Ledger - Vol. 02
A History of Walking
We have to get from here to there somehow. If we luck into being physically able from birth, walking is the way. Years ago I had a moment where I realized walking meant something to me, something more than a physical action I took without thought. Here are some times I’ve walked.
Kindergarten, Part One - Our P.E. teacher, Mr. Welge, would take us on “Walkabouts” for gym class. My elementary school was tacked onto the outskirts of a neighborhood, all of it within walking distance of a corn field. Rather than heading for the field, which was belted in place by a long, straight road people would speed down, we headed into the neighborhood. There were no huge houses, nothing more special than sidewalks exploded by tree roots, walnuts littering the road and yards, and a fire hydrant here and there. We were given strict instructions to observe as we walked. It was literally our everyday surroundings pulled into focus. This is the moment I think walking was defined as something other than just motion. It was the beginning of it becoming a tool.
Kindergarten, Part Two - Mr. Welge would sometimes have the entire class walk a circuit of “the Field” - named by the students since it was a seemingly massive field of grass on the east side of our school. I doubt it was half of a football field. You had the option to run out along its southern side, turn around and run back along the north, which counted as your exercise that day. Everyone walked. Not out of rebellion like in the junior high days of P.E., I think this was more because our experience with the “Walkabouts” taught us to enjoy the time. We undoubtedly would’ve preferred the Parachute Day bliss, running through its billowing belly, but we weren’t given a choice. On one such day, ordered to walk “the Field”, my friend Kyle and I decided we didn’t want to walk the whole thing. We cut across the middle, turned around and finished before everyone else. Mr. Welge met us with a slow shake of his head, his deep voice rumbling a “No no no” and sending us back out - of course he’d been watching. It was on this re-do (which meant we were the last kids out there) a few things happened to me. First, I carried a shame with me at having cheated. There was no distinction to this, no justification that it was “only” walking during gym class. I felt horrible. Second, during these walks my friend and I would chew on “Helicopters” or “helicopter seeds”. Mostly we’d chew on the actual seed part, squish it, spit it out and grab another one. I can’t be sure if this was the exact day I began to wonder if a tree could grow in my stomach, but the fear did take hold. It’s so ridiculous, but I remember asking my mom if that were possible. Maybe this was my guilt manifesting some kind of punishment, but I doubt that (at least 90% doubt). More than anything it was an image I would turn around to see from every angle, an interesting picture I made up from one stray thought.
Sixth grade - In a show of confidence at my adultiness - I was most definitely capable of pretending to be more responsible than I was - my parents agreed to let me walk home from sixth grade. This was huge. It meant I, basically, had to walk across the entire town. Yes, a small town, but it was a long walk for a sixth grader. I wasn’t alone though. I walked with my friend Jeremy, and more importantly, also the reason for the walk in the first place, our girlfriends. On those walks I had my first kiss, and then my first French Kiss, an event I absolutely knew showed on my face when I got home. It was the day before Thanksgiving break, in a park about a mile from home. There was plenty of time to relive that kiss until I arrived at my doorstep, when I burned with fear at my mom having “the talk” when she noticed I’d kissed my girlfriend like never before. If she noticed, she didn’t say.
After high school, before my late 20s - Dedicated walking took hold in my life, more than the simple and short moments of moving and stopping. Continued walking, the tool of motion helped me stop from puking when I was too drunk. It helped me deal with my depression (though medication and therapy were bigger helps, along with constant attention to my mental/emotional well-being). I used it as a platform to attack the idea of why someone dumped me, working toward any kind of understanding. I had been reading while walking since early high school, something passersby or observers tended to interrupt by saying “I’d fall down if I did that” or some variation. There was a dead railroad track behind an apartment I lived in at one point, and I’d walk between the rails and read for miles. The Wild Things by Dave Eggers was read this way, so is forever associated with the pleasant smell of nature because the route always smelled like rotting leaves and wood. There would be the rustle of snakes or animals too quick to see, and more than once a family of deer staring at me in the distance. This is truly when walking solidified as a means toward arriving somewhere unseen, a deeper place within my mind.
Late 20s to now - Reading, thinking, listening to music, exercising - walking is the route I take to a lot of goals now. I walked slightly above seven miles on a recent Sunday, after which all of this occurred to me. I’m lucky walking is a part of my life.
Some books I’ve read while walking - The Wild Things was read on the aforementioned railroad tracks; The Catcher In the Rye was read as a senior in high school, walking the empty streets of my neighborhood; Both The Story Sisters and Dandelion Wine were read while walking to, and subsequently sitting under trees, which I recommend for both.