Opinion: My human-size piece of the world

Published: 7/2/2022 8:02:53 AM
Modified: 7/2/2022 8:00:13 AM

Parker Potter is a former archaeologist and historian, and a retired lawyer. He is currently a semi-professional dog walker who lives and works in Contoocook.

As twenty-first century Americans, even here in New Hampshire, we live in a world that is big, fast and full of information. In our world, it’s oddly easy to lose sight of people, and by people, I mean specific individual human beings.

Happily, I have found a solution.

Nearly every morning, I walk four or five laps around a one-mile loop in Contoocook, where I’ve lived for about thirty years. I started walking after I retired in the fall of 2019, largely to avoid turning into a sofa-bound Jabba the Hutt.

My typical day involves walking three dogs who belong to families who live along my loop and then coming home to write a Facebook post about my sidewalk adventures. I have never felt more grounded, more alive, or more like a human being.

The key, I think, is experiencing a human-sized piece of the world, my one-mile loop, at a human pace, i.e., no faster than my two feet can carry me.

By experiencing my human-sized slice of the world at a human pace, I have met many neighbors and have made some very good friends. About a year into my daily walks, a woman who had seen me pass by her house several hundred times asked me whether I would be interested in walking her dog, who was recovering from a misunderstanding with a moving car. I have been walking Molly ever since.

After seeing me with Molly, two more families have asked me to walk their dogs, including the family of my daughter’s former JV basketball coach. So now, every day that weather permits, I walk a mile with Molly, a mile with Fiona, and a mile with Annabelle.

In exchange, the families of my canine friends give me kid-made artwork, produce from their gardens, homemade baked goods (usually gluten-free so that my wife can enjoy them, too), and fresh eggs. It’s an economy of love and friendship.

On my walks, I often bump into a fellow who used to practice medicine with a good friend of my wife’s. He and I talk politics. Sometimes, I bump into a man whose daughter graduated from high school with my daughter. He and I share proud dad stories.

My loop takes me through the high school parking lot where I often see teachers who once taught my daughter. They always ask about her. Last fall, when teachers often took their students out of the building for mask-break walks, one girl, who could see my big white beard, even at a distance, always called out “Hi, Santa.”

Then one day (the correct day, I might add) the high school band, which was practicing outside, broke into “Happy Birthday” when I walked by.

Every day I exchange greetings and waves with any number of pedestrians and motorists, and I couldn’t begin to tell you half of their names. Several people who work at the grocery store where I get my post-walk orange juice ask me about the dogs they see me walking, and the folks who work behind the counter at the cafe where I get my post-walk donut know that I prefer the maple-frosted ones.

In short, when I’m walking my loop, it feels like I’m wrapped in a warm cozy blanket of community.

One Sunday morning when I walked by the high school field hockey field, I saw a friend of mine leading a practice session for a group of youngsters. A week before that, my friend’s field-hockey-star daughter had graduated from high school. But there was my friend, helping coach up the kids who will be following in her daughter’s footsteps.

I was so moved by my friend’s generosity of spirit that when I happened to see a heart-shaped stone on the ground in front of me, I picked it up and put it on the driver’s seat of my friend’s car. Worried that she wouldn’t know what to make of the rock in her car, I hurried home to my laptop to send my friend a message. But she had already sent me a Facebook message with a picture of the stone and a note asking whether I was the one who had left it.

Things like this happen to me all the time because I spend two or three hours a day experiencing a human-sized world at a human pace. While this all happened for me after I retired, I’m not suggesting that everyone should step out of the workforce and start walking their neighbors’ dogs.

However, I suspect that there are plenty of things that you can do to experience a piece of the world that fits and to do so at a pace that allows you to experience your own version of the unexpected joys I find every day on my little loop in Contoocook.

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