Plymouth Walkabout: Who is that guy and why is he sleeping on my lawn?

Call it a taste of crazy.

Last week (Sept. 12-16) was a test run, of a sort, for WalkingHome. I walked around town, camping out on people’s lawns, and spoke with their friends and neighbors about my plan to take 365 days to walk across the country to celebrate community and benefit the homeless.

It wasn’t a particularly physically challenging week. I never walked more than 10 miles in a day. The weather was wonderful: the days warm, the nights cool. But I was still taking a big risk.

What if the people that I met on this little walk hated the idea of my big walk? What if they thought me a fool for even attempting it? How would I handle rejection after nearly two years or planning?

Monday I walked from South Plymouth to Steve Fletcher’s home on Liberty Street, about 9 or 10 miles.

I don’t know Steve very well, but he had consented to holding a pot luck supper for me on the first night of my little walk – and letting me camp out on his lawn.

The pot luck part of the evening was a winner. There were about ten dishes, from an artichoke dip to a pot of baked beans to a home-made apple cake. Then someone said, “you’re on.”

I don’t remember what I said. I only know that when I stopped talking I felt encouraged, confident, and ready to sleep out under the stars.

I do remember the Sweetsers, Donald and Cynthia, who I actually had met once before, and their ‘home’ story.

They used to live in Carver, I think, on Spring Street. Then one day a state official showed up on their doorstep and announced that they would have to move. After 40 years of promises the state was actually going to turn Route 44 into a full-fledged highway and their home was sitting in the middle of a planned off-ramp.

It’s called eminent domain, and within a year Cynthia and Don were both out of work and renting their own home, from the state.

Imagine that feeling? Imagine going to sleep each night realizing that you were sleeping in the middle of a “future exit.”

It wasn’t a tragedy, but the Sweetser’s story was an important reminder, to me at least, of how delicate the bonds are that secure us to this world. It is so easy to take for granted the roof over our heads, the shoes on our feet, the  bread in our bellies but in a moment, they can all disappear. So it is all the more important that we find other ways to feel part of something larger and, for me at least, community is key.

So there I was, during this week, in search of community or, at least, in search of a broader community.

I needed to get the word out, to other than those that I have been talking to over the past several years about my big plans, my big walk.

I also needed to make sure those whom I had already told about WalkingHome, fully understood what I intended to do.

Honestly, we are all guilty of it: when we hear about some interesting idea, invention, or individual we take in only so much, as much as we need perhaps. Or as much as we are willing to let in. That’s the explanation I prefer at least for all of the people I see occasionally who, when we run into each other, exclaim, “Hey, I thought you were gone already?”

The one constant in an otherwise evolving idea of what WalkingHome will be, has been that I will leave from the West Coast in 2018 and arrive back home, in 2019. That has never changed.

So that was a secondary purpose of last week’s mini-walkabout: to clarify my intentions.

But first and foremost I wanted to start spreading the word to other people, new people, not just people that I would necessarily interact with because of work or personal interest.

So off I went, that Monday, walking from South Plymouth, up Long Pond Road, with Steve Fletcher’s home on Liberty Street – about 10 miles away – my first stop of the week.

It feels strange to walk about the hometown that you drive through almost every day. There is so much to see that you normally just breeze by. In Plymouth one of the shocks that you’ll experience is the charm of homes, and of neighborhoods. Honestly, charm can be disarming. Charm is not something that you can detect from a speeding vehicle. At 45 miles an  hour a neighborhood is often just a tap on the brakes. At 2 miles an hour you feel the slow bend in the road, you notice the variety of attention people pay to their lawns, you marvel at the decorative shingles on 100-year old homes, you tuck up against thick hedges that beg to be peeked over, you stop in your tracks to examine stained-glass inserts on heavy oak doors and furtively view a variety of almost poetic attempts to transform seed and sod  into sacred space.

I remember – I can’t seem to forget – a magazine account that I came across when I was in high school of a newly discovered ancient city, in Pakistan I think it was, where the outlines of every home, and they numbered in the thousands, showed that they were aligned to face a distant temple. Each home was then, a temple of a sort. Sacred space.

I sense that same intent, when I walk, in a hundred otherwise disconnected homes; sense at least the attempt to align with something greater.

