Monday, December 7, 2015

Why I walk

Between time on the road, in the forest, and on snowshoe, I walk between 600 and 1000 miles a year.  I started to walk as a way to add some activity to my life and to make sure the terriers in my life did not drive my wife insane.  I have found in walking, however, unexpected benefit and unexpected joy.  I continue to walk for a whole other set of reasons than I started.

The sapien who moves at an automobile's pace sees almost nothing.  The cyclists can manage little more.  Not only does the scenery pass too quickly, the mind must remain occupied, at least partly, on keeping the car on the road or the bicycle in its lane.  Driving and cycling are about reacting to the world as it speeds toward you.  Walking allows a person to actually analyse and start to understand what they see.

When we walk, devoid of distractions, we have the freedom to think.  Walking allows me to consider if my life is moving in the direction I would choose.  Walking gives me the opportunity to explore new parts of my geography and see old geographies in new ways.

While walking through a landscape you get the opportunity to see how the world works.  I get the opportunity to flush grouse and understand their habitat.  I wander into areas less traveled and understand how our urban, suburban, and rural infrastructures work, how it is maintained, and where it is failing.  I find bones, plants escaped from domestication, birds outside their normal range.  

I've found stolen copper dumped in the woods.  I've met some nice game wardens and local police.  I've witnessed drug deals and police officers acting, unnecessarily aggressive.  If you want to see the world, you need to get out in it.  If you want to understand it, you need to look at it slowly.

We evolved to walk and to see the world at a walker's pace.  

Socrates was a walking man, so were Nietzsche, Rousseau, and Kant.  Hippocrates recommended it as the best form of exercise.  Only the domestication of the horse made any other pace possible and even that was limited to short bursts. Those who rode on horseback as they traveled the American West, viewed that land at the pace of a fast walk.

The automobile has only been around for the last five human generations.  It is a wonderful way to get from point A to point B.  It is wholly inadequate way to see what lies between.

Walking allows you to make fewer assumptions, to set aside the cartoonish  world inside your brain and be confronted by how it is in textured detail.  The hard working half-crippled mother walking from the bus so early in the morning and the realization that more goes on in this neighborhood than the crime which makes the news.  The moment in the woods you wish you had a gun.  The ATV damage done to public land, the overheard gossip between jogging med school students, the difference in light rail stations based upon the socio-economic neighborhoods they are located.

There is an element of escape in the regular walk.  Any healthy dog would love to be your companion.  A well trained dog is a joy to have along.

It is a difficult hobby to criticize.  If I were at the bar or bowling alley every day at noon, the bride would be right to complain.  Perhaps she'd also be right to complain about how much time I spend in field and forest, but she also sees how it has improved my own mental health.

The truth is, she's usually pretty happy to get me out of the house.  I might be a more likeable person when physically tired by a walk but I am also less weary of life in the world.  Its all good, I like her more after I've walked a good 5 to 8 miles too.
I walk for the same reason a diabetic eats whole grains or the constipated man his oatmeal, I have developed the chronic illness of the speed and power available in the Anthropocene and am seeking the relief of a more humane pace and a more human way of looking at the world.  My physical health has improved but more than my physical health has improved.

Found: pigeon raising was still a thing?  Thanks to the internet, I was able to inform the owner of the final disposition of his bird.

Found: a field of lupine, food source for the endangered Karner Blue butterfly.

Found: one man's littering is another man's artful image.

Found: sometimes we walk to bring joy to others and other times we bring sustenance home.

Found: campus art.

Found: beautiful death eaters.

Found: let's see what's down there!

Found: a den.

Found: how city life is possible.

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