I am a pedestrian. I walk. I’m not the first and, god-wiling, not the last of the species to make this claim, even to make this one. I love to walk. Love. Yep.
My dad had Multiple Sclerosis and had problems walking that got worse with time. Watching him struggle and persist probably contributed to my early sense that being able to walk is not to be taken for granted. That knowledge has been affirmed many times by my own mobility problems, two hips that went south and various injuries. My mom didn’t like walking, but she HAD walked to school in 40 below degrees with newspapers in her hand-me-down shoes, her feet in hand knit socks. It wasn’t “uphill both ways,” it was legit, but I did hear a lot about it. I never had to walk to school in 40 below, but 10 below is no picnic. But you do walk fast.
Some of my sweetest memories from childhood involve walking home from school with my brother over a little mesa where the wind blew like a, like a, oh well, like it does here. My mom knitted us short scarves she pinned around our heads, kind of like a Buff, and we often arrived home with icicles hanging from the place above out mouths, but, in the meantime, we’d fought through a barrage of space aliens; snow flakes — coming at us head on.
I still go out in that and like it.
Walking has often provided the transition, the liminal moment, between one life and another — between work and home, school and home. It was transportation (literally, TRANSPORT-ation) for much of my life. I didn’t drive if I could walk. Simply.
Walking to work and back from my Denver apartment in my late 20s was so important for me. My walk was 3/4 of a mile to and from, just long enough to prepare myself for whatever the day would hold in the morning and to clear the spiders of law from my mind in the evening. There were no electronic devices back then to pump music into my ears on my walks. There was only the sound of the streets, cars passing, snippets of music, vroom, the fragrance of dinners cooking.
I was a paralegal in an immense 17th street (Wall Street of the West) law firm. I was having my first experience with the kind of squishy integrity inherent in “billable hours.” My law firm had some huge clients — the City of Lakewood, for example — for which my boss was the city attorney. I was deep in municipal law, public improvement agreements and and and … I did well, but for me there was no governing philosophy to anything we did other than the bottom line. I liked my job OK. It was challenging, changing, fast-moving, but it wasn’t “me.” Invariably, somewhere on the walk home, I shed the paralegal and encountered my”self” and we went home together. It wasn’t much of a walk, but every day I saw something new and apparently I wrote convincing rhapsodies about it because the man in my life at the time, a man who’d trekked all over and been on the support team for a climb up Annapurna II, wanted to make the walk with me when he came to Denver. “I want to see what you see.”
I wasn’t aware of it then, but I was learning the lesson that if you go out, you will see something. Simple, huh? One day as I headed down the hill to the State Capital building I saw a hot air balloon preparing to rise. The design on the balloon was an immense blue Columbine, the Colorado state flower. There was no one to witness this but the denizens of the balloon and me.
I learned that you don’t have to walk in some “grand place.” All places are grand places.
If you would like to read some beautiful and inspiring words about walking, I turn your attention to Walking by Henry David Thoreau and “Nature” by Ralph Waldo Emerson. There are other writers, such as John Muir, who have extolled the quiet wonders of a pedestrian life, but those written Thoreau and Emerson are still my favorites.
This, from Thoreau’s Walking sums up my feelings and experience — and did the first time I read it in Robert D. Richardson’s graduate American Lit survey. Life — just like walking — comes down to putting one foot in front of the other.
“…We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return,—prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again,—if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man; then you are ready for a walk.” Henry David Thoreau, Walking
The best book about walking I’ve read recently is A Walk to the Water by Daniel Graham. Definitely a good choice for a time like this one (“like” this one?)