Walking on Memorial Day

It’s hot; muggy heat hovering between the tall prairie grass all around us and the scattered grey clouds above us. This is not sun heat. There are bright rays of sunshine beating orange warmth on our shoulders, none of the trees, the grass around us glow green in the iridescent light of the sun. This heat is wet and sticky, the humid air seeming to be a lighter version of the near-saturated clouds gathering in the darkening sky above. Weather like this brings rain.

But it’s not raining yet, and we’re only just begun our walk. Parked in the half-circle lot at the base of the slight rise in the land, we’ve left the car in the shade of the thick foliage, as if leaves and vines could protect our black leather seats from the heat of the very air.

There’s a sign at the top of the miniature hill, ONE WAY carved neatly into the painted brown wood, with an arrow pointing to our left. Above the arrow, there are mile distances: 2.5 to here, 3.7 from there. We pause at the junction of concrete with concrete, six people there huddled randomly around the baby’s stroller, and we study the sign. The sign with its miles and announcements and left-pointing arrows. We study it all, and we turn right.

The flow of traffic is mostly for the bikers, the runners, we tell ourselves as we step up to the right, following the faded asphalt as it winds upwards, under a pale green tunnel of leaves. There is grass on either side of the bath. Next to me, the 9-year-old walks purposefully, her dark eyes wandering vaguely across the road, the trees, the ground she’s stepping upon. The grass along the path catches her attention and she exclaims over its height, throwing her hips to the side and waving her hand, palm parallel to the ground, between the grass and her body. The grass is so long! It comes up to here on me!

We continue walking the wrong way along the path under the green leaves and between the two seas of fresh, tall grass. A bicyclist passes us, going the other way. He’s wearing a helmet, sneakers, and long black leggings under his athletic shorts. The hood of his sweatshirt flaps faintly in the wind he’s created with his sheer speed. We move to the right when we see him coming. Move in the halting, uneven way that six people and a toddler in a stroller move anywhere. After he’s passed, we turn even so slightly, watch him disappear around the corner. We marvel at his attire, and the heart tolerance he must have been blessed with.

Bursting slowly from under the trees, we follow the curve of the path past the park’s office, towards the small lake, represented by a cheery blue blob on the park map posted in the shady parking lot. Bobbing up and down on the anchored dock, we stand on dried goose poop, look out at the murky water. Arms crossed, leaning forward in curiosity, coupled with vague disgust, we study the thick algae that’s covered the lake’s surface in soggy patches. The 7-year-old leans forward to touch a lilypad, surprised when it doesn’t float away at her gentle push. They’re anchored, I remind her. She nods, wiping her narrow fingers on her shorts.

But the lake is still, its shores uneventful, and we step off the wobbling deck, push the now-sleeping toddler to the path once more, this time joining the way of those who heed informational signs. We walk slowly. The bike passes us again and we remark on his speed, his distance. The girls wander across the path, scanning the foliage on each side for a walking stick to support them in the oppressive heat. And in the stroller, bare baby feet tossed dangling below her, the baby sleeps, the curls on her dark head becoming more pronounced with every hour in the wet, heavy air.

~Natalia

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