Ways of Walking
Walking gives us health, both mental and physical. It reduces depression and improves blood cholesterol. It gives us joy and connection to others. It reminds us that we are free, even when some people try to persuade us we’re not. It shows us who benefits from the world that humans make, and who doesn’t; it reminds us that we’re evolved bipedal creatures on a spinning planet. Walking is how we relate to the life all around us.
I was reminded of many of these realities while reading Ways of Walking, a collection of essays edited by Ann de Forest. Ways of Walking is about more than walks; it’s about what we discover when we’re walking, both about the world and inside ourselves. “Is walking a subversive act?” asks the book’s introduction. “For the authors of this book, it can be.”
De Forest’s own contribution, “Aberrant Angeleno,” pushes back on the notion of Los Angeles being a city hostile to walkers. Her childhood was full of walks — explorations and wanderings that defined her sense of self and freedom. When a wild patch of land near her school was mowed down, flattened, and covered with sod, the blow of losing that wild place to wander hit hard:
“In high school, I too felt like I was being flattened and tamed. Was it because that brief, daily ramble was no longer accessible? I had always been a kid with a humming, chattering brain and an overactive imagination, but without a physical outlet, a way for my body to move along with my mind, my brain, in overdrive, churned with anxiety and worry and fear.”
Reading those lines, I wish I’d realized earlier in life how much walking reduced my anxieties and put the stresses and traumas of life in more grounded perspective. When I don’t walk every day, my mind often feels like a rubber band ready to snap. On other days, it feels so mired in depression and hopelessness that it’s hard to make myself go out the door. Yet once I do, my entire body, including my mind, feels better.
Ruth Knafo Setton’s poignant essay about memories of walks with her father — who “walked outside every single day of his life — until he couldn’t anymore” — and his native Morocco ends with the gifts of walking, what it brings to our lives, more…