the Love of a Walk
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.Ē
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
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
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.