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All Day I’ll Go A-Wanderin’

By LC Van Savage

It was inevitable I guess, my wanting to start using a walking stick. I was on a shoot for our TV show Incredible Maine up in Acadia, and my sadistic producer and director thought it would be a wonderful idea for me to hike along the seaside rocky trails with a lot of tanned, muscular people who obviously lift weights and run and do Tai Chi and eat tofu and spend every free moment in a gym where they grunt horribly as they work out on the machines and then stand rigidly still for hours staring at their images in those large, unforgiving mirrors.

So there I was, out of shape and out of breath following along behind a wildly enthusiastic Park Ranger as she told all of us about the wonders of Acadia Park, and wonders they are. But this Park Ranger didn’t honor her early pledge back in her Brownies days to always tell the truth because she swore to me that this particular trail would be flat. Flat! Sure, it went flat down steep rocky trails and flat up the other side. I thought I’d have a coronary, maybe two, and began to wonder how they’d get an ambulance up those trails to haul me out of there. Well, I reasoned, that was their problem so I soldiered on, my legs gradually turning to warm marmalade.

I found up there in all that green glory overlooking that fabulous blue diamond ocean, that the sight of the smallest step, loose rock or protruding root would send me into a rapid panic attack because I just knew if I accidentally put my foot on it I’d go flying, and actually did a couple of times. I’ve always had an inner ear/vertigo problem but as I approach the prime of my life and start to have the time of my life, I find my balance ain’t what it used to be and it used to be really, really bad. Even looking up a staircase can cause me to flop over backwards, and that’s never a pretty sight. I don’t so much mind the flopping over onto the floor, but I do so hate the getting up part.

So on that day as I hiked and panted along behind that hard bodied uniformed prevaricator, the ever so enthused and fully informed Park Ranger, I found myself seriously depending on the kindness of strangers, great hulking men who often grabbed me and boosted me up those three or four inch escarpments. I was able with some huge embarrassment to make it to the end of that trail from hell and safely onto a beautiful road covered with lovely, smooth asphalt. It was time, I decided as I collapsed into the producer’s car hoping they hadn’t filmed my struggles, to get myself a walking stick. A staff. Not a cane. The great anthropologist Margaret Mead, my hero of heroes broke her hip (or something) and proudly leaned on a tall staff to help her walk so she wouldn’t be seen hunching over a cane. I worshipped Margaret Mead so a staff/stick it would be. Hey, there were men and women a third of my age using them that day on that steep flat root and loose rock strewn trail at Acadia, so why not I??

I got one, it’s red, and I plan on using it everywhere. Even downtown. Even to the supermarket. The dentist’s. Everywhere except the shower. (I’ll get an in-tub one for that.) I have two walking staffs actually. One is a beautiful big thick wooden stick, and let’s face it, a good thing to have in case I need a weapon to swing at and dispatch an angry, hungry wild creature as I stride confidently along life’s byways. The other is metal, adjustable height, thin and strong and a bit less ostentatious. Today I notice that some people use two of them for exercise as they walk, a sort of summer-Macadam skiing. I may try that. I’m old enough now to not care if people laugh at me. Ha. They’ll see. Their time will come!

I recall that my father loved strolling with a cane although he never actually needed one. He just liked the look of it, loved thwacking bushes, cats, dogs and recalcitrant children out of the way as he walked briskly and proudly through his neighborhood. He’d stroll about doing his greatly annoying and enormously embarrassing imitations of his two heroes, John Wayne and W. C. Fields, using his cane with all that sort of British flourishing, shouting “My little Chickadee”, or “Move ‘em out, Pilgrim.” Life could be hell during my father’s constitutionals with that cane and those dreadful impersonations. He insisted his children join him. Was that abuse? Looking back, I definitely think so.

I’ve got my walking sticks, and now I know if my foot hits a small stick or rock on my road, I won’t panic and crumple to the ground. I’ll just keep on walking proudly forward, leaning on my treasured walking stick, keeping my balance, no longer tipping over, and prepared to thwack all who cross my path. Fal de Ri, Fal de Ra everyone! My knapsack’s on my back.

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