Nothing Pedestrian About It

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?)

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/03/31/rdp-tuesday-pedestrian/

Walk in the Snow with Bear

It remains cold, below freezing, so the snow — though not freshly fallen — still powdery and perfect. I wanted to take the skis out again, but if a person can’t be fair to her dogs, what’s the point of her entire existence? (“Bear, stop putting words in my mouth!”)

Walking in snow a few inches above the ankle is a little difficult, especially when the snow doesn’t compress beneath your foot, but I was totally up to it. It was gloriously beautiful to be back out in the big empty, in the snow, with my big white dog (“I’ve waited a long time Martha!”), beneath the December sky that matches the blue and white of the mountains — the boundary between them marked by the jagged peaks of the Sangre de Cristos reaching into the watercolor-soft blue and white cloudy sky.

Bear likes to lean against me when I’m having a “moment.” I think she knows what’s going on with me. I think she understands perfectly that when I stare off to the horizon that it’s similar to me stopping and waiting as long as she needs to get the entire gist of a message. Sometimes she pulls — her messages seem, often, to carry a sense of urgency (ha ha). This is the biggest challenge. I don’t want to be pulled off balance right now. The messages I get from the sky and the mountains are quiet, reassuring affirmations of my place in the universe.

Bear found hundreds of tracks to, uh, track. Mule deer, certainly, and moose (it seems) as well as a nice patch of fox urine to roll in. She stopped to leave behind a message for her friend the fox should he pass again. My and my friend’s ski tracks rested unmolested. We only walked a mile because my foot is still not 100% and since I want nothing more than to keep skiing, I’m not going to risk anything. And, it happens, skiing is easier than walking.

The scene, this day after the solstice, was right out of John Greenleaf Whittier’s Snowbound, a long meditative poem on winter and my grandfather used to read it to my mom and her sisters and brothers every Christmas. It’s very lovely, evoking all the nostalgia and love of Christmas time, yearning for the past, endless love for those who are now only memories for us, whose stories and lives we carry around in our own lives — for good or ill or both.

The ending of the poem is exactly what I felt today, looking out at the rough snowy line of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the barren trees, the short, December light, my precious Bear leaning against my legs, my feet buried in snow. I felt grateful (again) to be in the San Luis Valley. I thought of the amazing woman I met yesterday at a Christmas concert and the equally amazing woman with whom I went. I looked at my friend’s ski tracks and remembered how much fun we had two days ago. I felt gratitude — again — to all the influences of my life that magically brought me where I am supposed to be.

The traveller owns the grateful sense 
Of sweetness near, he knows not whence, 
And, pausing, takes with forehead bare 
The benediction of the air.

If you’d like to read the whole poem, here it is. Snowbound: A Winter Idyll by John Greenleaf Whittier

Saunter

“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least—and it is commonly more than that—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements…” Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”

I love to walk. Most of my blog posts are about walking, and I’ve even written a book about my walks with my dogs during the years I lived in California, My Everest.

I never have taken the ability to walk for granted. There have been times when I couldn’t just “get up and walk.” I’ve written here — often — about the challenges to me — emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually — of suffering from hip arthritis and not being able to walk well.

This time last year I was flying, uh walking, on the short-term high afforded me by a cortisone shot in my hip joint. For the first time in YEARS I could walk, pain-free and happy. I could even go up and down stairs! Two things happened as a result of that shot. I realized how long I’d been messed up (years), and my doc saw for sure (for the benefit of Medicare) that I had no real choice but a hip replacement if I were to regain my mobility. The cortisone shot brought me relief for 3 weeks then I was back where I was.

I have fought hard to be able to continue to walk. In a long conversation with my doc, I told him about my dad who suffered from MS, who, over a period of 15 years, lost the ability to walk.

“So you know what it is to lose mobility.”

“Yeah.”

He confided to me that it was a similar situation with his mom that had inspired him to become an orthopedic surgeon. “We know what it means not to be able to walk.”

Of course, as often happened when I talked to him about these things, my eyes filled with tears.

