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Out walking, I smile at passers-by. They smile back, but I don’t say ‘hi’. I’ve given up on that. They don’t hear me. Ear buds embedded in their ear canals, I catch the strains of their choices: Alan Jackson singing a hymn (it’s Sunday), Sondheim’s Send in the Clowns, some talk show (I can’t identify what’s said). The list goes on, an eclectic mix of personal taste.

I don’t choose earbuds. I didn’t before I got hearing aids, preferring to listen to the world around me. Now, it’s harder than ever because I’m forced to hear, sotto voce, the audio created by humans. I want the wind in the trees or silence if the wind is still. I want the occasional tweeting bird, despite my inability to identify the song or the bird. Or the sound of bicycle wheels or the bell tinkling if a bicyclist wants to warn me he’s coming.

On Sunday, when it’s dry, I aim for the Eugene O’Neill historic site, a mile and a half from my home. I zig zag through the suburbs, then climb Kuss Road, a gated community. Walking round the gate, I face a steep half mile climb to the top. The houses here are isolated, silent, except for an occasional barking dog that’s been let out but is safely behind the house walls. This is still suburbia, but not like suburbia outside the main gate. This is a self-chosen, plush prison, but I can puff my way up the hill until it’s level.

At the top, where the road flattens, the city of Danville is behind me and to the right. To the left, is one edge of the East Bay Regional Park. Cows graze, deer lift their heads and prick their ears, and turkeys stroll and peck. One November day, I came across three toms circling, leaping and butting their chests while the hens skittered away. After twenty minutes, having completed their testosterone dance, they went for the hens. I don’t know where the hens nest their chicks, but I’ve not seen one.

Around the next gate is federal land, the East Bay Regional Park still to my left. The ranger’s house is quiet these days, but the rangers must be around. The bus that brings tourists is parked next to a van and a couple of cars. I can enter the garden, but the Tao house has been locked for the last couple of years. The only room that interests me is the room where O’Neill wrote his plays and where visitors can view samples of his writing, smaller and tinier as the years went by. By 1943, he couldn’t write due to hand tremors, and his last works were written in that house: The Iceman Cometh, Long Day’s Journey into Night, others. After that, he didn’t write again.

The barn on the property has been converted to a small theater. I walk past that and another building that houses a “library” I’ve never been able to enter. I listen to a woodpecker clack, clack, clacking at an old pole, seeking grubs for breakfast. The wind is still today and I hear a Stellar’s Jay, juncos, and sparrows. At the back of the property, I go through a squeaking gate to the Madrone Trail, a wide dirt path. I walk through the meadow with more cows that have worn a path to the square water trough. I can follow spring in this meadow: brown mustard, hairy vetch, wild lupins, broadleaf fillarie. The order never changes. Past the meadow, I’m back in the trees and walk round the end of the canyon, the creek far down the steep sides to my right.

One day, I heard ‘moo’. Walking on, I heard it again and, shortly after, a third time. I came across a cow giving birth and had a hard struggle to ease her away from the steep slope. Her calf would have been born to roll down to the creek below. Instead, she gave birth in front of me, her calf safely on the path. She licked the calf with her raspy tongue. I could hear every rasp. The calf struggled to her feet, found her mother’s teat. I heard the suction, the rhythmic pull for milk.

The trail leads over a ridge then down to Camille Lane and back to suburbia. I take the Iron Horse trail home, passing more walkers, ears plugged.


Thanks for taking me on that walk with you. It is so hard to get away from man-made sounds, and I too miss the hello’s exchanged with fellow walkers.

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