I love walking. I guess I have for a long time, but it took me until this summer to put it into words.
It hit me first when I was reading a book on the connection between healthy eating and writing. There was a whole little section on the benefits of walking. Just 20 minutes a day it said could make all the difference, not only in how many pounds you lost, but more importantly, in the way you thought. It allowed thoughts to wander, almost like a structured meditation. Somehow the movement kept the mind open and ready to confront challenges it had avoided before and to imagine new solutions and possibilities. This whole section rang true with me because I realized that the day I take my dog Willie on walks around the neighborhood are the better days. They are the days when I come up with new play ideas or when I realize the importance of someone in my life. They are the days when I can breathe and relax, even if I’m working two shifts at my summer jobs.
I also realized how much I suffer from lack of walking when I’m at home in Austin, like I am this summer. I don’t have the luxury of walking everywhere. I just can’t do it because of the way the community and the roads are set up. In many ways I love the way that Bee Cave has grown with the introduction of shops and a new town center with the outdoor mall, but in all this planning, they forgot to create anything but traditional roads to connect these fantastic amenities. There are too many big roads for me to cross to walk to Barnes and Noble or the city park. And I would if I could.
I was reminded of the times when I can walk when I was watching television the other night (I know, definitely the opposite of walking, but sitting moments also can offer their own sort of clarity). My mom had turned on Inspector Lewis, a BBC program about a pair of detectives who solve murders in Oxford. Every time she turns on the show, I sort of roll my eyes and try to focus on other things. I think I’m finished with murder/crime television programs (with the exception of BBC’s Sherlock), but each time it comes on I find myself shouting, “That’s Hertford! That’s the High Street! That’s where I walked every day to get to college and my tutorial!” When they had a chase scene through the covered market I almost jumped up and down with my excited recognition of every shop. It killed me that they followed the murderer and her victim instead of showing us Cardew’s tea shop.
The point of this anecdote is that looking back at Oxford reminded me how much I walked there. Every day, to and from college, to and from the Bodleian, to and from both of my tutorials (depending on the week). Plus hours at the Hertford boat house for early morning and evening practices. Sometimes I walked quickly, other times I wandered through the streets, trying to imprint every shop and doorknob into my memory. I may not remember it all, but I remember all the time it gave me to think. Sometimes it was lonely, but most of the time I didn’t mind the wind or the slight rain as long as I could guide my own feet through Oxford’s cobbled streets. One of my favorite solo travel trips during study abroad was my visit to Blenheim Palace (the cover photo for this blog) because it was mostly composed of me walking alone on the palace grounds. I loved getting to choose my own path, and remembering that walks like this were what had helped Winston Churchill into the strong, creative force that he grew up to be.
College campuses, even those that aren’t so embedded in a city, are perfect for walking. When my bike tire deflated at the beginning of the second semester of my senior year, I thought it would be a huge time suck to walk to every class. I was being silly and spoiled from having my wheeled transportation for so long. Yes, the bike was nice. But the bike also had to slow down for the pedestrians and it kept me from dawdling back to Martel with classmates and spending more time chewing over all the wonderful topics we’d gone over in classes, lectures, seminars, and club meetings. I did enjoy getting my bike back a few months later, but maybe I lost a few more bonding, thinking moments when I took it back.
All in all, this discussion of walking just makes me more excited and impatient to move to Toronto. I’ve been warned that it’s a walking city, that the Toronto natives will consider longer walks much less of a task than I will. I am sure that the weather will surely throw me off my game for a while, but I hope that I too can fully embrace the walking culture. I hope that when I’m stressed with papers, courses, and my internship next year that I will remember to get off the TTC a little earlier and walk the rest of the way home. That sometimes I need to go wander, explore, and get lost in order to let my mind stumble into the right solutions to keep me happy, creative, and productive.