Me, age 12, hiking in the woods of Nebraska, hiding from my brother. Obviously, he found me. 😀

“…most of my townsmen would fain walk sometimes, as I do, but they cannot. No wealth can buy the requisite leisure, freedom, and independence which are the capital in this profession [walkers]. It comes only by the grace of God. It requires a direct dispensation from Heaven to become a walker. You must be born into the family of the Walkers. Ambulator nascitur, non fit. Some of my townsmen, it is true, can remember and have described to me some walks which they took ten years ago, in which they were so blessed as to lose themselves for half an hour in the woods; but I know very well that they have confined themselves to the highway ever since, whatever pretensions they may make to belong to this select class.”  

Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”


I hope this summer will bring me some good walks that I haven’t been able to to take because of, well, being unable. Now I have a car with good ground clearance, a dog who’s willing to go to war for me, maps, a hydration pack , trekking poles and a big can of bear spray. I should be good to go as soon as the snow melts and the roads to the mountains are dry enough not to be destroyed by cars. Maybe being exiled from the golf course and chased away from the wild life area by the Icky Man and the closures so the geese can mate is fate’s way of telling me, “You can go anywhere now, Martha. Don’t be afraid.”

I’ve also lately realized that I’m alone. No one is depending on me for anything. If a cougar gets me how’s that different from a heart attack? Just more interesting. I’ve realized that before in my life, but in the agar culture of, uh, culture, I sometimes forget. We all live FOR something. I think I can live FOR walking. Oh, and langlauf. ❤

My vicinity affords many good walks; and though for so many years I have walked almost every day, and sometimes for several days together, I have not yet exhausted them. An absolutely new prospect is a great happiness, and I can still get this any afternoon. Two or three hours’ walking will carry me to as strange a country as I expect ever to see. A single farmhouse which I had not seen before is sometimes as good as the dominions of the king of Dahomey. There is in fact a sort of harmony discoverable between the capabilities of the landscape within a circle of ten miles’ radius, or the limits of an afternoon walk, and the threescore years and ten of human life. It will never become quite familiar to you

Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”


https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/rdp-saturday-walk/

Take a Walk

A long time ago — in the 80s — in SELF magazine — was an ad for Reebox. It showed a woman walking on a wooden sidewalk near a lake. Behind her was a wet golden retriever who looked (obviously) very happy. The caption was, “You CAN Walk Away from Your Problems.”

I cut out the ad and glued it into one of the journals I can’t throw away but never look at. 

Something from one of those journals ❤

I learned this lesson as a kid and I was happy to see it validated in a magazine. But others have discovered this, too. 

II think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least—and it is commonly more than that—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements…. Henry David Thoreau, “Walking.”

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1862/06/walking/304674/

Walking in a dry stream bed in the chaparral, 1990

I’ve probably written a hundred blog posts — and a whole book! — on this topic. and the book, My Everest pretty much just says this:

My vicinity affords many good walks; and though for so many years I have walked almost every day, and sometimes for several days together, I have not yet exhausted them. An absolutely new prospect is a great happiness, and I can still get this any afternoon. Two or three hours’ walking will carry me to as strange a country as I expect ever to see… There is in fact a sort of harmony discoverable between the capabilities of the landscape within a circle of ten miles’ radius, or the limits of an afternoon walk, and the threescore years and ten of human life. It will never become quite familiar to you.

Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”

Almost everything I’ve done for the past year has been directed toward continuing to be able to…

Walk.

Walking IS exercise, but not very efficient exercise for things we might need, such as weight loss or flexibility. For years I mocked people who went to gyms or did yoga in studios with lots of other people. My mockery was unfair, but I’m an extremely flawed human. Now I work out on a piece of gym equipment and do yoga but the purpose of all that is to make it easier for me to walk. 

But the walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking exercise, as it is called, as the sick take medicine at stated hours—as the Swinging of dumb- bells or chairs; but is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day. If you would get exercise, go in search of the springs of life.

Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”

Some people don’t get this. Once, out on a walk in the California chaparral, an acquaintance and I walked about 8 miles. She asked me how far we’d gone and I told her. Her response, “Do you do this every day?”

“Just about.”

“Why aren’t you thin?”

In my defense, I wasn’t fat. I’m a compact muscular person; she was a tall lithe person. I thought, “You’re not coming with me again, ever.” She had no idea why we were there, or what I was doing. I took off running, calling out behind me, “If you can keep up with me, you can call me fat.”

She couldn’t catch me. I was in my car and about to pull out of the parking lot before she caught up, red-faced and breathing hard. 

