Last night was beautiful. The air was cold, the sky was clear, and the waxing moon was bright. And besides the fact that it was not raining, the best part was the wind. There was a strong and gusty wind the whole evening, which made it even colder, but it sent the autumn leaves skittering across the street, and made the trees dance back and forth, their branches casting crazy shadows in the streetlights. Kids were running around the neighborhood in costume. Jack ‘o lanterns were flickering on doorsteps. A door would open and a chorus of voices would chime ‘Trick or Treat!’ It was so damn perfect it was like walking through a Norman Rockwell painting.
I went out with my kids this year, although I’m beginning to wonder for how much longer they will need a chaperone. I was surprised to find out that they had expanded their trick-or-treating territory - they now cover our entire neighborhood. This made for quite a bit of walking, and waiting. But it was really pleasant, and presented a sharp contrast to how my life has been lately. I was outside, under an open sky, listening to the wind. In addition, the wait at the end of every driveway forced me to slow down and relax, and enjoy the experience.
The girl was a zombie (her costume from last year still fit, and she loves it), while the boy was a soldier in desert camo. I think he just liked having a excuse to carry a bright orange machine gun. I decided to get into the spirit of the holiday, and put on khaki pants, a turtleneck, a fleece vest, an afghani wool hat, and afghani scarf. In combination with the scruffy beard, I think I looked pretty good. As an accessory, I grabbed my walking stick.
As we walked through the neighborhood, I started enjoying the feel of the walking stick in my hand. When I was a young man, in high school, I lived in western Washington. I spent a fair amount of time in the forest, and due to the explosive rates of growth of Devil’s Club, stinging nettle, and blackberry vines, I always had a stick in my hand to clear a path. In fact, I began many a fine day in the woods by cutting down a sapling, and trimming the branches to make a quarterstaff.
One day, much like any other, I cut down an alder sapling, trimmed it, and stripped off the bark. I used it as a staff all day, and because it had a good length, and a good diameter, I set it aside to use the next time I went into the woods. I continued to use that staff, every time I needed a walking stick, and ended up taking it to college with me. Of course, people in southeast Portland don’t like to see young men carrying six-foot sticks in their neighborhood, and so I put it away.
To make a long story short, my walking stick is now about twenty-three years old. The wood is so dry it’s as light as a feather, and it gives off a beautiful ringing ‘ping’ when you strike it on the street. Walking with it last night, it rested in my hand as if I had never set it aside. Before we had gone very far I found myself absentmindedly spinning it around, swinging it up onto my shoulders, and leaning on it when stopped. It was oddly very comforting, and made me almost feel eighteen years old again. At the risk of anthropomorphising excessively, it was like walking with an old friend.
People don’t like to see middle-aged men with six-foot sticks in their neighborhood, either. But I’m going to have to find an excuse to carry that thing around again.