The Working Waterfront

Uphill and downhill—walking off feelings

A loss prompts unplanned jaunt and reflection

By Courtney Naliboff
Posted 2023-07-25
Last Modified 2023-07-25

One day in April, I became very sad and took a long walk.

I was sad because one of our cats died suddenly, about which I will only say that he was old, had a wonderful life, and was spared any long illness or infirmity. I took my long walk in the afternoon on the day we lost him because I’ve found it’s the best way to process any sort of change and find some semblance of emotional resolution.

It was an overcast day, with an appropriate amount of drizzle to match my mood. I turned right out of my driveway and walked quickly down the stretch of South Shore Road between my house and the corner. Instead of turning left to visit the cows, which seemed a little too cheerful and heartwarming for my mood, I kept walking straight down North Shore. I marched myself past the airstrip, considered turning around at Oak Hill Farm, realized I still had feelings to burn, and kept going.

The next stretch of road curves upward with alternating views of hardwoods and ocean. My march turned into a trudge. It’s impossible to see the top of that hill until you’re upon it, where it’s marked by two of Orlando Johnson’s painted lobsters on the barn doors of a family house. I paused at the lobsters, checked for cars, and crossed the road to begin my walk home.

In a different emotional state I might have let my thoughts wander, not giving any consideration to the comfort and ease I felt in my body…

As is often the case, the walk back down the seemingly interminable hill felt like a brisk and easy jaunt compared to the slog of a few minutes ago. In a different emotional state I might have let my thoughts wander, not giving any consideration to the comfort and ease I felt in my body, the pleasure with which I could observe my surroundings on this gentle downward slope.

But today, hyper focused as I was on my feelings, I realized that this is the case not only on a walk or run, but in our day to day lives. We notice and comment on the things that feel difficult, hard, not to our liking. We are less inclined to mark and observe the things that feel good and easy.

I assume this is because we tend to share opinions when we want something to change, not when we want it to stay the same. I’ve never written to a politician to say, “Keep up the good work!” It’s rare that the school receives positive feedback about anything, really, but we hear plenty when someone’s displeased.

Giving attention to what doesn’t work is important, but without a balance of positive feedback we either feel like we’re complaining all the time, or like we can’t do anything right.

The last leg of my walk went steeply upwards again, ending at my driveway. Tired as I was, it was tempting to let that last climb color my impression of the entire excursion, but over the several miles I’d walked there had been plenty of both effort and ease. I’d been rained on, but I’d also heard songbirds. I walked with sorrow and beauty and could hold and acknowledge them both.

Courtney Naliboff lives on North Haven where she teaches music, theater, and writing at the school.