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For the Love of a Walk

A few weeks ago, I walked from my home on Delaware Avenue in Albany over to the Unitarian Universalist society, where I was expected to speak at a panel, a distance of not quite 2 miles. Afterward, I walked back down to the New York State Museum to meet my family.

It was a cold but not frigid morning, snowing lightly and with a fresh but not deep coating of white over everything. There were a few slick patches (note to self: always step carefully for a minute or so after thinking to yourself ďIím glad itís not icyĒ), but in general the morning offered those pleasant wintry walking conditions where halfway to your destination youíre warm enough to start loosening your scarf and unzipping the top couple inches of your coat, but not warm enough to feel like you overdressed.

I found that the walk felt like a delicious treat, almost a forbidden pleasure. I used to walk distances like this all the time before I worked from homeónot just to and from the office, but to and from meetings and interviews and social events. Given how much I enjoy it, itís kind of scary to realize how quickly I started to forget about the option once I had a home office and a kid, even when I was planning trips I was making alone.

In fact, a few weeks before my Sunday morning walk I was headed to the Lark Tavern on a Monday night to give a poetry reading and actually started to discuss ridiculous family travel logistics involving someone dropping me off before going to whatever they were doing in the opposite direction before I smacked myself on the head and said ďI can walk! I used to walk that far every day

As I walked through Washington Park on my way to the UU that morning, I felt alive and engaged and part of my city. My head was clearer and my mood calmer than it had been in a long time. I caught myself thinking ďThis is so much nicer than biking.Ē

Come again? growled the dutiful environmentalist part of my brain that has been mortified at my slow progress toward my goal of using my bike up to its full potential as a mode of transportation.

Well, yes in fact, I responded defensively to myself. Sure, for modest-length trips, biking is the best combination of speed and low environmental impact youíre going to get, and thatís pretty damn good. Itís great exercise. With the right gear you can haul much more than I can carry. I am in great awe of all my bike commuter friends, and aspire to be much more like them.

But hereís the thing: Aside from the eco impact and the exercise, biking really still has many of the failings of car, compared to a good walk. Itís fast enough and dangerous enough that it requires a lot of your attention. You canít idly wander this way and that, catch peopleís eyes, pick up a good-luck penny or watch to see if that bird that just flew by is a woodpecker. In fact, you probably wonít notice that a bird just flew by. You canít take a shortcut across the grass. You still need to find a place to park at the other end, not to mention putting on a lock and stowing your helmet. Walking really is so much nicer.

By the time Iíd crossed the park, Iíd worked out a theory about why I had for so long been angsting about wanting to be more of a cyclist, but not doing it: (1) I miss walking. (2) I want to get in shape for the habit of cycling. (3) I keep feeling like I ought to bike the short distances that I could walk so as to be ďreadyĒ to bike the longer distances. (4) I want to walk so I resent reason 3 and resist doing it. But if I donít have time to bike, I canít have time to walk, so I often drive instead.

Happily, I ought to be able to kick that cycle with a regular dose of getting places on foot, and then get to the whole cycling self-improvement project separately.

The whole thought process sticks with me though. It feels to me like the tendency we as a society have to overlook the massive benefits of and need for energy conservation in favor of discussion of alternative sources of power, because they wonít change our way of life as much.

Many people, including myself, have argued that we need to present sustainable choices as things that can be done without turning us all into back-woods hippies. Thatís true. But also as we move into a time of more scarcity, maybe the better choices wonít always be the ones that change our lives the least while giving us a smaller carbon footprint. They might be the ones that make us rethink our priorities and goals and help us fulfill other kinds of needs. When do I have time to think or plan? How do I feel more connected to my neighbors or the natural world? What am I using my time for and why?

I guess the new year is a time when we ask ourselves such questions. I hope to give myself plenty of walks this year on which to ponder them.

óMiriam Axel-Lute

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