Runners, fast walkers, strollers -- if you make your way around the track of Greensburg's Lynch Field regularly, as I have, you hobnob with them all.
Even on frosty days the hardiest participants are there, barely missing a beat of their cadence as they sidestep icy patches. Some pass me quickly with a flash of greeting, their arms chugging like piston rods and feet propelling them forward with each precise step.
For others, it is an exercise in sociability, matching strides with a companion. Their arms flag, their tongues wag as they share bits and pieces of their day with a rhythm that is snappy.
The frail ones move at a snail's pace, cautious on their arduous journey. They secure each step with a cane extended from one hand while the other clutches the arm of a help mate. Speedy sprinters often smile, encouraging the struggler with a "thumbs up," noting their progress as they pass.
They don't stop to question the origin of this painstaking attempt, though they may wonder: a stroke perhaps, or an accident? The relationship they share is confined to an approximate mile, not the ins and outs, nor the length and breadth, of each one's life or years.
Yet there is a kinship among these strangers. Each knows the path well -- ice slicks in winter, puddles that collect from melting snow in spring, even the iron sewer cap that protrudes above the asphalt, lying unnoticed to catch the toe of a Nike, perhaps, or a Rockport.
Squirrels dart close, their furry tails frisking side to side while walkers with a "soft touch" break stride to toss a handful of peanuts from a pocket toward those eager rodents. Near the creek, honking ducks waddle to the path's fringe, knowing a sympathetic sojourner will offer kernels of corn or seeds.
Freedom! There is freedom in this brief pursuit of exercise. Cares are abandoned as trackers inhale the sweetness of a spring breeze or revel in the sun's all-encompassing summer warmth.
Unrestricted movements are possible with loose-fitting apparel: the sweats, fleeces, shorts and T-shirts sporting messages. Some bare-limbed sprinters skip beyond the constraints that dipping temperatures might dictate. They fly past freely in tank tops and skimpy shorts.
It's come as you are. Come when you please. Come! It's recess during school.
Except for endurance and speed, all are equal here. No costly membership fees, no test to pass. Teachers, businessmen, retirees, students -- ages and careers don't matter at Lynch Field.
Early risers greet the dawn. They huff and puff past the arena where ice, plowed from the skating rink, is piled nearby even on hot days.
Beyond is the parking lot, then the path that leads to Five Star Trail and the swimming pool. Next comes the stone-simulated restroom building, the butterfly garden, the Black Hawk helicopter on display, the kids' play yard and the bleachers facing the baseball diamond. Finally, the rear of the feed store and a second parking lot complete the track. Along the way, visitors rest and sip coffee from thermoses while seated at a picnic table or bench.
Evening darkens the gray paths and surrounding trees shadow the snaking segments. A sign says, "Park Closes at Dusk." A quiet eeriness quickens the step of those who take a final lap. Sounds become ominous, punctuated frequently by a clacking train atop the nearby hill.
What does night bring to this park after the daytime activity has disappeared? Do rabbits and deer come to nibble grass as frogs and crickets serenade? Do space ships land in quiet secrecy for a brief look around? Do ghosts and goblins float and dance above the dewy field while garbed in robes of billowing white?
Who knows? Who cares? Certainly not those joggers and walkers who lie in bed, deep in slumber, renewing their energy. It matters not what happens during those post-midnight hours, for they will soon come refreshed and prepared to claim Lynch Field as their own once again.intelligencer
Charlotte Obert of Mt. Lebanon, a former elementary school teacher, can be reached at email@example.com.The PG Portfolio welcomes "Raves" submissions about a favorite local place or experience. Send your writing to firstname.lastname@example.org; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein: 412-263-1255.