Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Walk*
Escape 6:45 pm. Dad’s in charge, I head out to walk. It’s been a loooooong afternoon and evening with my children. I feel too tired to walk. But walking is less tiring than being home with them. They won’t let me sit down. So I walk, slowly, through the dark.
Foggy morning, seagulls in the park.
Coyote springs home, fast as a greyhound, light as a bird, at dawn.
Crows, crows, crows.
Red sky, orange sky, blue sky, pink sky, gray sky.
Sometimes mountains. Sometimes oceans. These days largely the tiny awe of the neighborhood.
Launching myself out the door, vibrating with a stew of anger, sadness and guilt, I stomp around the neighborhood, thoughts churning, childhood traumas revisited, blood boiling. Then suddenly, after about a mile, all of that is gone. I don’t feel it depart. I just find myself in a park. With trees.
5:30 am. Get up? This means tea, a moment to think, a walk when it’s only me and the dog walkers. Depending on the time of year, I may see the sunrise. Or stay in bed?
Trash picked up on one short walk: several straws, a dozen candy wrappers (give or take), various plastic bits and scraps, a moldy, crushed tennis ball, a bag of dog poop someone forgot to come back for, receipts, the remains of a balloon, bits of ribbon, a can…
My grandfather used to pick up aluminum cans by the side of the road. To recycle.
Phone in my pocket, bud in my ear, boots on the ground. I’m ready for a long walk and chat. Sometimes I can walk and talk with people in person.
Smaller steps. Smaller steps. The feet stay mostly underneath my pelvis. A big step with a strong heel strike is wildly inefficient. Smaller steps, pushing off my back foot, rather than pulling the ground underneath my front foot. Works my bum, not my quads. Safer on ice.
I ask myself: “Can I have a little quiet?” Spinning thoughts quiet for a second, or two! Then return. After practicing this for several years, I can find long moments of delicious silence in my head. I practice while I walk, but I reap the benefits in the middle of the night when I am going down the 3am rabbit holes. “Can I have some quiet?” I ask, maybe a few times. And I get some.
I feel embarrassed filling out the medical office paperwork. Exercise: Walking. Like I should be doing something fancier, sexier, with special gear.
One time walking to work in Chicago after a big snowstorm. Trudging though a foot of powder, climbing over tremendous snowdrifts, sweating and laughing. I passed a gym. A line of people on treadmills looked out at me like I was crazy. I looked in at them like they were crazy.
What big decision did I ever make without walking? What inspiration ever came to me indoors? When am I going to clean the bathroom?
Run, stop, “Don’t dawdle while we cross the street!”, wind up the robot so it can move, pick up the one with the skinned knee, touch the trees, walk backward.
I put my glasses in my pocket when I walk in the morning and let my eyes flick back and forth and feel the wind on my eyeballs, making me tear up.
My best words don’t come to me at the computer, or in my notebook. They come into my head while I walk. And if they are sticky and I am diligent, I am able to get them down when I finish the walk.
*Inspired by Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”