Guest Blogger: Erika French

“I touched one fence today,” I tell my sister.

She understands the basics of what that means since she has walked with me before. About a two mile walk in Lakeside, starting out from my home on Central Avenue, walking down Fourth Street to Oak Avenue, then down to the lake and a meander along Ohio’s Most Beautiful Mile, taking in the sites of Hotel Lakeside, the Dock and Pavilion, the Gazebo and Perry Park tennis courts. Stunning homes and cottages front the ever-changing view of Lake Erie before I turn up Popular Avenue from Second Street, hiking the steep inclines with small steps and shoulders back, remembering to breathe and nod to the walkers coming at me. I continue past Third Street, Fifth Street, the Memorial Garden and Sixth Street until I come to my touchstone, the black metal fence at the end of Popular. I reach out with a finger and press before beginning the careful descent back to Second Street prior to walking back to my home on Central.

My sister has asked me why I go all the way back to Second when I could get home a quicker way, but for me, Second is the Alpha and Omega of playing ‘Touch the Fence.’ With each avenue climbed and quick-stepped down, I add half a mile to the walk, while the actual fence-touching is acknowledging that I am halfway through a leg.

She understands that at this point it is not particularly hard for me to do, touching one fence, even though blustery winds, snow and ice. When I had started walking for my health in April of this year, I could only go to Walnut Avenue before nerve pain in my left leg sent me home.  In late spring and as the Chautauqua Season ripened, I slowly worked up from a walk to the Dock to a full circle from home along Fourth to hit Oak on one end and Popular on the other and back along Second, all the while gaining strength and putting on a full smile. I viewed smiling as my duty as a self-appointed Ambassador of Lakeside because I remembered how I loved the effervescent greetings when I visited, and also as a way to burn extra calories and work facial muscles.

Nearing the end of summer, I was able to play ‘Touch the Fence’ and even got all the way up to five fences!  Only one day, it is true, but I know I am capable of that much of huffing and puffing and regularly touching the three very different fences at the top of Popular, Elm, and Cherry has helped me get physically healthier.

Since the beginning of fall, which as all Lakesiders know begins the day after Labor Day, telling my sister how I fare in my ‘Touch the Fence’ game is a gauge of mental health as well as physical, with me trying to gather some sense out of my life as I walk and pocket autumnal rubbish.  My family is feeling the effects of legalized attrition that recently was finalized and my bruised heart finds it hard to reconcile with that reality, even more so when left indoors, so, I take my heartache on walks and I play ‘Touch the Fence,’ managing to grimace and grunt out salutations at much faster walkers and runners who lap me on a regular basis.

Recently I started a collection of roadway artifacts including acorn parts and twigs and pebbles that I either nudge with my toe or almost crush and these act as a sort of counter, a tally of effort made, becoming a permanent record of me getting outside. These small pieces speak to my recovering heart; even an empty shell gathers water, weathered on one side does not mean the other side is not still shiny and bright.

Daily, as the weather permits, I keep playing ‘Touch the Fence’ as I squirrel away my small treasures and tell my sister my score so she has one less worry.  Accumulations of ice and snow will send me to the Magruder Hospital Fitness Room at the Wellness Center since I cannot chance tumbling. But as I wander around the lake and hike up and down the hills, I pray for a late winter and an early spring, as well as calm thoughts, understanding and the will to touch just one more fence on my way to getting halfway there.