Mike Jacobs: Walking in Grand Forks means socializing, often with dogs
On my walks in Grand Forks, I often meet people I know, and sometimes long conversations ensue. Face-to-face conversations.
North Dakota’s straight roads make it possible to walk straight into the sunset on two days of the year — the equinoxes, vernal and autumnal. For many years it has been my habit to do just that, in March and September.
No problem ever arose walking into the sunset when I lived near Gilby, North Dakota. I’d just walk out the front door, up the driveway and get to the center line on County Road 33. Then I’d walk west – into the sunset.
So I tried that in Grand Forks, walking south on Belmont Road and heading west on 47th Avenue South. Forty-seventh is a section line road, and like County Road 3, it is dead straight. Sure enough, there was the sun at the center point of the street, obscured by low clouds. The clouds only magnified the sunset, which pretty much lit up the entire western horizon – another of the advantages of North Dakota’s regular landscape.
That street, 47th Avenue, takes me past Optimist Park, so there is a wide horizon – but not so wide as the horizon in Wheatfield Township. The horizon there is nearly unless, interrupted only by a utility line and a distant shelterbelt.
So, the experiences on county Road 33 and 47th Avenue South are not the same. You don’t want to stand in the middle of 47th Avenue, not for very long at least. There’s traffic, and it moves pretty swiftly. Then there’s the headlights.
This is but one of the differences I’ve found in my daily walks. Walking in the country is pretty much a solitary experience. Walking in the city often involves socializing. On my walks in Grand Forks, I often meet people I know, and sometimes long conversations ensue. Face-to-face conversations.
There was socializing on county Road 33, as well, but always involved someone in a vehicle. I spent quite a lot of time leaning on the left door of a neighbor’s pickup, sometimes in the cold. Occasionally, I’d wave at a neighbor mowing the ditch or a truck driver heading for an elevator nearby.
But in 25 years, I never met another walker.
Then there are the dogs. Walking in Grand Forks, I have met dozens of dogs, including one named Jake and another named Clara. I remember these two especially, because those are the names of my parents.
Once in a while a dog showed up along County Road 33. Well, at least once.
But the biggest difference I’ve found walking in the city is the variety of destinations. In Wheatfield Township, you’d invariably walk a straight line, east or west and sometimes north or south, but very seldom at any other angle across the landscape. So the destination would be the next shelterbelt or section line.
By contrast, there are myriad destinations in Grand Forks. Some of them involve coffee. Or ice cream. Or beer.
But walkers are creatures of habit. At least this one is. In four months in Grand Forks, I’ve developed half a dozen routes, most of them along the Greenway and through neighborhoods. I could get in the car and explore other areas of town, but I only do that with a specific purpose, usually the chance to find a bird. That’s what takes me to Sertoma Park, for example.
But my daily habit is to walk out the door – usually the side door of the garage – and turn. This is done with intent. I imagine the route I’ll follow and tell Suezette, so she’ll have an idea about how long I might be gone or where I might have wandered if I’m late showing up back home.
Of course, I’m not not wedded to a route. The Greenway is a specific route, of course, but the neighborhoods tempt me to stray. More than once I’ve stumbled into a cul de sac and had to retrace my steps.
There are no cul de sacs in Wheatfield Township. Every road leads straight across the landscape to another section line – and another opportunity to walk into the sunset.
Of course, this works for the sunrise, as well, but that doesn’t work in Grand Forks. Heading east I quickly come to the Red River and the trees along the stream. These close in the landscape in ways that farm shelterbelts do not.
Besides, who ever heard of walking into the sunrise?
Mike Jacobs is a former editor and publisher of the Grand Forks Herald.