About a month ago Jon and I decided to embark on a morning walk while Roxy did Ballet Saturday. This is her weekly run of three-to-four, mostly back-to-back classes over Zoom that I call Ballet in the Time of Cholera, I mean COVID.
We chose Walk #7: Historic Homes in Eugene and Springfield Townscape Walks. A potentially 4.7-mile jaunt carving a rectangle of sorts around downtown Eugene and adjacent neighborhoods, the trip didn’t look like it would be terribly challenging, labeled as it is with the single, bald descriptor: FLAT.
Flat walks have taken some getting used to. We moved to Eugene from a hilly part of Los Angeles that required an immediate climb or descent every time we stepped outside the house. Good for heart-pumping cardio and the satisfaction of views well-earned, walks in the hills deliver quick rewards. Flat walks, on the other hand, creep up on you. Would you look at that: I’ve been walking kind of fast! Wow, I’ve covered some miles!
Each of us wearing our own version of coldish-weather layers (Jon in a long-sleeved shirt and a windbreaker, me in two scarves, mittens and a puffer over a sweater), we waved silent goodbyes to Roxy as she rose and lowered, rose and lowered, in her battle-scarred dance shoes before her open laptop, music tinnily marking the time.
Because of a big riverfront construction project along the Willamette, the start of the walk as described in the book wasn’t going to work. Instead, we drove across the water and parked on a side-street near Skinner Butte so that we could hop onto the mapped route.
Once out of the car, I zipped up my jacket and tightened the fluffier of my two scarves. It had rained overnight and the damp chill still clung to the morning. We headed downhill (yes, an actual “not flat” part that we inadvertently inserted by parking where we did), cutting over to the 5th Street Market shopping and eating complex, with its cheerful yellow pickup-truck-and-rooster combo welcoming visitors from the corner.
We did a small loop around the market and then ambled down 5th Street by the train station. We passed the brick backside of the great local vintage store and Farmer’s Union coffee roasters, followed by a handful of random businesses before they petered out, giving way to single family homes. “Oh we’re doing this backwards, aren’t we,” I said, staring at the photo of the book’s map on my phone. Jon nodded, reminding me of the large construction project behind us. It didn’t really matter, except that landmarks noted by our guidebook weren’t appearing when they should. I quickly clicked off the phone and slid it into my back pocket, content to just walk and “feel our way.”
A few blocks after crossing the awkwardly named Charnelton Street, we hit the presidents. Well, of course we didn’t clobber any former leaders; rather, this was the part of town where all north/south streets are named for a series of way-back-when American presidents: Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Adams, etc. There’s a Lawrence thrown in there as well, sparking both of us to ponder whether or not there was a lesser-known, one-term Whig party person we’d missed in history class (I checked later and the answer is no).
We turned left on Monroe, crossed busy 6th Street with the light, and began our stroll through one of Eugene’s older neighborhoods. Clapboard homes, some from the late 1800s or early 1900s, dotted the blocks, with newer wood structures interspersed beneath the thick tree canopy. A brightly colored Black Lives Matter sign adorned a fence; porches with welcoming chairs and plants made me eager for spring and warm weather sitting outside.
The slightly uneven, mossy path required a fair amount of careful consideration, so my eyes were already pointed down when we came upon a magical oak tree. “Look at this!” I yelped through my mask, pointing at a hollow at the base of the tree. Inside the sloping, dim space sat a tiny house, complete with white picket fence, welcome mat and a mailbox. “This is the cutest thing ever. I have to send a photo to Roxy,” I said, kneeling down and angling my phone just so.
I’ve recently realized that Eugene reminds me a lot of Austin, TX, but with rain and fewer musicians. Or at least, it reminds me of Austin as it was back in the mid-80s when we’d visit our former neighbors who moved there for an IBM job. Proudly funky, both cities have their unicyclists and hippies, their local breweries and frisbee-golf sections of the local park. In Eugene, folks just wear rain jackets over those year-round tie-dye t-shirts and Guatemalan blouses.
We made a left at 13th where Monroe dead-ends into the county fairgrounds entrance, and then a quick left-right to zigzag over to 12th. According to the book, there’s an “oldest house” at 170 E. 12th; but other than a cute sketch of the place, not a detail is provided, leading me to wonder whether it’s the most ancient house in the city, or on the block, or perhaps in author Tyler E. Burgess’ imagination. Regardless, Jon and I completely missed it. Caught in the gentle swirl of aimless, convivial conversation, we neglected to monitor the route and only casually noted a few older looking houses as block after block unfurled behind us.
So much for historic homes.
We zigzagged again to reach Hilyard and then left the map entirely in order to navigate the eastern edges of downtown back to the car. As we hoofed it up the one hill, a runner in shorts and a t-shirt loped by in the opposite direction. His form was a bit all-over-the-place — elbows jutting sideways, legs lifting high with exaggerated, extra-large steps.
“You never know what you’re gonna see around here,” yelled an older man seated in a front yard across the street.
“You sure don’t!” I returned with a wave.
The man grinned, as Jon and I rounded the corner and swished through a drift of wet leaves to the car.