On Walking

We walk for a different kind of time together, walking side by side changes conversation. I find walks more forgiving - more spacious - when it comes to releasing incidental brainfarts. Thoughts are allowed to trail off. Questions and seeming problems allowed to go unresolved. Gaps in conversations automatically occupied by the placement of one foot before the other. Thoughts are picked up. And sometimes left as they are.

We walk to take a break, sometimes without getting anything.

We walk to break the routine, especially when the air inside starts getting stale.

When does a walk become a route? I guess when one repeats it enough, both with the feet and also in the mind. As I go along, the outline goes from faint to dark, becoming more pronounced over time, holding more offshoots. More promises.

Sometimes, inevitably, routes turn into routine.

And I wonder how something never occurred to me - that the words route and routine could be related… it was not a hunch, not a could it be, but an it must probably be so.

etymology of the word routine”: 1670s, from French routine usual course of action, beaten path” (16c.), from route way, path, course”

Anyways, so that is the danger. The routine. So we try to mix it up.

The walk to a bakery and cafe.

The walk to another cafe.

The walk around the lake.

The walk down another neighbourhood to another cafe.

Sometimes we walk down the same path and by straying off, we surprise ourselves. It could be as simple as being on the other side of the street.

These walks are captured - not in the framed photo or caption - but in the body,

Some walks we take on our own. Solitary walks. I have one like that, mapped out in my head.

It starts as a well-paved path that cuts through a few blocks or hoods, and then opening up to a museum with a compound that is pretty much open access for walkers and joggers to loop. Exiting the loop on the far end, the path goes on like a trail, flanked on two sides by trees and the Ottawa river on my left. I could exit the trail and find myself on one of the bridges to Ottawa, or head back to where the museum is — there, I would find another bridge. That, too, takes me right into downtown Ottawa. I prefer the latter, because of a park that waits for me at the end of that 10-minute bridge walking. This is one walk that I have really enjoyed, one that can accommodate slight detours for coffee, offers possibilities for rest in the form of a bench with a good view, the possibilities of looping, and a drink on the way.

the pleasures of getting lost during lockdown can seem thin. The paths I find never travel very far, and if they don’t come to a dead end, often arrive somewhere unexceptional.” David Farrier on Desire Paths

The temptation is always there, to always walk for something. We are always looking for a stronger reason to walk. Some days, fresh air is a very strong reason. Some days, like plants - sunlight is food.

Opening the balcony door is the closest I get to being outside when I don’t feel like taking a walk. Too easily, I let the grey skies get to me. There is a certain shittiness about grey and gloomy skies. A certain staleness that is too easy to dismiss.

When the sun is out, I cannot do anything but keep finding reasons to go out. To get a coffee. And then another coffee. A meal. A drink. I get impatient when I cannot come up with good enough reasons, I seem to arrive over and over again at the same ones.

Ground conditions. Temperature. Amount of sun. Time.

Because I have a tendency to chase sunsets, sometimes walks are centered around a stretch of ground that offers the golden dust of the setting sun. I become acutely aware of West. And consequently, East. The sun becomes a reason to make a walk happen, too.

Choosing to be outside to be part of the day. Does it sound strange?

Meandering takes a certain mood. To wander without a bounty in sight. A carrot at the end of the stick. Can the walk not also be the carrot? I wish it could, but sometimes it’s hard. Especially when one is in a city or town. The immediate surrounding is not immediately appealing, short of the sun and fresh air. I need invasive nature all around, barging into my home without permission, to be able to say yes, the carrot is there, between my teeth, its sweetness palpable even before I step through the door.

What if we start out walking believing that there are surprises waiting?

Come on, we have to learn to believe in a little bit of magic. We have to decide that that’s the stance we will take.

You make a clear choice - don’t step through cynical and doubting… Step through that door like it’s a threshold.

The walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking exercise, as it is called, as the sick take medicine at stated hours …but it is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day.” Henry David Thoreau

A grid-like neighbourhood is a good place to practice spontaneity. a way to break out of one’s usual walking patterns. find another way to get somewhere. turn left without over thinking. turn right when your first instincts tell you to turn left. make 2 left turns and then a right. walk the same way you came from. or not. take the longer way. go around the same blocks a few times and notice the difference. experiment experiment experiment.

A path that offers a few forks; choose a different one this time.

Walk without a watch. without checking the time.

Leave the phone at home.

A first destination” that offers more possibilities.

I arrived in winter, the land covered in snow. It’s pretty dang interesting to not have any preconceived notions or memories about where the paths are; there is no remembering where to walk. I make the decision to follow a well-pressed path made by tonnes of feet walking through - that is usually the path of least resistance. Pick that when you want to walk fast. Otherwise, choose to walk away. Stray from that.

I was going to say there are no rules, one can walk anywhere. But I believe we tread carefully around nature in winter for our own safety. We lead with our toes, always one leg out ahead, checking to see if the river has completely frozen over. The snow is such a great holder of mysteries. It drapes so lightly over land-like undulations. Sometimes we sink into snow so deep to find ourselves hip-deep in snow beside sprawling tree roots, all the nooks and crannies.

My fascination with desire paths. Traces of desire. In winter, with the waters frozen, we’ve found that we were afforded a path round a fence, with access into private property that we could otherwise never be able to walk into, not without getting our feet wet. We kept pushing the boundaries.

Going through holes in fences. Going over fences. The deformed wires are well-marked paths that teach you how to scale this thing to get over to the other side.

I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit.” Henry David Thoreau

There are some loops we tramped on again and again - so that our feet can take us while our minds are on something else besides curiosity and exploration. Some days we let our feet take the lead on a familiar path so the mind can tag along.

May 2, 2021