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Katlin Profile
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Walking Alone


I recently read "Gated Community IV" Ange Mlinko, in which she discusses Anne Finch's poem "A Nocturnal Reverie" and writes:

A woman walking alone in safety at night; a woman allowed to be absorbed in her own thoughts under the stars. This seems a benchmark of civilization to me.

Outside as I write this the Pennsylvania sky is clear indigo.* Given how many places I’ve lived in, I think I can attest to the uniquely pure, saturated hue of twilight in the Keystone State. When I was a sullen teenager in my parents’ house I used to walk at dusk and after dark in Valley Forge National Park. Its stunning panorama of rolling hills and tree stands, whence the dark would rise, was where some of my very first poems originated. Encroached on all sides by housing developments, commercial industrial parks and highways, the conservancy of this land always seemed vulnerable to developers and their interests.

It is not nearly as private a place as the Kent estate would have been for Anne Finch—and the fact that the footpaths were well populated by joggers and bikers and dog-walkers meant that I was relatively safe to dwell on my own thoughts, without constantly looking over my shoulder. Though one bleary day when I was alone on a stretch of path hard by some reconstructed log cabins, a homeless man emerged with his pants down (I beat a hasty retreat). No, the Park was not a place of absolute protection and contemplation. That’s partly why reading “A Nocturnal Reverie” feeds a strong fantasy of female safety in a place of “sedate content”—


http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2010/04/gated-community-iv/

Last summer an abandoned railroad track near my home was converted into walking and bike trail. The rail trail opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, attended by local politicians and a photographer from the local newspaper. I’ve walked the trail with friends and can walk it alone on clement days when the parking lot is full, but I wouldn’t walk it alone on less busy days and certainly not at night. When I was in the third grade, my stepdad moved the family out of the city and to the “boonies.” Over the years I’ve come to appreciate what a boon living in the boonies really was. I could ride my bike far and wide and sleep out in a stand of pines behind a friend’s house, no streetlight or a parent in sight, but now I feel no such freedom.

One summer afternoon a number of years ago, I went walking with a friend at The Poet’s Walk, a two mile trail which ambles through woods to a meadow overlooking the Hudson. “I wish I could come here by myself,” I said to my friend, “but I couldn’t. “No,” he said, “you shouldn’t.” The next morning when I read the newspaper I discovered that the day before a woman and her seven year old daughter had been bound with wire and raped on a trail in a nature preserve not far from where we were. Roadblocks, dogs and helicopters were brought in. Authorities suspected serial rapist in the area and provided a witness sketch of the man, but to my knowledge, no one was ever apprehended. I’ve always thought that what I felt that day on The Poet’s Trail was more than necessary caution. It seemed to me that the fear and pain of the nearby rape victims was in the air, and somehow I sensed it.

In the uncivilized world in which we live, my inability to walk alone is a trivial complaint by one already living in a gated community, "in a calm protected world, exactly like [a] netted fish,"* and yet the fantasy of female—and male—“safety in a place of ‘sedate content’” persists.

*from Carolyn Forche's "Ourselves or Nothing"

Last edited by Katlin, Apr/23/2010, 10:22 am
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pjouissance Profile
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Re: Walking Alone


Ooh, that idea really hits home, Katlin. Wow, it would be the ultimate, to be able to walk at night alone in an isolated place without fear. It's the one thing I really envy about men -- they don't have the fear (not that fear of running into another human, anyway -- we're all afraid of a pack of wolves). I'd rather run into a bear than a guy on such a trail. I don't even hike alone in such a place during the day for that reason. I don't walk home from the store at night in my own neighborhood, in fact. I have learned my lessons like most women.

Cars have made us freer. That's why Saudi Arabian women can't drive--they could get away from the home control then, and not fear going directly into the control of the street predators.

It's such a basic ingrained fear I don't even think about it any more. I only remember it now and then when I find myself in a city like Haarlem or Kailua or a few other places where the mores are different and women alone after dark aren't considered fair game.

Thanks for the posting!

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Christine98 Profile
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Re: Walking Alone


Me too, Kat. Almost crazy-making to realize the existential threat that dogs the condition of being female. Well, that was a weird statement--don't know how else to say it.

Chris
Apr/24/2010, 8:31 am Link to this post Send Email to Christine98   Send PM to Christine98
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: Walking Alone


Damn, Kat. I am reading along, thinking I know this to be true, but realizing I don't know this in my soma the way a woman does. Then I remember times when walking the deep forest on mountain sides in WA. In winter cougars tend to come down looking for prey. If spotted the word gets spread. Those were times when my walks were taken with the almost palpable predator fear. One such winter walk I took with my daughter. She kept wanting to stray out a little too far away from me. I remember still just how heightened my sense of the immediate environs was that day.

Maybe fitting punishment for stalkers and predators would be to get air dropped into a wilderness such as Yellowstone for a couple of weeks, maybe a month, or for long enough to let them somatically know fear.

And the part about the freedom cars give women also rings true. I can still see my mother driving her '57 Plymouth on the highways of FL to visit one sibling or another, often late at night. Riding with her her sense of ease was clear.

Tere
Apr/24/2010, 1:03 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Katlin Profile
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Re: Walking Alone


Hi guys,

I'm glad this resonated with you. Mlinko's piece put into words feelings I've been I've been struggling with for years and which got reawakened with the advent of spring.

Many years ago, I spent a summer with a boyfriend who was stationed at the airbase in Biloxi. When the dirty waters of the Atlantic put a damper on my plans to spend my days at the beach, I occupied some of my free time by tutoring two women from Saudi Arabia, whose husbands were also stationed at the airbase as part of a military exchange program. Among other things, I used to take the two woman to the library in Gulfport to pick up books for them to read. "Just us?" they asked before the first trip. "Just us," I said, hoping like hell I could manage the stick shift I had just learned how to drive, much to my boyfriend's chagrin, in an empty parking lot. Good thing I was no longer in the rolling hills of western PA is all I gotta say.

One day--I can't remember if it was at the beginning or end of Ramadan--they shared a meal with me. I enjoyed the food, which as I recall was served out of a communal bowl and eaten without the usual utensils. I also recall one funny conversation when we discussed waxing. Isha and Khadisha (I hope I'm spelling that right) thought it odd that I shaved my legs but didn't wax my forearms. emoticon The thing I remember best, however, was our final conversation. Both women were hoping to learn how to drive and had just about convinced their husbands that they should be allowed to do so. They told me they would miss me, and Khadisha said, "We are like sisters." When I asked them what they thought about America, Khadisha, opened her arms and said, "I love America. In America, I am free."

I have often wondered what happened to them--if they learned how to drive and how they fared when they returned to their own country, where "just us" taking a jaunt to the local library was just out of the question.

Last edited by Katlin, May/12/2010, 11:48 am
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Terreson Profile
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Re: Walking Alone


Good story, Kat. I can't imagine living in a country or society in which I could not freely have commerce with women.

Tere
Apr/30/2010, 6:47 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 


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