Lately, I’ve been enjoying long walks with a good friend and colleague on our city’s arboretum trails. Years ago, we started walking together a couple of times a week at the end of the day. These walks were a great way to vent our frustrations about departmental politics, share teaching moments, and touch base with each other about our lives. I learned about the challenges faced by small departments and long-distance academic couples while she empathized with the death of my father and my new marriage. And we both chuckled over the foibles of our somewhat disorganized (yet patient, funny, and handsome) partners.
Our conversations would usually begin with outbursts of indignation over some minutia of our day – a colleague said this, a student failed to hand in that, this article is due – but as we wound our way through the oaks and pines, past the bay and across the open grasslands, we would end up panting and laughing, our legs tingling and our faces stinging from the cold air.
After I had a baby, it became hard to schedule our walks around my daughter’s daycare, our respective administrative duties, and our classes. We still saw each other for quick cups of coffee, or at meetings, even occasionally for dinner. I didn’t realize how much I missed our walks/talks until we resumed them this summer.
During walks this summer, we discuss our goals for our respective up-coming sabbaticals. Although we’re in different disciplines, it’s helpful to hear about her plans for an edited book that will take her in a new scholarly direction. I, too, am planning a project that is a bit of a leap for me, and it’s reassuring that my capable, intelligent friend has moments of doubt. When I reassure her that we have plenty of time to complete our work, that we haven’t already wasted three precious months, I am also reassuring myself. When she generously affirms that my half-finished book is worth completing, she is probably buoying up herself as well.
Next month my friend leaves to spend the year with her partner. Each of us will still take walks. But we will be alone on our walks, sending our thoughts out to each other across the miles, as we crunch through leaves, tread carefully on slick snow, and blink our eyes against the wind.