Some people walk on paths of rose petals. Me? I walk on paths of clam shells. No, they’re not nearly as cushioned, velvety, and fragrant as rose petals, but they keep me moving. The gulls in my neighborhood pick up clams from the beach, fly up and over a hard surface, like the asphalt road, and then drop them, usually cracking the shells so they can eat the innards. These empty, broken shells accumulate alongside the road, right in my pathway. Occasionally a gull meal has been interrupted, and I notice a soft, glistening clam still inside the broken shell.
My mother walked on Seattle sidewalks, up and down those inner city hills, and always wanted to write a book about walking. Now, in an assisted living home, she moves around in her wheelchair on smooth linoleum hallways and flat courtyards.
I am not a long distance walker. I walk for perhaps 20 or 25 minutes a day and that’s it, unless it’s a special walk with a friend. Why do I walk? I walk first of all in order to sleep through the night. Between that and perhaps a little bit of gardening, yardwork, or housework, I have no problems sleeping. I walk because I know it will clear my mind and help me think straight. Fresh air? The stimulation of movement? A different setting? What is it in that walking action that often will help me come up with a creative solution to a problem, or an idea for a writing project?
I walk because I’m an introvert, but I like to see just a few people on an otherwise very quiet day at home. I don’t initiate conversations, so a friendly “Hi!” is as much of an interaction as I need, but occasionally I meet walker friends or neighbors and we visit briefly–and once in awhile, more than briefly. Sometimes I meet Charlie, the 85-year-old man who walks two miles a day. He’s a retired printer and makes stained glass creations as a hobby. Sue, who doesn’t live in my neighborhood, but walks daily in it, always knows more of what’s happening on my street than I do, so I enjoy visiting with her to get the latest local gossip. This morning not many people were out, and I found myself waving to the garbage truck driver.
I walk because I know it will give me energy for facing the rest of the day. On the days I skip walking I almost always notice that old lethargy battling for my body. I also walk because I’m excited about what’s out there today! What plants are blossoming? How’s the work coming on the boathouse my neighbor’s torn apart? Any eagles or ospreys? Is there any fragrance yet from the wild roses that are just opening?
I walk because I know from all the research that I am healthier for it. My heart and lungs are getting exercise, in addition to other muscles. My lower back muscles are being strengthened. I can splurge on that leftover piece of pie.
And, with my mother in mind, I walk because I know it is a very special privilege, and I’m going to take advantage of that privilege while I can–even if it doesn’t take me down a path of roses.
One of my favorite quotes is this one:
“We’re all just walking each other home.”
–Ram Dass, spiritual teacher