Some people do get it. Last month I took a mountain hike with my friend, Elizabeth. It was a big moment for me, my first mountain hike since I moved back here four years ago. Plus, you know, my “religion.” Going out there is an experience I don’t really have words for. Elizabeth is Church of England. We were walking along — not fast. I have asthma and until I’m warmed up speed is impossible, and, anyway, I wanted to look around. Groves of aspen trees such as I have never seen, a foot-rough but easy trail, a stream on the bottom.

Geologically it was exactly the same as one of my favorite hikes in San Diego County, but the vegetation belonged to Colorado. Where in California there were sycamore and oak trees lining the trail, here were aspen and spruce. I love that aspect to nature, that if you’ve wandered enough you experience the grand repetition of natural forms in different scales appropriate to the place. 

We stopped and looked at the hundreds of aspen trees reaching high into the sky. Young spruce huddled happily, hopefully, on the base of the forest. I was awed, with tears in my eyes, so happy to be there, to see them, to be able to walk again after years of debilitation pain, surgery and rehab. I was definitely repaired. My walking possibilities had been returned to me, and here was this miracle of nature. I said to Elizabeth, “This is my church.”

She said, “I know,” and said she hoped we could visit my church again soon. 

Elizabeth in the aspen trees


https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/11/27/rdp-tuesday-walk/

Mooooooooogrhg! Mooooooooogrhg!

Daily Prompt A Moment in Time What was the last picture you took? Tell us the story behind it. (No story behind the photo? Make one up, or choose the last picture you took that had one.)

Dusty and Mindy and I were walking around the Monte Vista Golf Course. There might be a lot of golf courses like this one, but I’ve never seen them. In my life, this one is unique. The driving range is a pasture, no domestic animals in it, but a pasture still. The edge of the golf course is the open vista of the San Luis Valley. A freight train runs along one edge for a distance. On the other side are houses, small houses, but houses, and the high school.

1

The morning had hung gray with freezing fog. Generally, I like freezing fog because it makes the trees beautiful, but it’s a little treacherous in the places where it’s glazed the sidewalk with an invisible coating of ice.

Around 1 pm the fog was gone. I leashed up the two dogs. It’s not like they would ever go anywhere; I’ve tested them. We headed down the alley, across the fourth hole and the little bridge over the irrigation ditch to the MAIN event, the big part of the golf course where I let them “run” free.

2

Dusty, Mindy and I running free on the driving range of the Monte Vista golf course

Running free in their case (and mine…) is kind of laughable. Mindy is old, overweight and arthritic and she never runs or even goes very fast (unless there’s dinner on the horizon). Dusty, bless his heart, is terrified to be away from me. His “early childhood education” involved being pushed out of a car, kicked to the side of the road and left behind. After that, all he wanted in the world was a human to love him. Though he has one now, in his little Dusty heart, he’s never sure. He never goes farther than 10 feet away from me. I would like him to run free, but that’s “free” for Dusty. As for me, even though (or because?) I used to run on trails across the hills almost every day of my life, because of damaged joints, and learning I must be a little careful, I don’t even really remember HOW to run. See? Freedom IS relative.

Time was I would have thought a winter walk on a golf course was beyond lame. Now I’m happy I can do it. I think sometimes of the news reporter who asked the great ski racer, Jean-Claude Killey, how he felt now that he could only walk in the forest. Killey replied, “Ah, but I can walk in ze forest!” It isn’t nothing.

After we’d walked twenty minutes or so, the residue of a mildly bad mood had lifted. We turned around and headed home. Mindy was somewhat more frisky at the thought of the possibility of a TINY cookie at the end; I think the main reason she begs to go on walks is because she might get a cookie when she gets home. There, under a big elm tree, were tracks in the snow. I could have seen them on the way out, but I didn’t. Once more, too preoccupied with stuff like, “C’mon Mindy!” and “It’s OK, Dusty. Just GO!” to pay attention to what was right in front of me (or under my feet).

The TRACKS were LARGE, sort of deer-like and cow-like at the same time. I thought “elk” because elk is common here, and I honestly didn’t know. Whatever they were, it was extremely cool to see them.

I got home and posted the photo of the tracks here, on WordPress. Serendipity asked if they might be moose tracks. I did a little research, and VOILÁ! They were…

And last night, when I took Lily, the geriatric Siberian Husky Princess, out front to pee, I heard the moose on the golf course, “singing” the songs of the moose, in voices resembling the lowing of desperate cows.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/moment-in-time/