Just as there are Easter Christians and Christmas Christians — worshipers who attend church only on high religious holidays — so I have neighbors who seem to take walks only in spring and autumn, when the weather is best for a stroll.
Because my doctor and my dog make me do it, I try to walk each morning of the year, even on days when heat or cold makes exercise more of an obligation than a pleasure. My walks connect me with other diehards, too. Each spring and fall, our ranks swell with newcomers eager to enjoy the pleasant air. There’s a boost in traffic along the sidewalk at the start of January, when New Year’s resolutions nudge the earnest to exercise more. By February, as good intentions fade, our informal walking club usually returns to its customary membership.
I say none of this to imply that I’m spiritually better than the fair-weather walkers I see on mild days. Equating exercise with virtue is a dubious form of pride, since there will always be lots of other people who exert their bodies longer, faster or more diligently than you do. As aerobic routines go, my morning saunters wouldn’t leave Richard Simmons or Jane Fonda very impressed.
I welcome the arrival of unfamiliar faces on my local walking route each October. Their presence is a high compliment to the perfection of early autumn days, when the air is neither too muggy nor too chilled, but just right.
Balance is what we like best about fall. The season officially starts with the autumn equinox, an astronomical phenomenon in which the days are divided perfectly between hours of light and darkness. The thought of a day poised so gracefully, like an acrobat atop a tightrope or a see-saw at dead-level, is a nice mental picture to cherish when so much else in the world seems topsy-turvy.
The autumn equinox arrived this year on Sept. 22, prompting me to read up on seasonal astronomy in two of Hans Augusto Rey’s books — “The Stars: A New Way to See Them” and “The Constellations.”
Rey, who died in 1977, is best known for providing the “Curious George” books with his wife, Margret, who died in 1996. But Hans Rey also wrote about astronomy for grown-ups and kids alike, pursuing an interest in stars he developed as a soldier in World War I. To pass the time in the field during his military service, Rey observed the heavens. Finding the existing guides to astronomy lacking, he wrote his own, using words and pictures simple enough for a wide audience to grasp.
I like the idea that Rey could find a respite from the messiness of war by looking for pleasing patterns in the night sky. I also like the way that Rey’s publisher uses the same typography and banana-yellow color scheme for his astronomy books that readers first came to know in his “Curious George” stories.
Whether he was writing for youngsters or adults, Rey’s abiding theme was the connection between curiosity and joy.
It’s a way of thinking I try to keep handy in these early days of fall, ambling down the sidewalk and wondering how many new people I’ll meet.