was no joke. I did love the place. Sometimes I would mistakenly roust the black crowned night herons that roosted in the branches of trees on the banks, and they would explode into the air with slapping wings and guttural songs. These days I walk almost every day along the Cape Fear River in a town called Carolina Beach. Within the course of an hour I can pass through swamps, brackish marshes, fringe evergreen forests, and upland meadows. The day before yesterday I heard a rustle in the trees overhead, a sound I remembered from Cape Cod, and looked up to see dozens of cedar waxwings, feasting on the winter berries. We recently passed the six-year mark in North Carolina, and we think we might stay awhile. “To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating .” I repeated this Thoreau quote to Rachel, the woman I would later move to Worcester with, during a walk we took together at the beginning of our relationship. She didn’t like it. It’s not that I mind walking with someone else—my wife and I frequently took the bluff walk together on Cape Cod and later walked along the Charles when she was pregnant—it is just that walking with a companion is something entirely different from a real walk. A real walk, a true walk, is quite the opposite of a social event. It is a chance...


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