By DeLyn Martineau
When I’m on campus, I take a walk outside whenever I can. Over the years, the path has changed, but the scenery hasn’t, which is one of the reasons I love walking among the older buildings.
I took my first campus walk in 1984 when I became a student at UCCS. That spring, I turned 18, graduated from high school three days later, and two weeks after that started learning chemistry in a summer class that quickly overwhelmed me. Despite withdrawing in shame, I started as a full-time freshman that fall, and walking the campus grounds became a habit until I transferred to CSU-Pueblo a year later. My dreams have carried images from those walks ever since.
When I was hired as a faculty member in 2016, one of the first things I did was walk the campus, reliving where I took classes and reflecting on how much hadn’t changed in over 30 years. I walked past the same scrub oak and tall pines where I had studied as a student and remembered how the sun slanted through the windows of Main Hall on winter afternoons.
On this walk, I looked down and found a penny. I was still grieving the loss of my father-in-law, so I’m sure this was a penny from heaven. Although he knew I had been hired at UCCS, I hadn’t started working yet when he passed. When I picked up that penny, I knew he wished me well.
I have retraced this path often and made subtle changes to it over the years. Now, the walk takes me from my office past the library, where I think about how that building wasn’t there when I was a student. Moving upward, I pass the Tree of Peace, where, when I looked down once, I found a piece of knapped flint right next to a piece of broken prescription bottle, circa 1900; both had been unearthed when another nearby building was constructed a few years before I was hired.
As I wind my way behind the buildings, I sometimes see a family of hawks flying over the bluff, and I always stop to watch them and take in the moment. Over the years, I have worked as many flights of stairs as I can into my walk. As it is now, my walk takes about 30 minutes and is just over a mile. I turned it into a workout, finding sets of stairs to climb whenever I can. The challenge is to only go up sets of stairs, never down.
During the last five years I have made it a point to set my standards high, to make realistic expectations for myself, and to avoid subjecting myself to too much critical introspection, which I’m especially vulnerable to as I walk. I’ve worked hard to make my courses rigorous enough to be challenging but simple enough to understand and execute. In 2020, I felt like I had finally hit my stride, but then COVID struck and totally threw me off. With only two days’ notice, suddenly I was forced to stay inside my home, where I remained for the next several months. I didn’t think it was possible to teach completely remotely until I had to, but now I am so used to remote meetings that I tend to over-schedule them.
Last semester I tried to work on campus as much as I could, and on Nov. 5 I was in my office grading papers. I found myself repeatedly looking over at the name plate on the door of my good friend and mentor across the hall, Michelle Neely. I couldn’t stop glancing at it. I finally got up and went for a walk, even though the weather was a bit brisk for my taste, because I couldn’t get her off my mind. Later, I found out that she had died that morning.
She always encouraged me to practice mindfulness when I walk, so now that my beloved colleague is gone, I do things much more intentionally: I breathe deeply, I notice details of things around me, I walk with a longer, stronger stride, and I stare incessantly at Pikes Peak. After a year of isolation, it feels good to get outside and walk with a purpose, and these are steps anyone can take every day.
Even though I just got a promotion, I still have some lingering imposter syndrome, which is exacerbated by the fact that I’m isolated from my colleagues due to the pandemic. When I walk the halls of the building alone, I remember the friends I’ve made here and try to give myself some credit for the good I’ve done for our program and the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. I remember my former students, some of whom are kind enough to check in with me even though they’ve progressed well beyond First-Year Rhetoric and Writing.
I think my career at UCCS takes a similar shape to my walking path. It has wound around through the campus, and I try to challenge myself to always go up, never down. I stumble, and I carry a load sometimes, but I continue to be in awe that I am a part of such a wonderful legacy. I look forward to the path I have yet to take.
DeLyn Martineau, M.A., is an instructor in the First-Year Rhetoric and Writing Program at UCCS, where she has taught since 2016. She has taught at the college level since 2008. She is an avid supporter of the veteran community on campus, where she has co-founded the Veterans Writing Community, a place where veterans can tell their stories through writing. She also writes and edits for online literary magazine US Represented, where her column focuses on local history and events.