Nuala McCann: A walk in the park can be a dangerous business even on a winter Sunday
The joy is in the walk, the passing of the seasons, the marking of time from a spring crocus and a squirrel scampering to the stark beauty of a bare black bough. But a walk in the park can be a dangerous business even on a winter Sunday...
SUNDAY morning in the park and all of a sudden the silence is broken by children. Out of nowhere they come, big ones, little ones, fat ones, skinny ones, ballerinas and clowns, mums jogging with prams, modern dads with fat babies tucked into papooses.
We strain our ears for a Pied Piper's tune – somewhere far off among the trees.
And as suddenly as they appeared, they're gone – just the occasional last straggler, a little girl hauled by her daddy's hand, a small boy lured by a muddy puddle, put off his stride.
They are headed to a distant finishing line.
Peace drifts slowly into the park again.
Sit? Yes, of course we sit.
We have given up the slavery of the Fitbit watch, we care not if our steps are 5,000 or 10,000. The joy is in the walk, the passing of the seasons, the marking of time from a spring crocus and a squirrel scampering to the stark beauty of a bare black bough.
But a walk in the park can be a dangerous business even on a winter Sunday. A golf ball sails over head and hits a tree with the kind of clunk that might have been painful, were it one of our heads.
Big burly dogs hurtle down the path – enough to knock even a big burly person off their feet.
“He'll not hurt you, don't worry,” cries the cheery dog walker.
“How do you know?” I want to cry.
Even a poodle can turn savage sometimes. Trust no dog, is our motto and we're sticking to it. Ever since my little sister went to pat our neighbour's dog's puppies and pulled her hand back to find the mother dog dangling off her ring finger, sharp teeth firmly wedged on, I have been afraid, very afraid.
Distance is healthy on a walk through the park. The park bench is a welcome moment to rest. Creatures of habit, we choose the one we always do. It's near an old tree with a small shrine at its feet.
There are flowers, a balloon, a message of love for a stranger who has a special place in somebody's heart. He smiles out of an old photograph – a happier time.
I'm calculating his age – it's a habit that's hits you as you get older – I'm forever clocking years of birth and thinking that people are way too young to look as old as they do. Personally, I just avoid the mirror because inside I'm 28.
The man to whom the shrine is dedicated was 10 years younger than us when he died. We send a silent prayer into the winter air for someone who died too young, a man who has a shrine in the park.
The grass is wet with leaves and mud, the squirrels have disappeared to some far-off hollow in a tree and the park is sinking slowly into hibernation.
Leave it to the magpies to create a little chaos. Five of them gang up on a big crow and dive-bomb him out of their tree.
He holds his ground for long enough. He has muscle after all.
“I'm bigger than you,” he's saying, but in the end, the pressure and the nagging is too much and he flies off to somewhere far away, leaving the clickety chitter chatter behind.
Take your pleasures where you will. Late autumn and winter is a world wearing widow's weeds. The trees are in mourning and the paths are black and wet. People are wrapped up in layers, bundled in puff jackets, small faces under woolly hats and scarves and heavy boots.
The trees cling desperately to the last of their copper leaves, the bare boughs are stark black against a cold blue sky. But take your joy in the everyday wonder of a child sailing high on a swing or an old man with sad eyes watching the world pass from a park bench.
It is in the beautiful wrought iron work on the park gates – just asking to be touched.
On the road, the cafes are full of morning brunchers – we're gentrified around here, don't you know, and it's a thing to go out for breakfast.
Not for us. We turn the corner to our street and head home past our garden pots where the first spring bulbs are already poking up their noses.
It's soup season about here – carrot, sweet potato, ginger – the pot is permanently on the stove.
Yes, winter is coming but in our hearts, we're already dreaming of spring.