Frosts’ “Mending Walls” comes to mind. Something there is that doesn’t love a yard, or a fence, or a walk of irregular slate stones that has been overwhelmed by grass: each yard in its own way seeks privacy, and each inevitably will fail to achieve that.

Oh hell, I’ve wandered a bit ‘afield’ here. I think I mean simply to say that I love walking through town, and seeing or sensing neighborhood or the desire for neighborhood.

When I am on my walk, when I am WalkingHome, I want to talk about your home, and your neighborhood, and reflect on the things we have in common – the beauty that we share – or where that beauty or neighborhood or home or desire for connection is denied.

I need to acknowledge how fortunate I am. I have home, and family, and a meaningful life and the awareness that at the other end of town – metaphorically speaking – there are those utterly without.

I am WalkingHome to that as well, and trying to raise funds to limit, as much as is possible, the numbers of those who live at that other end.

And so, on the first day, I came to Town Square where, if you just open your eyes you will see several benches worth of homeless, many of whom I know from my nights ‘chaperoning’ at the Task Force’s shelters.

It is worth noting that on this day at least, with everything I need (tent, sleeping  bag, snacks, fresh underwear, and electronic devices) stuffed into my backpack that a passerby would say that there is hardly a whisker’s difference between myself and the homeless men and women I see waiting with me.

We’re all killing time. I have arrived too early. I am only an hour or so walk from Steve’s house, and it is not yet 1 p.m. so I am sitting on the steps of the 1749 Courthouse, in Town Square, looking up at the shrouded Church of the Pilgrimage, the stately First Parish church, the edge of Burial Hill.

How long, I wonder sitting here, does beauty last? If I had to sit here the entire day before, lets say, the shelter opened, how long before the crooked trees and the teeth of Burial Hill, just behind me, lost their allure? How long before the blue of the water at the end of Leyden Street began to burn into my eyes?

Not long, I think.

But I was able to move on, had a destination in mind, friendly if skeptical faces waiting for me, at Steves.

How amazing this is going to be: the full walk I mean. How amazing to cast myself into the water and expect, I do expect, for a hand to reach down and jerk me up and on to dry land. 365  times this is going to happen. From the Pacific to the Atlantic this is going to happen. With the help of family, friends, colleagues and complete strangers this is going to happen.

This is how it has to happen.

Steve’s house, and those that had gathered there to meet me, was such a confirming experience. People want me to succeed. Oftentimes their first reaction is, understandably, skepticism, but once I speak with them directly and they know that I am in earnest that skepticism quickly changes to concern. They are concerned I will be hurt.  Yes, I concede, there are risks, but they pale in comparison to the beauty I will encounter, the variety of landscapes I will traverse, the people I will meet  and (a friend of mine is chiding me to stay focused) the money I will raise to build a permanent homeless shelter in Plymouth.

I honestly believe though, that my focus on community can be as powerful a force as money, can achieve as much. I want, beyond this walk, to perhaps organize a non-profit whose sole purpose would be to highlight the contributions of community organizations and to engage more people in their activities.

When you feel you are part of community you build community. I am WalkingHome to build community here – in my adopted hometown – and to celebrate the spirit of community with people across the country. And on the way ‘home’ I hope to raise a lot of money to help the homeless.

50 words, my friend Sharl keeps saying, get your message down to 50 words. That last paragraph came close.

My week walking about town also helped me come closer.

After Steve’s (where by the way I had a decidedly easy experience as he had a canopy set up on his lawn when I arrived, allowed me to use his shower, had breakfast for me the next morning and made a donation as well) I was just over a mile from my second scheduled stop – Eileen Andruk’s apartment on Water Street – so I had more time on my hands (about 9 hrs in fact).

I decided to go to Town Hall and make my case to the Town Manager, the Town Clerk, and other town officials who I knew professionally (I am, by day, a journalist).

I actually went door to door, department to department, giving out my new WalkingHome.US business cards and explaining what I was doing wandering around town that week.

That was another affirmative experience, especially in the office of the town’s Department of Marine and Environmental Affairs, where I talked with Director David Gould – or rather – David told me how much  he knows about my plans. He’s been a great supporter of many of my activities in town and has offered to walk with me when I pass through one of his favorite places in the world, the Red Rock region of Arizona.

 

… I am only a day and a half into my week of sleepovers.  So stay tuned, if you’re tuned in at all, there’s more to come.

 

 

 

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