Pining for the prairies: Stunt Writing day 9

My first week of walking went so well… and this week I have been finding every excuse not to leave the house for my walks.

Here’s my problem:

I hate routines!

I hate feeling like I have to do something – whether it is good for me or not – and I hate feeling bored.

Walking, in my tiny town, is an activity I equate with boredom, because there are only a couple of roads I can walk on, and thus my walks are the same every day.

I know this isn’t technically true, in the sense that Heraclitus noted “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” The streets are not static, either, despite being more set in place than a rushing river. There’s different activity along every street, everyday. Right?

But still, I wish there were more options.

I remember enjoying walks more in my youth. I lived in a suburb of Chicago, my house just a hop, skip and a jump from a 61-mile-long jogging and biking trail called the Illinois Prairie Path. I frequently left my house in a teenage huff, angry at my parents, my sister, or the world at large, and simply walked on that path until my boiling thoughts were calmed. I would even walk in the rain, happy that the weather was so awful as it both illustrated my mood and prevented obnoxious passers-by from giving me sprightly “Hello!”s as I moodily stalked up and down the path.

"eerie fog on the prairie path" image by Flickr user clarkmaxwell
“eerie fog on the prairie path” image by Flickr user clarkmaxwell

Part of my enjoyment of this path, rain or shine, was the fact that it stretched for miles in either direction, and seemed to offer an escape from the real world. Though it wound through my town, it also cut a straight line right through, pushing on to the next town over, physically removing me from situations when necessary, and offering the illusion of being in another world. It was, really, a bubble of nature in a world increasingly dominated by cars. The path itself also changed as you went along, from more open and exposed, to more quiet and tree canopied, crossing over highways on steel bridges, passing next to abandoned factories with their crumbling bricks and busted-out windows, curving alongside streams and – as per its name – flatter, open areas planted with prairie grasses.

A typical sight alongside the path in summertime:

"IMG_7482" image by Flickr user clare_and_ben
“IMG_7482” image by Flickr user clare_and_ben

The path was also paved with a fine gravel, perfect for walking, biking, jogging, kicking up clouds of dirt in frustration, or consumed by puddles for splashing moodily in the rain. Rather than walking a concrete sidewalk, the Prairie Path was a perfect escape from gridded city streets.

It even felt safe in the dark.

"ghost of christmas past on the illinois prairie path" image by Flickr user clarkmaxwell
“ghost of christmas past on the illinois prairie path” image by Flickr user clarkmaxwell

I walked there frequently, sometimes blasting my angsty teenage music in my headphones, sometimes just scrolling through a never-ending playlist of frustrations in my mind. I don’t think my parents ever knew that that was where I escaped to, when I blasted out of the house like a rocket fueled by anger. They thought I was going to a friend’s house (she lived on the other side of the path), probably. But instead, I disappeared.

The Prairie Path was my escape. It felt like my secret space, even when I knew others shared it. It was the perfect place to walk, even though it was essentially the same every day. It was a great place to lose yourself in thought, to walk fast and escape troubling thoughts, to commune with nature and to quietly meditate in motion. Sometimes I’d go by bike to see the miles fly by, but usually I preferred to walk. It was perfect.

And there isn’t anything like that in the town where I live now. I know there are hiking trails in San Diego, but I’m pining for that long, flat stretch of prairie to call my own.

I guess, at heart, I’ll always be a Midwestern girl.

And I think I may need to purchase a Prairie Path membership, since I’ve been pining for it lately, and I hope someone has been maintaining this path so that it’s still just as wonderful an escape as I remember it from my youth.


What’s a nostalgic place you remember from your teenage years?