Time for a good, stiff walk

My newspaper column for Sept. 9


Today, unlike last evening when rain clouds once part of Hurricane Isaac showed up in northern Vermont, was a great day for walking – walking for exercise, walking to watch the world, and walking to watch and study wild nature at work and at play.

Just as I watched, listened and catalogued songbirds a decade ago while burning through mile after mile on a seven-mile exercise path on Langley Air Force Base, Va., today’s trek into and through the village of Essex Junction just north of my neighborhood allowed many chances to watch and learn.

Many folks have not even learned the basics of walking and watching. How can a person, after all, do so from the cockpit of a Ford, Chevy, Toyota, SUV, sedan, Land Rover or VW? In May, I traveled to St. Louis, Mo. Outside the hotel, as I prepared to walk to a nearby restaurant, I was humbled as a limousine pulled onto the make-believe red carpet leading to/from the front doors. This was not a traditional limo, though (say, a four-door Caddy stretched to six doors). This was an eight-door Hummer.

The driver of it (likely also the owner) watched me snap a couple of photos of his wagon with my little digital camera, and then handed me one of his business cards, thinking I had to be an admirer of his gas-hog.

But back now to the walk:

–        It’s a great way to burn fat.

–        No special gear or clothing is a prerequisite. Although a good pair of quality walking shoes with solid heel support is a big help.

–        Walking lets you see and hear your surroundings. Bicycling is good in this respect, too, but even then the buzz of nearby motor veehikles is almost always present.

Some towns and cities are better – a lot better, in some cases – for walking than are others. And the car-centric suburban sprawl development of starter palaces, three-car garages, acres and acres of turf farm and lack of sidewalks is not only an irritant but a sign that says, “we live here, but we only walk to get the car out of the garage and have to drive everywhere – to grocery store, to post office, to the town hall or city hall, to public schools, etc. We also walk a bit when we get to the mall.”

These places exist everywhere, even I must admit in states with stringent growth-management rules. Luzerne County, where I lived for two decades before moving to the Green Mountain State, is rife with such “neighborhoods,” many of them falling into the “gated community” category.

Americans have been walking, on purpose and otherwise, for centuries. The national founder Thomas Jefferson once said, “Of all exercises walking is the best.”

Naturalist/writer/conservationist John Muir said, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

Some others:

–        President John Kennedy: “The pay is good and I can walk to work.”

–        Poet, philosopher and writer Henry David Thoreau: “An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.”

–        Baseball great Yogi Berra: “I’m not going to buy my kids an encyclopedia. Let them walk to school like I did.”

–        Walker, backpacker and writer Colin Fletcher in his essay “Why Walk?” wrote: “Ten minutes drive from the apartment in which I used to live there was a long grassy ridge from which you could look out over parkland and sprawling metropolis. I often walked along this ridge in order to think uncluttered thoughts. Up there alone with the wind and the sky, it was as if my mind, set free by space and solitude and oiled by the body’s easy rhythm, swung open and released thoughts that it had already formulated. Sometimes when I’ve been straining too hard to impose order on an urgent press of ideas, it seemed only as if my mind had slowly relaxed. And then all at once, there was room for the ideas to fall into place in a meaningful pattern.”

–        Time for a good walk.



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