My grandparents had a farm right on the river in Kentucky. Appropriately named River Hill Farms, some of the fields were right down on the river, and some were across KY Route 8, on top of the hill. In fact, if you’ve ever flown into the Greater Cincinnati Airport, there’s a good chance you’ve flown over their farm.
Before they sold the land on the hilltop to airport developers, we would have to ride the tractor up to the fields. It was a steep trip, and in muddy weather, there was always a chance the tractor would slip or get stuck. You prayed that would not happen, because walking up that hill was quite a trip, especially for a small child with short legs.
I may have had to make the whole walk once, but if I did, I don’t remember. Based on that childhood experience, the idea of walking from downtown Madison up to the hilltop has always seemed, well, daunting. Today, following the recommendation of several friends, I parked my car by St. Joseph’s cemetery and headed up the hill, past the guardrail preventing cars from going through.
I’ve seen St. Joseph’s cemetery from the road before, and I’ve heard people talking about Hatcher Hill. But do you know that feeling you have sometimes when people suggest you try something new? There’s a part of you that knows it’s probably a good idea, but there’s also a part of you that would much rather just stay on the couch, in front of the warm, toasty, gas fireplace. This is where having promised a Week of Winter Walking comes in handy for motivation.
Driving up to St. Joseph’s cemetery, I felt that little rush you get when you actually do get off the couch. That sense of having discovered something new and interesting. I’d seen on Google maps that in theory, the road at the bottom of the hill and the road at the top of the hill would connect. But seeing it in on Google maps is a whole other thing from believing it will actually happen.
I stayed nice and warm on today’s walk, because it was uphill the whole way; with the temperature in the mid-30s, I still worked up a sweat. There was a scrappy little dog talking to me at the bottom of the hill and another in the woods on the other side of the creek at the top; the two of them made for nice bookends, like a Midwest version of Cerberus. As you walk up the hill, the sound of cars on 421 fades, and the sound of the creek below you takes its place. About halfway up the hill, I heard a church bell, but I couldn’t tell whether it was coming from downtown or the hilltop; it was a nice kind of ambiguity, standing there and being neither one place nor the other.
I’ll admit that when I set out on my walk, I thought, “I won’t walk all the way up to the top of the hill.” That just seemed like too much. It always does when you’re standing at the bottom looking up. I gave myself permission to stop whenever I wanted. But then I just kept going; it seemed so close. And who could resist being able to walk up out of the river valley, to have crossed from downtown to the hilltop on foot? I could not and I felt deeply satisfied to be standing at the top.
It was a beautiful walk amid the trees and the stone walls along the road. Coming back down, I tried to catch the exact moment when the sound of the waterfall at the top of the creek disappeared, but all I heard was the silence when it went away. Hatcher Hill may have been the best walk yet, even without the beer or cappuccino.
For more pictures of my Hatcher Hill walk, check out my Facebook page, here.
Two more walks to go, so I’m still looking for suggestions. If we’re very lucky, there may be a special guest post for Day Seven. Keep your fingers crossed!
P.S. The thing about walking is that it’s also writing. Sometimes I think I write my very best when I’m not writing at all–when I’m knitting or doing yoga or walking. A good walk kind of writes itself.