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by Larry Woiwode
A Fifty-Year Walk
When I was 12 and what happens to boys hadn't happened to me yet, I loved to walk alone. I would walk five miles down a railroad track to my grandparents' place or walk seven miles in the opposite direction to a lake I liked to look at, after I had walked to the far corners of our town a half-dozen times that day. It wasn't beyond me to walk 20 miles without even stopping to think about it, as I haven't, really, until now.
The places I most liked to walk were outside any sign of habitation—in the carved gap of a railroad line or along a dirt road that led through pastures or corn fields to a woods. When I walked I thought of others who had walked this way before, and the only ones I had heard of who had walked as much as I seemed to walk were the apostles of Jesus Christ (along with Jesus, of course), and a U.S. president who once lived in the area of Illinois where my family was living—Abraham Lincoln.
The place I liked above all to walk was to a woods halfway between my grandparents and the lake I liked, the straight north of those two points, or so it seemed to me then, though its actual direction was west. I strolled toward it along the edge of a road that was such pure sand it was as hard to walk as the sand of an unpacked beach. All along the route hedge apples lay in the sand like limes so bloated that the pebbling of their peels resembled worms locked in molten swirls. You didn't want to think what the thing was up to. The hedge apples struck the sand like shot puts, and if I kicked one it was almost as heavy and left a gooey sap on my bare toes. Hedgerows crowded the road, growing wild in this place as deserted and hot as the Sahara—the perimeter of a state forest I was headed toward.
Once I had sized up my route for the next mile or so, or to the next hill or curve, I never looked ahead of my feet as I walked. I don't know why. What flowed past or flew in from the side or swung up to encounter me was more of a surprise that way, I suspect. I ...