I come from a family of walkers. Since I was a small child, taking two steps to the grown-ups’ one, my family would walk in the woods, in a nature preserve, to the library, down the street, around the garden. Conversation, never easy in my family, was easier while we walked. As my parents aged, I held their arms as we walked and observed and talked. Through the years I’ve noticed that walking with friends lubricates the conversation as well as providing healthy exercise. Anything can be shared when walking side-by-side limits eye contact. I’ve laughed and cried, given and gotten the best advice, and spilled my guts with walking partners.
The best walks, though, are solitary walks on familiar routes so there’s no chance of getting lost while drifting off into meditative space. I’ve got my various walks: my half hours, three-quarters of an hour and hour walks. It’s hard to find the time to walk longer than that and, besides, I start to find the space inside my head a little claustrophobic after an hour has passed. The walks I take aren’t practical, not designed to efficiently get me somewhere but are an investigation, a ritual, a meditation and a form of exercise. They clear the head and free the mind. Walking is as necessary to me in my sixties as breathing. Sometimes, I try mental experiments: I’ll decide to really notice everything that is blue. I’ll decide to pay attention to birds’ song. Other times I’ll try to remember seasonal poems or to create a haiku about something I’ve seen. Other times, I listen to sixties tunes on my ipod.
I bought a book about the history of walking called Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit. It’s sort of heavy and ponderous but it does have some good passages and interesting quotes.
“I can only meditate when I am walking. When I stop, I cease to think; my mind only works with my legs.”
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Confessions)
“I stride along with calm, with eyes, with shoes, I with fury, with forgetfulness.
“A solitary walker is in the world, but apart from it, with the detachment of the traveler rather than the ties of the worker, the dweller, the member of the group.”