Walking Around the Reservoir

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I love to walk around the Chestnut Hill Reservoir. I take this walk during the day. I don’t go when it is dark, mainly because I worry about not seeing and then stumbling on a wayward rock. I don’t know if people are there at night or in the early morning, but I bet they are; it is such a great place to walk off a day’s worth of tension or prevent anxiety from happening in the first place.

Most important for me is the pleasure of being outside in the fresh air. The Reservoir lures me – even as I sit here writing. It beckons because I know the exhilaration in breathing the crisp environment, especially at this time of year. In the warmer months I make certain to wear a hat because I know how hot the sun can get and how it can drain my stamina. There is very little shade.

A big part of my Reservoir pleasure stems from its extreme convenience. It takes me less than five minutes to drive; I could walk, but I figure I get my exercise doing the loop. Mostly I find a spot for my car. Only once did I have trouble. There was an event going on and the parking lot was closed. I didn’t mind; the event was for a worthy cause. I just parked on Beacon Street.

It is a flat route – no huffing up and down inclines. I could challenge myself and find other more difficult walking places, and once in a while I do. But this is so easy and familiar. I try not to feel too guilty. The path around is 1.5 miles – a good walk, not strenuous and it takes me about 30-45 minutes – depending on whether I stop to chat with strangers.

The Reservoir is safe; there are always people around. It is other people that heighten my experience. They represent such wonderful diversity. There are the runners some of whom are trim, athletic and have long strides. They look great in their sleek clothing. It is not unusual for runners to pass me several times during my one lap. Then there are the slower, doggedly committed ones in raggedy shorts. Runners are mostly younger, but there are some fit elders. Still there are many older people with canes which help to keep them steady and upright.

In addition to runners there are walkers and sitters of any age. There are small cadres huddled on benches speaking in Eastern European languages. There are young couples who smile, whisper, and hug. Families with children sit and share snacks. Young mothers or fathers push baby carriages and strollers, and talk about toilet training (not that I am trying to pick up on people’s private conversations). I see women in saris and hijabs, and men with yarmulkes and ear locks (payos). In addition to Russian, I hear Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Arabic, Spanish, French, Haitian Creole, Hebrew, Italian, Portuguese, and, of course, English. The Reservoir is an international bonanza.

I have seen expressions of rejuvenation. There was a woman who ran, jumped, spread her arms, bent her body, and sometimes sang – while listening to music through earphones. I told her how beautiful and joyful she looked. She told me she was recovering from a bad period in her life and used this space and routine to help her healing.

The look of the Reservoir is predictable. The water reflects the weather conditions –blue sky and frothy clouds on nice days, but taking on an ominous steely appearance when the sky is darkened as a storm comes in. The water level is similar from one day to the next. However, on one recent walk the level was so low that I could see a stone island in the middle, messy piles of odd-shaped rocks around the shoreline, and mysterious round metal things that looked like big, rusty manhole covers. The water’s edge was heavily clotted with leaves, mostly in the dark brown stages of decay. Between the newly revealed rocks and the rotting leaves, it made me wonder what it looked like at the bottom.

Then there is the wildlife; ducks, Canada Geese, swans, and a variety of other birds that I can’t identify. They are all very cute, especially when they are caring for their chicks. However, the geese leave an abundance of poop that is so big it is hard to believe it comes from such a small animal. This is something else to avoid stepping on.

The Waterworks Museum is right across Beacon Street and I visited there recently. I learned how Boston’s need for fresh water drove the development of a vast water system over a 125-year period, and how the Reservoir fits into all of that.

These Reservoir impressions were inside my head, but I didn’t realize it until I wrote them down. What a revelation. There is a multi-layered, complex landscape sitting in my backyard, and I know it now simply because I noticed and stored these images in my mind waiting to be retrieved at this moment.


  1. Carolyn Kruger

    December 20, 2017

    Marian,Thank you for your beautiful description of such a lovely place where you can exercise and enjoy such diverse experiences!! Carolyn

  2. Carol Rose

    December 20, 2017

    Thank you for reminding me that there is a world that goes very deep within us waiting to come out if we’re only willing to be patient and write.

  3. Paula Gilbert

    December 20, 2017

    You are such a fine writer! Bravo to your talent.

  4. Eileen Shaevel

    December 23, 2017

    What an inspiration you are. Thank you for sharing that beautiful site and how uplifting it is to be there. You are fortunate to have that refuge, something we all need during these trying times (as you so aptly described them in your Newsletter).

  5. Alberta Lipson

    March 7, 2018

    Hi Marion,

    I’m a friend of Barbara Vinick’s and met you several times a number of years ago. I too enjoy your writing, I live right near the Reservoir. If you’d like a walking partner now that the nicer weather is hopefully upon us., Please let me know.

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About Marian

Marian Leah Knapp, Ph.D., wants to start a new conversation about “aging with intent.” Much of what is written about elders is from the point of view of physicians, psychiatrists, gerontologists, and adult children. In her roles as author, columnist, speaker and elder activist, Marian is reporting from the front lines.
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