The squirrels — especially the west Lawrence ones — know Janet Burnett-Huchingson’s chief complaint.
Walking down a cul-de-sac is like a Mizzou Tiger walking down memory lane of great championship basketball triumphs — it just doesn’t get you anywhere.
“It is hard walking down a street that ends in a dead end,” Janet says.
But she does it. Janet is working on a goal of walking along every street in the Lawrence city limits, and Lawrence’s large population of squirrels are her most frequent companions. Janet walks during the daytime hours when most of us are working, at school or taking care of other business.
“There are the squirrels, and a lot of porch cats, too,” Janet says. “I have a lot of good conversations with porch cats.”
You don’t have to be a squirrel to think her quest is a bit nutty. One of Janet’s recent walks drew more attention than normal, in part, because a Journal-World photographer was tracking her like a paparazzi who had lost his car keys. Both Janet and the photographer were walking down the middle of a Brook Creek neighborhood street.
“What’s going on here?” one resident who was in his front yard asked.
Janet told him she was on a quest to walk along every city street in Lawrence.
“Because,” Janet said. “I want to live until I’m old.”
Maybe not so nutty after all. Janet, a 74-year-old retired teacher, has gotten a good part of her quest done. She pulls out a worn map full of orange highlighted streets that she’s already traveled. Large parts of Lawrence east of Iowa Street are marked off. Lots of nice straight lines that she’s traveled. West Iowa Street is less colorful and a lot more curvy.
“Nobody asked my opinion about how to build this side of town,” Janet says of west Lawrence. “For my purpose, straighter streets would have been nice.”
Janet started walking in October because she and her husband planned on booking a trip to Scotland, where hiking was going to be a major part of the vacation.
“I figure before I spend a whole lot of money, I had better figure out whether I can walk 7 miles per day,” she says.
But that trip was several soles ago. The couple returned from Scotland in May, but Janet has kept on walking, although she did slow some during the heat of the summer. Perhaps she found that while it may be rough on soles, it is good for the soul.
Ask Janet about the condition of the city’s sidewalks, and she says they are really pretty good, which is an opinion that is not shared by many pedestrian advocates. It does not seem to faze her that she’s giving her answer while we’re walking down the middle of a street because there are no sidewalks on either side.
Ask Janet about one of her favorite things about walking, and she’ll talk about the peaceful nature of it. I’m lucky to hear her because there are dogs barking so fiercely that I would soak my socks if one of them figured out how to break through the fence.
Ask Janet — who grew up in Lawrence and then returned about 13 years ago — what she’s learned about the community she’s seeing step by step, and she has a simple answer.
“It is still a really pretty town,” she says.
Never mind that we’ve already walked through two yards with unmowed grass almost up to our knees.
But you know what? Maybe I ought to walk more. If Janet is any indication, a good walk doesn’t just lighten the scale — it also removes a little weight from your shoulders and lets you see the world the way it ought to be. In case you haven’t noticed, it has been a little crazy in Lawrence lately, so we all probably could benefit from a good walk.
Janet says folks probably would enjoy it more than they think. You never know where a good walk will take your mind. When she was walking North Lawrence streets, lots of memories of the 1951 flood came back to her. Bad times, but lots of folks came together from that.
Then there are parts of town that she doesn’t have any memories of at all because she’s never been there before, and probably never would be there if she were just driving around in a car.
“I’ve been on a lot of streets that I’ve never heard of,” she says.
By winter, though, she hopes to have heard of them all. She thinks she’ll have completed her quest, if she continues on her pace of walking 3 or 4 miles per day for three or four days per week.
“But they are starting to build more streets on me now,” she notes.
But that’s OK. It is just more place to get to know, and Janet says that has been one of the lasting lessons of this quest.
“It is good to have a sense of place,” she says.
Especially if it includes a straight street and a few friendly squirrels.
— Lawhorn’s Lawrence focuses on the people, places or past of Lawrence and the surrounding area. If you have a story idea, send it to Chad at firstname.lastname@example.org.