THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED

Every day, since I moved to the Bay Area, I follow the winding road that passes in front of my home down one of the hills of Oakland until where the road narrows, turn and trace my path back up again. I do this for a variety of reasons- mainly to have a break from the confines of working from home that existed much before the pandemic, but also to get a new perspective on a problem, and often just to feel connected to a larger world.

Each time I make that trek up and down the mountain (which somehow doesn’t get easier or faster with time), I look for something new that differentiates this moment from all others. It could be anything- a glimpse of the bay from a slightly different angle, flowers that are starting to bloom, or the local wildlife that comes out to greet me.  Today I spotted a beautiful yellow and black butterfly that flittered among the clumps of lavender lantana that line a low stone wall in front of an English style home my husband, Keith and I had once considered buying.  As I was filming the butterfly’s dance with my phone, the owner of the house came outside to do yardwork. We chatted some, and up the hill I trudged once more.

My thoughts turned a similar moment in the spring, 6 years ago when my stepdaughter was spending the weekend with us. Eager to try out her new professional camera, she headed out to capture blossoming trees for her photography class. Less than 20 minutes later, a police officer brought her back, in tears. A neighbor had seen her on the street, photographing the local flora, and called the police. I never saw her use her fancy camera again.

She was probably on our street, but may have rounded the corner to a cute cul de sac. Last year, Keith and I wandered there on a late afternoon walk, drawn by the warm light filtering through the trees, and were chased out by a woman demanding our address.

At home, an email awaited me from a neighbor who lives on my street.  Her note was a lovely one that expressed empathy, sadness and regret for current and past events. She also invited Keith and me, once the pandemic passes, up to her house for pie.

My thoughts drifted to my dad. He, too, was a walker, and would cover miles at a stretch. I didn’t accompany him often. He was a fast walker and I was always a distracted one. I did join him whenever he eased the car out of the garage, though. An educator to his core, he met my most random questions with a patient, detailed answer or a spirited, “I don’t know. Let’s find out!” At home this involved cooking with packing peanuts, and while in the car, this meant taking previously unnoticed roads to see where they led. I now understand the quiver I heard in my mom’s voice was not irritation due to us taking 2 hours to return with a carton of milk, but instead fear of what could have happened to us, two African Americans wandering in our neighborhood on roads where “we didn’t belong”. I now have a deeper understanding and respect for my dad’s encouragement of my curiosity especially in the face of what continues to happen to African Americans conducting their daily lives, almost 50 years later.

I am hopeful that as my first Father’s Day without my dad approaches, meaningful change is on the horizon, as well as extended moments for thoughtful discussions and homemade pie.