An image of The Long Walk from the early 1900s. (Photo courtesy thamesweb.co.uk)
Back in mid-April of 2007, I woke before sunrise in a hotel in the shadow of Windsor Castle and tiptoed out to run while Morgan and the kids slept. It was the final day of our family’s Spring Break trip to England. Having no clear idea of where I was headed, I found a trail to a wide strip of grass that stretched like a never-ending rectangular green carpet from the castle’s side gate. I had stumbled upon The Long Walk, the name Charles II gave the route in the 1680s.
Parallel rows of symmetrical trees bordered the neatly mowed lawn, and a wide paved path extended straight down its middle for more than two miles. It was the carriage road, where centuries of processions rode and marched up to the gates, and I stood there virtually alone, dazzled by the dreamy view of the pink-tinged sunrise on the colossus castle that belonged in a fairy tale. Then I sprinted that path all the way to the gates, where a little old lady dressed in a proper navy blue uniform, her gray hair in a bun, happened to be stepping out of a guard’s booth.
I stopped to watch as she slowly but surely walked to the center of the gold-tipped gate that towered above her diminutive frame. She reached in her pocket and pulled out an ancient-looking iron ring that dangled a giant skeleton key, and then she used both hands to turn the key in the lock and push back the iron wall, allowing me to imagine what it would be like to enter as a royal guest. Then she stood more upright, her duty for the morning — probably a duty she had performed for decades, following protocol of centuries — complete.
I distinctly remember lingering at that moment to take in all the details because I felt certain it was a magical, once-in-a-lifetime run never to be repeated. I had a sense then that I wouldn’t, couldn’t return to that spot, and I thus experienced the bittersweet feeling of anticipatory nostalgia — of paradoxically missing something at the same moment it happens, which enhances the experience with appreciation yet also siphons off the fulfillment with a sense of loss.
So why am I recounting this now? Because the other day I returned there for another sprint and experienced the joy of rediscovering a place. (more…)