Nature, Place and Space


Saturday, 29th February 2020

I’ve been walking for the past half year, pretty much every day. If I’m being honest, starting a walking habit correlates with getting an Apple watch. I had a Fitbit before, but that never quite motivated me the way closing the little rings of movement, standing, and exercise do each day (if you don’t have one of these things, you’re supposed to move for the equivalent of at least 400 calories in a day, stand for at least a minute during 12 hours in the day, and exercise for at least 30 minutes).

I don’t know that I can be as bucolic as the author suggests in this article. Does walking clear the mind? Actually, for me, I obsess about things. So, if something’s bothering me, I ruminate on that. So I’ve learned to establish a productive thing to think about at the beginning and try to make that take hold. Today, on my 6.5 mile walk (I do a 10K walk at least once a week, so that’s about 6.2 miles), I thought about what I want to talk about in my classes this week. That’s productive. And then I read in the article that Wordworth averaged 6.5 miles a day for his entire life from the time he was 5, which calculates out to 180,000 miles. Good thing it’s not a race – I’ve already lost.

I walk, in part, also because it’s about the only time I’m not looking at a screen (and I know, there’s some irony here, in that I just talked about a little screen, the watch, which motivates these things). It’s about the only time I’m not being pulled by the latest little intervention from some source or other, into a new space of thinking. I’m not doing it to lose weight or build muscle (although the doctor keeps telling me I need to, and this is a side effect of walking).

Walking does bring one close to the changes of place. Andie Miller unpacks this in her lovely book of essays, Slow Motion: Stories About Walking. Her walks were around South Africa. For me, the changes are in Florida, and they are usually what is euphemistically called “development”, which at the pace of walking doesn’t look much like development. Another large tract of land I walk past, previously covered by trees and brush and home to a wide range of animal life, has been cleared down to the dirt, to put up yet another row of ticky-tacky houses or Soviet brutalist apartment blocks, all with enough lipstick on to fool the casual observer into thinking they are chic and luxurious. The dirt, as bare and ravaged as it looks, still seems better than what is to come. I walk past it each day, and it is a bit more ravaged each day. I’m starting to feel and sound like one of those old English Romantic poets, pining for the simpler times.

The more immediate thing that worries me, though, is that Florida is going to start heating up soon, and getting very humid. Right now the weather is perfect for walking. In a few months? Well, some people love walking in that sauna, but I’m not one of them. So we’ll see how long this streak can go on, and how long I can follow a train of thought for more than a few minutes, unburdened by screens and the imperatives behind them.

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