In 1982 I traveled from Boston to San Francisco to celebrate Christmas with my family in Palo Alto. The next morning my dad invited me to join him on a walk, his morning ritual. We drove to Stanford University, parked under the eucalyptus trees near the football stadium, and set off for the center of campus at an impressive pace. As we approached the tennis courts, he veered left, not breaking stride, to check the top of a fire hydrant, announcing that “the penny was still there.” During our 3 ½ mile route around campus we checked 20 to 30 sites for pennies he’d left on his very first walk. They were on the tops of wooden traffic posts and the sandstone columns of the academic buildings surrounding the Quad, tucked into the unusual bark of specimen trees near the Physics “Tank,” and even in the palm of one of Rodin’s Burghers of Calais. If a penny was missing, he replaced it with one from his pocket. Dad did it to keep his walks interesting. Since then I’ve been on his “Penny Walk” at least once each time I visit. It’s fun to see which are always gone, and which have been there since 1982.
I believe in a daily walk and started mine in December of 1984 when my husband surprised me with a puppy, Ballymaloe, as a Christmas gift. She and I walked 2 miles a day around our costal Maine neighborhood. I did it for Bally, but it was good for me. On July 15, 1992 when I went into labor with our third child, I called my husband from work. The cramps stopped just before he arrived to meet me for the trip to the hospital. So, at home I took the dog for a fast paced walk after which we raced to Maine Medical Center, barely pausing to deliver the older boys to a neighbor’s home.
In 1998 when our family struggled with our youngest son’s diagnosis with Type 1 Diabetes and Celiac Disease, I often walked twice a day: 3 miles in the morning, and if I couldn’t sleep, 3 miles after the boys had been put to bed. It helped with the anxiety and what I later recognized as depression about a life change that was profound.
I walk 3-4 miles every day, usually with friends, sometimes alone, almost always with Jasmine, the dog that came to live with us 4 years ago. If there’s enough snow, we snow shoe or cross country ski. If it’s raining, I wear foul weather gear; if it’s dark I put on a reflective vest. My physical and mental health is better, and I have a deeper appreciation of New England’s changing seasons because of my daily walks.
While I’ve considered recreating the “Penny Walk” in Maine, I’m content to enjoy Dad’s route around the Stanford campus once or twice a year, taking pleasure in locating the pennies that remain and sometimes adding new ones.
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