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Michiana Chronicles writers bring portraits of our life and times to the 88.1 WVPE airwaves every Friday at 7:45 am during Morning Edition and over the noon hour at 12:30 pm during Here and Now. Michiana Chronicles was first broadcast in October 2001. Contact the writers through their individual e-mails and thanks for listening!

Michiana Chronicles: Park Walk

Ken Smith

What with the world so narrow and tight right now, I don’t feel like answering the phone or turning on the TV, two ways the bad news sneaks in. But that approach doesn’t work because while I’m peeking through the front curtains, trying to out-wait the bad news, there’s a fair chance of shriveling into a bitter prune myself. Besides, there are people we just have to honor by taking the call and hearing their bad news and maybe standing right there in the hallway weeping when we do. Still, there must be some way out of here, as the Joker in the Bob Dylan song said to the Thief. I know you’ve been trying to find the way. We’ve all been trying.

One of the strategies here at our blue-gray shingle house has been to take a lot of walks. In a good week we manage a substantial walk nearly every day. But as you know, not every week is a good week, thanks to the phone and the handwashing and all of that.

If the work day is long and our time is short, it’ll just be a neighborhood walk. Even for pedestrians, South Bend changes social class in a flash--in one block it’s smaller frame houses that look about the same, and two blocks further on it’s larger, more ornamental houses, each with a style of its own. For the umpteenth time I feel superior about the silly names builders gave these streets after World War I to make the new neighborhood seem special, like Sunnymede and Sunnyside. My favorites in the silly category are East Wayne North and East Wayne South. If my spouse wouldn’t roll her eyes, I might say once more as we walk past, "Look, that house is on the southwest corner of East Wayne North."

So we’re wearing out the neighborhood walk. Happily, the people of Indiana and Michigan believe in paying for parks and nature preserves, for the common good. They believe that entrepreneurs shouldn’t put grasping fingers on every last beautiful thing around us. Bless you, fellow citizens, for your vision!

So we drive off to city and county and state parks, where the scenery repays a lot of looking around. There were still 25 or 30 thousand migrating sandhill cranes at Jasper-Pulaski this week, stirring themselves in the far field and calling to each other like musical wood rasps as I suppose pterodactyls must have done back in the Jurassic. They rise in groups and pivot on the wind, bumped up by gusts, passing overhead in lines, wide and gangly, thin and graceful, all at once. Gaining altitude, they are first a soft gray, then suddenly brilliant white and particular as they pass from shadow into sun.

Soon these cranes will be down south, the real snowbirds. No matter. In Michiana, milkweed pods have cracked open and the seeds are rising on the breeze. At the ends of branches, tree buds are thickening. Next spring’s wildflowers ready themselves beneath the leaves that have fallen in our parks. Nature makes all these regenerative moves, and tactfully shows them to walkers day by day, whispering in our ear, “Take hope” or maybe “Get a clue.”

Ken Smith writes about algebra, bikes, con artists, donuts, exercise, failure to exercise, grandparents, harmonica, introverts, jury duty, kings of long ago, Lipitor, meteors, night fishing, Olympic athletes, peace and quiet, rattlesnakes, silly sex education, Twitter, unpaid debts to our fellow human beings, the velocity of an unladen swallow, World War II, extroverts, Young People of Today, and the South Bend Zoo.