Sunday, January 17, 2010

The ankle bone's connected to the shin bone.

There used to be a guy in Lawrence, Kansas, where I lived for six years, who walked 12 miles to and from town every day. Not for work -- he actually didn't have a job -- but just because the road was there and he was going to use it. People called him Walking Man. They also called him crazy, but I think his act was majestically sane.

When he died unexpectedly one evening, Walking Man was memorialized on a temporary mural downtown: serene look on his face, long and winding road ahead of him. He knew what many diehard pedestrians know: The world slows down a bit when you're walking. Your head clears. You become aware of your senses, your muscles, your very center of gravity in ways you otherwise tend to overlook.

I remembered this pretty keenly during a recent snowstorm, which kept me from my usual bike commute, and made a hike to and from the train (for just two stops, no less) seem kind of silly. I only work a couple miles from home, and the prospect of a long walk through new snow was downright irresistible.

I bundled myself up and took to the sidewalk. I walked for nearly an hour, deliberately varying my route from the usual arterials. I don't own an iPod or even an old Walkman, and I wouldn't have wanted the distraction anyway. The point of a walk, at least for me, is to take in the world around you. Swallow it up. Choke it down if you have to. But be palpably, openly in it.

That particular day, I took in rogue art, men at work, a waft of baked goods fresh from the oven, the rising tide of foreclosure, signs of budding economic development, and some neighbors' stubborn refusal to say good-bye to the holidays.

That night, I did the whole thing over again. Same world, different lighting. But the earth was just as sturdy underfoot, and my boots rose to the challenge.


Ashes and Milk said...

You might really appreciate this book called Wanderlust: A History of Walking!

Christy said...

Welcome, Ashes and Milk. And thanks for the great recommendation! I've heard about this book for a while, and your note is a good reminder to track it down, at long last.

Rosemary said...

This is exactly why I recently took my name off the waiting list for a campus parking spot. Though my commute is much shorter, it's still usually the sanest and most necessary fifteen minutes (each way) or my day. Still, I'm sure you'll be glad when you can get back on the bike!

tracy said...

This makes me want to walk through the snow with you. But I'd probably just distract you from poetic language with off-key Fugazi songs.

leslie said...

I'll second the book recommendation—Solnit writes something to the effect that walking is our way to measure ourselves against the larger world. She makes lots of lovely observations, actually.

Truth is, I'd be a mess were it not for walking. It gets me out of my head.

Thank you for this, Christy. One of my favorite posts.

Christy said...

Wish I could take a walk with you good people this minute, caterwauling the lyrics to 'Margin Walker' and making fun of SUVs. Alas, I'm on my way to work on yet another Saturday. (Running late, so biking today).

I think a trek to the library for Solnit may be in order today, although I'm knee-deep in "The Road," another amazing walking book.

LazyMF said...

You write beautifully. Been meaning to say that for some time.

Christy said...

Welcome back, Lazy MF. You've been missed.