Saturday, June 3, 2023

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Joe's Neighborhood

I know it’s not a competition, but still…


The dark blue Irish Sea, streaked with light on the cresting waves, moves far below my winding cliff path. Listen, I get that people love the ocean. Of course, it’s not the Des Moines River or even the Raccoon, but the ocean does aggressively measure the smallness of your life. And not favorably. Some people like that. Not me.

And then there are the seagulls. They nest on the cliff walls, incessantly crying that they are just slightly annoyed. At what? The coffee is too bitter? The coffee is not bitter enough? Why are they so angry? They would do well in the United States today. 

The splat of their poop paints the faces of the cliffs with bright whites against the cold stone. Apparently, they are the graffiti artists of the bird world. Although these seagulls seem to be related to Iowa turkey buzzards. I’m fairly certain they are waiting for me to drop from exhaustion so they can treat me as they do a plastic bag of garbage on the side of the road — torn to shreds. Just saying, keep your eyes open.

And, in front of me, with a spring and a hop, is my living-in-Ireland daughter, her Scotsman partner, and my wife. They laugh and talk and jump from stone to dirt to bright green grass, as they hike on the edge of the cliffs outside of the small fishing village of Howth, just north of Dublin. I trail behind, breathing hard, praying to not be dashed to my death, slipping on a wet stone while I stumble forward in a graceful lurching manner. They constantly check on the old man at the back, but I’m a poor conversationalist in the face of imminent death. 

I know it’s not a competition, but still…

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To walk seems the most basic of endeavors. Right? It is supposedly THE THING TO DO based on all the old-people publications I get. Rarely do you see fitness experts advocating motocross or cliff diving for the seniors in your life. Fine. But I’ve never liked walking even during my marathoning and biking days. Walking is that slow-dripping faucet you can hear from your bed, monotonous and never-ending and mildly irritating. I’m not sure that anyone walking has actually ever arrived. Which may be the source of those T-shirt proclamations like — “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey” — something you might say to your kid when they’ve lost for the 10th time in a row. Yup, walking is not for winners. 

I know it’s not a competition, but still…

But as far as I can tell, the Irish are great walkers. It’s not an image I treasure. I like the stereotype of the drunken Irishman. They arrive at the pub early and leave late. Well, now I know why they sit with a pint of Guinness and stay until thrown out at dawn — they have just spent the day walking. 

And like my wife and daughter and the Scotsman, the Irish are not just walkers, they are fast walkers. Every morning I wake in my lovely fishing village, drink three tons of coffee, and go on a walk. So does everyone. If you saw me walking, you might hesitate for a moment to figure out if I’m actually moving forward. “Glacial” would not inappropriately describe my walking style. Or perhaps you’ve been to a zoo and seen the Slow Loris. That’s me.

So on my hike next to the ocean, high on the cliffs, everyone passes me. I constantly veer off the path so the elderly, the infirm, and the very young can pass without plummeting to their deaths. Everyone is so very friendly. “G’day.” “How are ya?” “Thanks so much.” Or if it’s raining, as it usually is, “Welcome to Ireland,” they say with a laugh and a shrug and a twinkle. Indeed.

What would happen if I gave them just a little nudge?

I know it’s not a competition, but still…

I can’t put it off any longer. It is time for me to go out and walk. Wool and rain gear are the fashion. Although I must admit the clothes feel cozy today. The steep hill up to the cliffs is slightly easier. Hmmm. My step seems to be getting a little lighter. Wow. I even smile at the too-brief taunting sun. Perhaps my Irish luck is changing? Yahoo.

Then the first elderly man and his grandchild pass me. “G’morning,” they shout cheerily.


I know it’s not a competition, but still. ♦

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog:

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