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Vol. LVII, No. 12
June 17, 2005

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Observations on a Spring Walk

What better day to take a leisurely noontime lap around the NIH campus than Wednesday, June 1, which was not only the first day of a month renowned for the new possibilities inherent in commencement and marriage, but also the launch date of the We Can! initiative, targeting childhood obesity?

When it comes to fitness, many NIH’ers practice what they preach. The pathway that circumscribes the campus, just outside the perimeter fence, features a host of lunch-hour regulars. All have discovered the subtle joys of this loop, including its length — one circuit is a nearly ideal way to spend the better part of 60 minutes. From the sunniness of its exposed public stretches (along the lawn in front of NLM, for example, or on the straightaways parallel to Rockville Pike and Old Georgetown Rd.) to the seclusion of its leafy, backyard portions, the path is home to strollers and joggers, daydreamers and drudgery-escapees (Desperate Workhusbands?), retirees and dog-walkers. Many who take advantage of the walk seem to be Asian.

A counterclockwise journey undertaken in sunny warmth from the Children’s Inn, over toward the new Safra Lodge, to the south boundary, then back up through NLM shows a number of hopeful signs. Over at Multi-level Parking Garage-9, workers settled into place the last of the “double-tee” sections of pre-cast concrete flooring; the prosaic structure will be remembered by some as the site of a construction fatality last November, but that scar, too, will heal.

More enduring are the roses blooming in mad profusion along the plain brick faces of Bldgs. 22 and 14G; this year, the blossom density is astounding. One hopes the flowers in some way reflect the vitality of campus science.

Back at parking lot 41, on a shady oasis of grass, some men have begun an impromptu game of soccer, using orange parking cones as goal markers. Would any of them recall that there used to be tennis courts in that vicinity, or that their game occupies what used to be a Farmer’s Market, back before 9/11? Or that, further back in time, they would have been standing in the fairway of the Town and Country Golf Club?

There is a new green jacket encompassing the southeast flank of the Porter Neuroscience Bldg. — most likely a noise-abatement measure taken in response to complaints from the neighbors. Either that or the Porter Bldg. recently won the Masters.

The east side of campus is where you find most pedestrians, mainly along Center Dr. You notice the camaraderie of the security staff, the folks in white shirts and black pants, calling to one another as shifts change. You hear them laugh and talk as they gather at the Patient Gateway and realize that, absent customers or an emergency, there is no human thing to do but to socialize, and to enjoy one another.

The same goes for the red-shirted housekeeping staff, moving in knots along the sidewalk, speaking in a variety of island dialects. You realize that being an outsider in their company would be as much a liability as it would be within the confines of the Medical Board Room in Bldg. 10. Different worlds, different memberships.

June 1 might have more significance if it didn’t appear so close upon the heels of Memorial Day weekend, the return from which seems a terrible injustice. Next time you feel put-upon by the needs of the moment, think of the campus loop, of freelance soccer, of restoration, of blossom, of weight loss, of commencement.

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