I once had a professor, who was fond of criticizing uninspired, half-hearted student efforts as “pedestrian,” in the sense of humdrum and unimaginative.
That’s actually the original meaning of the word, back in the days of the Roman Empire, where I think the professor lived his happiest days. Dull and drab. Just your basic wage-earning proletarians, plodding along, rather than the patricians and equestrians, racing on horseback to the Colosseum or an uptown bacchanalia.
In Boston, my recent home, I learned that “pedestrian” is also synonymous with “victim,” in the sense of someone mad enough to venture out on foot, among the city’s psychopathic drivers. Stop signs mean nothing to these people, sidewalks do not curb them, you cannot claim sanctuary, you’re always fair game.
To be on foot in Boston is simply asking for it. Like the poor schmoes with walk-on roles in Ben Hur, getting shoved in front of a chariot race, or tipped into the lion’s den. On foot in Boston traffic, you’re just dipped in gravy and dropped into a cage of weasels.
So walking is not the relaxing pastime it used to be. Sometimes in the parks around Upstate NY, we’ll be the only ones walking – – jumping off the path as off-road bicyclists race past, with helmets and carbon fiber chariots. OK, to each their own. They’re having fun, non-motorized, so happy to see them enjoying the outdoors. We look for trails that are too narrow and strewn with fallen tree trunks for bikers, and continue on our plebian way.
And the stretch of woods we walked through, here at summer’s close, was pretty “pedestrian,” – – just middling-size maples, average ash, basic beeches, a handful of hemlocks, hummocky swamps with ferns beginning to turn brown.
But when we took a break and sat down, there were wonderful miniature landscapes of moss and fungi.
It was getting toward sundown and the tiny mushrooms seemed to glow.
Well, speaking as a groundling, worm’s-eye views are sometimes pretty neat!
Although, I guess technically, these are more bird’s-eye views.
I mean, if the bird was walking, not flying.
And we’re not talking ostrich or heron, maybe about grouse-height.
Next week, we’ll address “perambulate.” Class is dismissed.
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