There are things that only the people on foot or bike notice. Wareham’s many outdoor staircases are in this category. There are granite steps connecting Highland Court to the library grounds and there’s a wooden staircase from the upper and lower parking areas at Tobey Hospital. Across from Besse Park is a cement staircase that ends just outside Tobey Hospital’s emergency entrance. Saint Patrick’s church has a couple of them, and several of the alleys between downtown shops end in stairs.
When my sons were very young, they loved finding stairs. Going up and going down both had rewards and challenges, and finding hidden staircases delighted them. Given the chance, they would choose a walking route that had some stairs in it.
Because I’ve scaled the steps of Wareham countless times with my children, they are still integral to my walks around town. They give me a way to get from a low place to a high one, dividing the distance equally among the steps. There are handrails if I lose my balance, and they provide a comfortable seat if I need a rest. They are concrete creations of purpose and order, made with skill and care.
But stairs are useless to anyone who cannot climb them. Strollers, scooters, crutches, and canes don’t work well on stairs, and they require a certain level of physical exertion. They are a means of access only for some. That’s why ramps and elevators are so necessary.
There have been only a few times when I could not take the stairs – when I fractured my kneecap, when I was recovering from pneumonia, and when I had a child in a stroller. Each of these circumstances gave me a great appreciation for the other means of getting up and down. When I was able to take the stairs again, it was with a greater awareness of their limits and a greater appreciation for the gift of ascending and descending.