5:00 AM Walks

Elmer the husky and I have established a new morning routine: he gets me up at 4:45 or 4:47 and a few minutes later we make our way into the darkness to walk a loop around the park.

We have yet to miss morning walk. Ice, snow, rain. Nothing deters us.

Many writers have written of walking cities after midnight, when there is entertainment in the air, but not too many write of walking cities at 5:00 AM when there is nothing entertaining going on, at least conventional entertainment.

We’ve seen a beaver, skunk, family of nutrias, blue herons, ducks and a coyote who refused to bolt for a half mile and kept looking at us from 50 yards away.

And yes, we’ve also seen homeless people, almost every morning.

I have yet to have an interaction with one, but you know it’s coming. I’ve already got a set of questions to ask someone, but you know they’ll fly out the window when the conversation begins. I never interview homeless people when I encounter them. Something just takes over in the moment and I go where I go. It’s not like any other story gathering I’ve ever experienced. Maybe that’s why I keep writing about this subject.

Mostly, I see single individuals. Several were pushing or pulling improvised carts. Several were riding bicycles. One was sleeping in a battered sedan. A few were searching for returnable cans and bottles from recycling bins. A pack of three with flashlights was rummaging through a construction site. No one was accompanied by a dog.

Elmer and I passed one homeless person on a sidewalk, a young man in his early 20s, wearing a backpack crammed with possessions. I said “good morning” when we passed. He said nothing. He never made eye contact. His face was devoid of any expression. It might have been the blankest face I’ve ever seen.

All these homeless in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Portland. At 5:00 AM in the morning in winter. Imagine this as a microcosm. I do all the time.