In Praise of Walking

I’m not going to write about politics today.  I am satisfied to let the dust settle.  No need to over examine the race that is about to begin.  There is still time for that.

I walk where I need to go frequently these days gas costing what it does.  It’s good for me and on days when my bum hip isn’t hurting I feel like I did as a younger man.  I love tripping along the sidewalk saying hi to the guy having a smoke on his porch, giving kitty cats a “psst-psst-psst”, and barking dogs a,“good boy”.  I beam in admiration of a carefully tended flower garden or a well-made fence.  I am thrilled by neatly painted homes with shiny crystal windows and I grieve about peeling, dusty four-plexes, cobwebs filling the vents along the foundation.  The variations of architecture, color and landscaping make the city a fascinating place to walk.

Walking is a healthy thing for me I know, 9 out of 10 doctors would agree I am sure.  I think that walking is a healthy thing for my mind too.  I am more alert and aware when I am walking.  I see things and notice sounds and smells that would never penetrate my car windows or slip past my air conditioner.  I hear sounds of life my car radio and engine noise would drown out.  I find that I notice things I never saw when zipping by in a car, a beautiful stained glass window or a Ginkgo tree turned golden in the fall.  A community is healthier when people walk.

I see people as I walk .  They pass me on the sidewalk in the other direction and some of them meet my eyes and smile.  Some look down as they scuttle past me afraid I want something from them I suppose.  Some people wear electronic devices wires running from their ears, dark glasses to hide their eyes and a day pack on their shoulders.  These stare straight ahead and march with determination.  I don’t imagine these people are afraid I want something, I imagine that they are commuters, walking home from work with their triumphs and burdens and concerns.  I am not the person they want to share with, that person is waiting at the end of their route.

I sometimes think about the difficulty that people would have in doing the wrong thing if everyone was out walking.  Neighbors would become familiar even if some of them would only come to know each others’ shoes.  Everyone would know when someone new was around.  A broken window would be noticed, a sniff of smoke would alert attention, a lonely person would find companionship if only for a walk.  But to walk is to give of yourself, it is a level of involvement, it is to be present.

It’s true that I sacrifice some of my privacy when I step out onto that sidewalk.  I am exposed in height and weight and a gait that sometimes belies my age and at others animates it.  People in cars are merely heads and arms and shoulders passing in a blur of anonymity.  People must interrupt their attention to driving to express who they are.  Shallow expressions are made by honking or gesturing angrily or by pasting stickers all over the windows and bumpers.  Some people buy special license plates.  But when you walk, you are expressing yourself and there is no need to parse your values into slogans.

I came upon a man last week while walking.  He had a tall white pickup truck and the tailgate was down.  On the street behind the truck was a freshly washed, red rototiller in an attitude that suggested it was seeking entry like a hunting dog crouching to leap in for a ride.  The man was obviously giving himself a pep talk in preparation for single handedly hoisting the beast into the truck.  So I called to him, “Hey, you need a hand?”  He smiled broadly and called back, “Sure!”  He may have looked at my gray hair and held some concern but none-the-less he accepted my offer without hesitation.  We each grabbed a side of the machine and without injury lifted it onto the back of the truck.  He thanked me pleasantly and I continued on my walk.  I felt satisfied that I had put my theory of improving the neighborhood by walking into action.  Maybe it will catch on and someone will walk with me.