“Walking, ideally, is a state in which the mind, the body, and the world are aligned, as though they were three characters finally in conversation together, three notes suddenly making a chord.”

~Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking

Most mornings I walk.

Herb and I leave the house as early as the sunrise allows, making our way along a route we’ve carved through quiet streets that wind along rolling hills and flat pavement. It’s a routine I’ve come to depend on, a chance to clear the cobwebs and crystalize the day’s plans. As we set out, our conversation picks up speed with our steps, a synchronicity of spirit never seeming to run out of things to say.

There is a sociability amid this early morning solitude, neighbors in their own walking worlds whom we happen upon at the same spots, at the same time, like clocks marking the minutes along the way. We exchange greetings by name with some; others we know only from this routine of time and place. “Good morning,” we all say as we continue walking, walking, walking.

An especially magnificent sky that stopped us in our tracks one morning.

I think of the walks we’ve taken on our travels, the great cities we’ve explored on foot and that feeling of wondrous curiosity when we’ve turned a new corner or headed down an unfamiliar road. There were street musicians singing opera in Bilbao, a museum staircase painted to look like an Impressionistic work of art in Vienna, the delicious aroma of something cinnamon from a street we could only find by “following our noses” in Rhodes.

I remember our walk in Sydney, Australia, from Bondi to Coogee Beach that took us along fabulously changing terrain, stunning ocean trails, lovely hidden bays and even an historic nineteenth century cemetery. Look at that, I found myself whispering and sometimes blurting out loud. Look at that.

Waverley Cemetery along the Bondi to Coogee Beach Walk. Sydney, Australia. 2018.

In his classic 1862 essay, beloved writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau described walking as “the enterprise and adventure of the day.” He celebrated the mental benefits of walking as well, advising readers to “walk like a camel, which is said to be the only beast which ruminates while walking.” His words remind us that whether we find adventure in some faraway land or in our own backyard, walking is something to be valued and treasured.

“Two or three hours’ walking will carry me to as strange a country as I expect ever to see. A single farmhouse which I had not seen before is sometimes as good as the dominions of the King of Dahomey.”

~Henry David Thoreau, Walking

During these seemingly endless days of maneuvering through the Covid pandemic, our morning walks have taken on a significance far beyond getting a daily dose of cardio. There’s an appreciation for the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other. Of setting out on a short journey to see what the day has to offer. Of aliveness as we breathe in the crisp air. Of moving.

Halfway through our walk, at the bottom of the steepest hill, Herb and I split up. He takes the hills at a brisker pace than I do, pulling his earbuds from a pocket and tuning into music or news or a podcast. I prefer to walk in solitude, listening to the always-entertaining mockingbirds and filling my senses with whatever fragrance the season offers. The landscape is a bit dormant now, but in a few months flowering pink trees will start to bloom, and star-shaped white jasmine blossoms will perfume the air.

I’ve fallen quite hard for the intoxicating aroma of star jasmine since living in California.

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As I walk that final solo stretch of the morning, thoughts that have been rapid-firing in my mind seem to evaporate. It’s as if a window has opened, letting them out into the fresh air, welcoming in a rare gift of stillness and giving me a brief moment of oneness with the world.

10 Comments

  • Mary,
    We’ve just returned from our morning walk. We generally depart knowing that the first 10 minutes of darkness will give way to the morning pinks and yellows of the daybreak skies.Yet, even on the days we are greeted with a blanket of fog, our trek provides the perfect start. Loved reading about your walks and shall certainly think of you this spring when our backyard jasmine begins to bloom. My mom had a grand walkway on the property where she lived that was lined with brick walls and trellises enveloped with the fragrant white blossoms. She delighted in our daily travels along these paths.

    • Beautiful thoughts, Ann…thanks for sharing! There’s something really magical about heading out when the darkness begins to give way to the morning light. I’m very happy to know that the jasmine will be blooming in your part of the country as well…ah, spring! 🙂

  • Hi Mary,
    I love this post. I walk a few hours ever day. I always have but with the stress of this pandemic and our country’s political situation it is mandatory. We live in the Silverlake section of L.A. which is a wonderful place to walk and most people are wearing masks. Stay well and we will all travel again.

    Elyse

    • Thanks so much, Elyse! I’m happy to know that these thoughts on walking resonated with you. Silverlake is a beautiful area and definitely a great place for walks. Our son lives in L.A. and has taken us on the paths along the Reservoir. Good health to you as well and enjoy some travel day-dreaming on your walks!

  • Mary,
    Walking &/or hiking has become my personal treasure. I am fortunate to have found the right balance between walking with a friend or solo…all is a gift. Uncovering new trails, forest preserves, neighborhoods and town squares has been my substitute for
    travel. Although, I do look forward to traveling beyond my Illinois and Wisconsin borders.:)
    Thanks for sharing!
    Deb

    • Walking as a “personal treasure” – I love that, Deb! I agree that it is truly a gift, even within the limits of our borders, wherever we may live. It will be invaluable to carry the perspective of the past year with us whenever and wherever we’re able to travel again. Thanks for sharing your perspective 🙂

  • Mary, always love your perspectives while we are at home, and eagerly looking forward to traveling along with you soon!

    • Thanks so much for the kind words, Bob. It’s always great to hear from you! I hope you are doing well, and I love the positivity of your words, “traveling soon.”

  • As a mutual daily walker I very much appreciated this read and couldn’t agree more about the Star Jasmine scent. As we would say in the 60’s “Keep on Truckin’.

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