I’ve settled into a morning routine, an essential part of which is my morning walk. I rise at 5:15 AM, make breakfast which consists of tea and toast with marmalade. In the winter I also eat porridge made with oatmeal I’ve steeped overnight. For half an hour, while taking my tea and toast, I read either a novel or the New Yorker magazine. Since the election it’s the novel I’ve favored, since the New Yorker gave me the comforting impression that Trump would be easily defeated. Now my faith in its wisdom has been seriously shaken. My reading occupies me until 6 AM at which time I go for my walk.
I have two routes I alternate between. The first takes me through what I consider to be my neighborhood’s Little Italy. That may be a bit convoluted since the town of Nutley is seen by many as one big Little Italy, if that makes any sense. The other route is for me, in the early hours of the morning, particularly while still dark, a microcosm of an enchanted world. It would be quite understandable if those of you acquainted with Nutley reread that last sentence to check you haven’t misunderstood it. As far as I’m aware, the word Nutley and the notion of enchantment have rarely, if ever, been encapsulated in a single sentence.
The route takes me from Hay Avenue, along Washington Avenue to Nutley Avenue. These street names will have no significance to most who read this, but I ask for your indulgence because for me, an uncommon suburban walker, there’s a sort of poetry in the names of streets. I follow Nutley Avenue to the top of the hill and make the turn onto Tennis Place, a short street leading to Highfield Lane which takes me back downhill to Walnut Street, then to Grant Avenue, through the Washington Avenue intersection to Villa Place, returning to Hay Avenue and home. My route is a sort of figure eight loop that’s about a mile and a half in distance.
If you have failed to see the poetry in those street names, and are impatiently waiting to enter my world of enchantment relief is at hand.
First off, the act of walking through silent, deserted streets in the early morning darkness in itself conjures up an atmosphere of enchantment. The magic begins more tangibly shortly after the turn onto Nutley Avenue. That’s where the witch’s house sits. You can tell if she’s up and about if the red porch light is on and the lamp with the bare red light bulb is illuminated in the kitchen window. On the coldest of winter mornings she can be seen in her winter coat standing stock still in the middle of the road, a thick shawl draped around her shoulders. She carries a walking stick and will stand motionless for many minutes pointing the stick directly at a neighbor’s house as if willing a spell on it. And if you walk by as she stands there she will point the stick at you, following your progress as you move along the road. There is a mysterious significance in the pointing of the stick which must be maintained even in her absence. In the front yard she will set up lawn chairs each one propping up a long narrow piece of wood, a walking stick surrogate, pointing in a very specific direction. One morning as I walked past her house she was nowhere to be seen, but through the silence I heard the faint sound of what seemed like the voice of a little girl. I looked more closely, and there in the shadows far back in the driveway stood the strange old woman. Whenever I approach the house I do so with a mix of caution and vigilance. The possibility of her presence is quite disconcerting.
Further on up the avenue, a happier more reassuring sight awaits. Overlooking our little magic kingdom, Nutley’s very own Sleeping Beauty Castle stands proudly and garishly on the hillside, festooned with brightly burning lamps and further illuminated by an array of spotlights, these lights shining all night long even though no one is there to be impressed by the spectacle. As I walk by I’m convinced I can hear the frantic ticking of the electricity meter as it registers the proud home owner’s humble contribution to global warming. Since no one else is around at this time in the morning, perhaps I should leave the master of the house a note thanking him for keeping the lights on for me, and me alone.
Soon the mysteries and marvels of Nutley Avenue are left behind, and I now come to Highfield Lane. The name itself is very misleading. It conjures up a vision of a charming narrow English country lane winding through a quaintly picturesque landscape. It’s far from being that, but it is undoubtedly one of Nutley’s most handsome thoroughfares, a wide avenue lined with grand houses all with spacious well-tended yards. For me its greatest feature is Grace Episcopal Church, located on the crest of the hill. On viewing it you feel it has been magically transported from the English countryside of the 18th century. With its high Gothic bell tower, its slate roof and low walls formed around a courtyard with a lovely well-manicured lawn, in the pre-dawn light it exerts an indefinable and mysterious allure. It would make the perfect setting for an illicit romantic tryst in a Jane Austen novel.
I have no religious beliefs to speak of, but for some reason over the years I have been drawn to this church. Whenever I walk in Nutley, I always try to include it on my route. I’m not exactly sure what the attraction is, but it does evoke a number of emotions in me. Its old style architecture and setting transport me to a cozier, peaceful, more orderly world which is in stark contrast to the chaos and fast-paced life of contemporary suburban America. And, to be perfectly honest, there is unquestionably a spiritual allure there as well. Maybe not a desire to find God, but the recognition that life does have a spiritual dimension, and in some strange way it is infused in the presence and appearance of Grace Church itself. And yes, I do have the urge to attend a church service there just for the experience of it, but so far I have never acted upon it. Maybe I’m influenced by the irrational thought that by participating in a Church of England service I am somehow being a traitor to my Scottish Presbyterian upbringing.
I’ve digressed a little here, but I hope I’ve shown how the witch’s house, Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and the old Gothic church together have created this enchanted world my early morning walk takes me through. All too soon it’s back to reality. I return home to the ritual of shaving and showering, and then the rush to dress and prepare myself for the day ahead. The confines of the office cubicle await…