Just Saying: The Walking Tonic

By Shelley Wildgen

Clattering loudly through life is not fun. It seems to me that most of us need a pause button. Not a vacation, but something we can weave into our noise on a regular basis. Stopping to smell the roses might be a little bit of an overreach for this cynic, but I’ve been thinking lately about that whole ‘journey versus destination’ thing.

Did you hear the one about the Belleville schoolteacher who took a walk, daily, for two years? Then there are all those folk who walk the Pacific Coast Trail, while shutting out life’s daily expectations. That’s 2,650 miles. Half a year’s worth of walking. I have a Facebook friend who’s setting out on the Pacific Trail this coming year - while posting, of course.

Then there’s the spiritual awakening that Martin Sheen’s character had when walking Spain’s Camino de Santiago in the movie ‘The Way’. Intuitively, we seem to know we need to keep moving in order to slow down.

So, what is it about walking? There’s no question it seems to sort us out. If we’re upset, we go for a walk. If we eat too much, we go for a walk. There’s also the proverbial walk and talk… If we’re in love, we go for a walk. Sometimes break ups involve walking, as well. Take a walk! These boots are made for walking, walk on the wild side, walk me home, walk the walk, walking on air or eggshells, three storey walk-up, walking papers, the walk of life and rounding it all out by walking till you drop - the walk-a-thon.

When I was a kid, Bellevillians spent an entire day walking around the Bay of Quinte to raise money for the Dick Ellis Arena. It was around 30 miles and all of us got our names posted and framed at the arena. My mother walked the entire distance. My brother was piggy-backed over the finish line while I washed up along the 25-mile mark, if memory serves. Added (real?) incentive for me was a big plateful of Mrs. Geen’s spaghetti at the end of that community trudge day.

Walking is a universal metaphor for taking action. It just plain feels good to put one foot in front of the other and go. It’s purposeful and it can be done almost anywhere or anytime, like now. Fall is the perfect time for gathering together, throwing a turkey in the oven and then taking to the Sager Conservation area, hiking up to the lookout and surveying the bounty of fall foliage spilling over the Oak Hills. Coming home to a roasting dinner just caps it off magnificently. Another food lure, I know. It’s still purposeful.

Living where we do, in the middle of Ontario, the onslaught of fall seems to beckon just about everyone to go walking; casting aside summer numbness with just the right amount of vigor coursing through our veins. It doesn’t really matter if the walk takes you through a town or along a country road; that crunch, crunch, crunch of well-worn leaves is the only sound that matters.

And here’s another thing about the quiet power of walking. It kickstarts all of our other senses so we seem to absorb more of what’s around us. When in an unfamiliar city, you’ll always get the best sense of your surroundings by walking through them. Visiting Bancroft or Burgundy, the simple act of parking the car and walking forces you to breathe it all in and get a true reading of where you are.

My friend, Jamie, gave me the best coping advice many years ago. She suggested that the rigors of everyday life had de-sensitized me, and she prescribed a sort of weekend boot camp for the senses: Disconnect from phone, computer, and kids, light candles, make soup or a roast, and watch the movie ‘Stakeout’ (“but I don’t like…” “Just watch it,” said Jamie). Mindless comedy was essential to this curative process. Then, borrow a dog, walk for one to two hours in the woods, and be sure to touch tree bark and leaves. Sleep. Repeat. Simple. It worked.

So, this need for walking must be as much a part of our soul’s survival as water and fire. No matter what conveniences we invent to sharpen our edges and shorten our distances , we still need to walk - whether it’s the Pacific Coast Trail or the daily back and forth of the Bayshore Trail, steady striding feels right.

‘The ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah.’ Thing is, the wonders of walking are all well and good, until we aren’t. Knees, hips, back, feet…some body part will eventually betray us and impede those steps, but on we go. Sometimes we take a friend so we can compare afflictions - then, magically, at the end of most walks everything just feels better. Mind, spirit, body aligned.

From our first step in life to our last, forward motion gets us where we need to go. Step one. Step two. Step three. On we go. The pace might get slower and the pauses more frequent, but we can adapt. Just slap on the knee braces, slip into the orthotics and move along, because there’s always a good walk just around the corner.