Walking in Oxford is the way to go through life

Published 2:00 am Sunday, February 12, 2017

A good walk in Oxford is never spoiled.

Our native son and lasting literary friend proved that. Faulkner lived in what was a bit of an outpost, a few blocks from the Oxford Square, yet in the 1950s he frequently walked the handful of blocks to town, soaking in the culture along the way of those who lived here and studied upon arrival those who came to the town’s center for trade and shopping, including a diversified mix of folk who blended in the center as an epicenter of community.

But not much has changed since we have grown in almost six decades passed, providing opportunity to see this community from the soul of it all by foot, traversing the streets of Oxford, or the Ole Miss campus, and sometimes both.

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The Rev. Warren Black, our friend and retired Methodist minister who continues to work with an emeritus title that means his ministry to people continues, has a trail that he walks many days early mornings.

The trail leads as the sun gets bold enough to say hello from his home in a quiet neighborhood to the Ole Miss campus. The path leads, usually, to the Grove on campus, and he gets through the Walk of Champions on many days when most are downing their Wheaties, or equivalent.

The Rev. Black, or Warren as most know him by, keeps in his shirt pocket on a daily basis a handwritten list of those he is ministering, or hopes to minister to, and on these walks through the Oxford community and Ole Miss campus he often ponders the challenges they face, seeking solutions and offering prayers.

“There’s something about seeing the sun rise on the Grove when it is empty,” he says. “It’s beautiful.”

Another Oxford walker I see is former mayor Richard Howorth, who owns Square Books and serves on the Tennessee Valley Authority board of directors. Many mornings I look out my window and see Howorth finishing a walk at around 7 a.m., coming up a steep hill by the cemetery on his way home.

He frequently walks to the Square to work too, and sometimes rides a bicycle, which provides the same picture of Oxford and meditation in slow motion.

My first taste of walking Oxford came as a youth, when packs of friends would traverse between the University and the Square and find all kinds of delights, if not troubles in between. I remember once on a walk, at about the age of 13, friends and I found a Folgers coffee can near the sidewalk with a lid on it during a walk. I decided that kicking the can would be fun, and so I did.

A liquid spilled out of that kicked can that smelled like pure alcohol and about that time a police officer drove up. My friends and I spent maybe 15 minutes convincing the officer that we had no idea moonshine was in that can, and we only knew it was moonshine because that’s what he called it.

The moment was a victory, because the officer ultimately saw the truth. So we celebrated, even though we had nothing to do with it in the first place. But his seeing the truth made for an extra good walk.

Most days, though, we just put one foot in front of the other, and drank in Oxford.

Years later, when my wife was pregnant with our first child in 1989, we began the habit of walking two miles a day from our Buchanan Avenue home – a first home. It’s the moment we bonded with this city, emerging from one-time students to adults in the eyes of the citizenry because we connected with them in the paths we covered.

These days a good walk in Oxford is better because, with each passing year we have more history in our paths – we can walk the footsteps of so many people who traveled before in the same footprints.

If these streets could entertain Faulkner by foot, then, they can entertain the rest of us.

It always makes a bad day better and a good day great. So it is well worth the effort – the Oxford journey never spoiled.

David Magee is Publisher of The Eagle.