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Archive for the ‘Walking’ Category

 

Our patio door opens out to a courtyard, facing east and enclosed on three sides.  Beyond the courtyard is a pleasant park with a walking path around its perimeter—leading to a forest, a prairie preserve, and a small trail down to the wild end of a lake.  The park path is about 1/3rd of a mile around.

It’s fun to watch the walkers on the path.  This morning two young moms pushing strollers circumvented the park six times, at an unbelievably rapid clip.  It seemed like they were just there before our eyes, and then there they were again—laughing, chatting, and pushing their fry.  How refreshing!  The trips around the park were good for the children, and good for the moms—both in aspects of sociability and physical health.  As the moms circled the park I recalled those fun times when I walked our children on a fine spring day, and enjoyed the company of other stay at home moms—a resounding majority, in the days when I was raising little ones.

However, as I grew older I began to think of a “walk” in vastly different terms.  An ideal “walk” became, for me, a saunter—a time for observing and immersing myself in the sights and sounds around me—a means of restoring my soul, rather than a social activity.  I often wonder what Wordsworth, who wandered “lonely as a cloud” in England’s Lake District would think of the way many people walk today—at an agenda driven pace, with Ipads or cell phones dominating the attention of the walker. 

Unless I can stroll with a quiet, kindred spirit—such as my husband, a daughter or son, or a soul friend—I prefer to walk alone rather than with other adults.  Children are normally great walking companions.  They scamper and weave, covering far more territory in a few yards of trail than I do, yet they tend to be aware of their surroundings.  Most children are alive to the moment—noticing the cardinal’s “cheer cheer”, watching the clouds race overhead, or pausing to pick up a leaf or rock along the way.  In most every circumstance of life, I’m rejuvenated in the presence of a congenial child, and the circumstance of walking is no exception.

Perhaps the best walking buddies of all are dogs.  For starters, they don’t talk.  Like children, dogs weave in and out, at least my Dylan does.  He exists totally in the present and his senses are finely tuned.  His ears perk to the slightest bark issuing from far away, and he responds with a throaty rumble.  Especially keen is Dylan’s sense of smell.  He makes me realize how passive we humans are when it comes to smelling things; we let olfactory stimulation come to us—be it an odor (as in skunk) or a fragrance (as in lilacs wafting in the breeze).  Although we may intentionally inhale the fragrance of flowers or bonfires (as I frequently do) we often fail to actively seek out smells.

The smells that appeal to my dog would probably not be my favorites.  Sometimes Dylan (not a large dog) is so insistent and tenacious in sniffing out a small bit of earth that it’s all my 90 pounds can do to drag him away by his leash.  Undoubtedly some small critter recently died in that spot, or some live critter marked the territory with its own badge of ownership.  The canine obsession to investigate thoroughly with his nose reminds me of Hercule Poirot, meditating intently until his “leetle grey cells” light up with a solution to a crime.

I know that my life thrust contains a substantial bit of Henry David Thoreau, who wrote:  “I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is of taking walks—who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering . . . .”

In his essay, “Walking”, Thoreau celebrates the freedom of sauntering in wild places, where one can shed the cares of the day and rejoice in the wondrous details of unfettered Nature.  For years, I walked like that—in relatively wild and secluded woods, on solitary trails. 

Yet there is still another stage of human experience, when we cannot physically walk as far or as often as we once did—yet we have been blessed with such inner contentment that we can saunter in our imagination—via books, memory,or creative hobbies—and renew the refreshment of wandering or sauntering—in the manner of Wordsworth and Thoreau. 

As my feet once sauntered, and my senses went out seeking sights and sounds, I now happily experience many of them from my patio—or during just one trip around our 1/3rd mile path.  Even yesterday, as I sat sipping peach flavored CRYSTAL LIGHT® on my patio rocker, I traveled in pure ecstacy when an oriole serenaded me from the American elm just a few feet away.  Nearly every day, my paint brushes explore and revisit many of the wild places I’ve known and loved—the woods, the swamps, and the wild meadows. 

Are we walkers or saunterers?  We can be either or both at different stages of life.  It’s all in our point of view!

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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