Close to where we live is Oak Ridge Park and, on mornings when I don’t go to the gym , that’s where I go for a walk . Until two years ago , Oak Ridge was a public golf course. Then , because of the recession , revenues fell and the township converted it into a park . Good for me and a few others because it’s a wonderful place for walkers . It has a number of walking trails ( formerly paved paths for the golf carts) of different lengths . The longest, along the periphery, is two and a half miles and there are shorter trails of 1 mile , 1-1/2 miles and two miles . When I do go there , I take the longest trail , the 2-1/2 miles one , and it leaves me pleasantly tired when I’m finished .
There are several nice features about Oak Ridge. First and foremost , it’s a beautiful setting, as might be expected of a former golf course. The greens are not manicured as they once used to be and the rough is a little longer but so what ? The peripheral trail winds through patches of light and shade , through a couple of small groves and it has two slight inclines which make the walk a little taxing .There is even a little bench towards the end of the trail .
Beside the park is a railroad track and , in the course of my walk , I often see and hear a freight train to go clattering by. At such times , it is interesting to guess the number of boxcars and then see if I’m close . It’s not a total guess because the number of locomotives gives a clue . The greatest number of freight cars I’ve counted is 104.
I’ve walked the trail both alone and in company and the latter is better. I may not walk as fast but the relaxed atmosphere makes for some interesting conversation. In fact the park setting also makes people much more friendly. I was surprised , the first time I walked in Oak Ridge Park , to have fellow walkers wish me ” Good Morning ” . In the New York- New Jersey region , this is unheard of. Previously , I had come across such friendliness only in the South where wishing strangers ” Good Morning ” is ( was ?) the norm . How to account for such civility up north ? As yet , Oak Ridge is still very sparingly used ; most mornings there are only about 30 or 40 others in the park . Could it be that people wish each other because there are so few of us ? That their apparent unfriendliness elsewhere is only because most public places are so crowded that it makes it impractical to wish everyone ? That New Jerseyans are just as friendly as any one else ? I’d like to think so.
Walking , especially alone , gives one plenty of time to think and all sorts of things come to mind . For one , I’ve a new respect for those hardy souls who go on long , really long, walks . I didn’t particularly think much of Peter Cook , who walked across America coast-to-coast, and then wrote a book about it . Then he turned around and did it again and ,in the process, acquired a wife. My walk at Oak Ridge take me between 40 and 55 minutes ( depending on the company) and I work up a good sweat. Perhaps I could walk four times as much in the course of a day . That’s 10 miles and , at that rate , it would take me most of a year to traverse the continent . A daunting prospect , even when one does not take into consideration that a cross continental walk would involve great variations of climate and terrain. And that one would be loaded down with at least twenty pounds of gear. Nah … I think I’ll pass.
There are other long walks I’ve read about. There was one gentleman who walked the length of Japan , north-to-south , and wrote a fascinating book about it. And in olden days , many Japanese used to walk around Shikoku , Japan’s southernmost island , on a pilgrimage to the island’s 88 revered Buddhist temples ( That’s one walk I’d have loved to do but I’ll have to content myself reading about it . Speaking of pilgrimages , one of the most famous is The Way of St. James ( El Camino de Santiago) which Christian pilgrims have been travelling for a thousand years . There are many routes but they all end at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in Northwestern Spain , where tradition has it that the remains of the apostle Saint James are buried. St. James symbol, the scallop shell ( Coquilles St. Jacques), mirrors the pilgrimage since it has several grooves leading to the same point. Nowadays , that route has become somewhat of a tourist attraction with travelers walking a well-worn path with guides and relaxing each night at well-appointed inns. Yet another long walk was the one undertaken by the travel writer , Paul Theroux , who walked clockwise around England and wrote a book( The Kingdom by the Sea ) about it . In the course of his walk , he met another writer ( I can’t remember the name ) who was walking around Britain in the opposite direction with exactly the same thought in mind . It’s been many years since I read Theroux’s book and I can’t remember if he actually walked the whole distance or just most of it . Anyway , it was a jolly good read and I must do it again.
To get back to Oak Ridge Park…
Another of its charms is the total absence of Canada geese. Now, I love birds as much as anyone else and I know there is much to admire about Canada Geese . Their incredible teamwork on their long flights each fall , their faithfulness to their mates etc , etc . However , the fact remains that , as one of my friends said , they are ” ” shit machines”.Other parks I’ve been to , such as Roosevelt Park , have been taken over by these geese and there are goose droppings all over the place . Parks with ponds offer the geese the two things they need , water and grass and they happily settle down in such places . Since they are a protected species , they can’t be eliminated and they just keep multiplying and returning to the same place year after year.I thought that Oak Ridge Park would be safe from the depredations of the geese because it doesn’t have a pond . Wrong…
Last Sunday , as my wife were walking in the park , I heard the unmistakable honking of geese . Guided by the sound , we came across a little depression where there was a small pool There , well hidden by the vegetation , was where the geese had built their nests. On subsequent visits , we saw about thirty geese walking about as if they owned the park. Well , it was good while it lasted.