For several reasons, most notably the glorious days of an ideal Minnesota autumn, I’ve been walking a lot in recent weeks. This week I did stop for coffee and found myself on a pedestrian’s holiday reading the recent Journal piece written by Hilary Reeves, communications director for Bike Walk Twin Cities. As I walked on I started formulating my own thoughts about walking — the plusses and the problems of one who lives in Stretchers and disdains the very thought of a pedicure.
We all know that walking is good for the bod, even a bod that’s been around the block – literally and figuratively – more than a few times. It’s also good for the mind – lots of time to craft the perfect retort, the clever ditty, the letter to the editor, or probably the great American novel for well-shod walkers with literary talents. I muse about what Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote of Thoreau, who communed with nature and eschewed city sidewalks. “The length of his walk uniformly made the length of his writing. If shut up in the house, he did not write at all.”
Lacking the bucolic escape to Walden Pond — and Thoreau’s way with words –I’m an urban walker with a penchant for walks in Windom Park. As such, I love to deconstruct the neighborhoods I trod – why the Tudor house on the corner? Why the row of cozy cottages that bear the indelible mark of post-WWII vintage design? Why the abandoned shop on the corner that once let families dash out for a quart of milk , a loaf of bread or a handful of penny candy without driving to the mall.
On summer days I ponder the pied-colored hieroglyphics that foretell what’s about to happen with the plumbing, the electricity or some other mysterious city development project. The complexity of the coded information gives rise to wild images of which public utility is about to break ground in the hood.
Walking can also engender deep thoughts about the barriers impeding the progress of the city walker – uneven sidewalks that could use a warning stripe if the city lacks the finances to restore the cement, the unleashed dog that threatens to clear the chain link fence in a single bound, bikers who haven’t got the message that the bike lanes are for their personal use, and most of all, the inevitable snow banks that rise at every corner, then freeze so that pedestrians are effectively frozen in captivity while the school bus or Metro Transit speeds by unaware of their diminutive presence.
Rodgers and Hammerstein notwithstanding, I actually prefer to walk alone. A high-energy pacer would intimidate me. Besides, I like to choose my own erratic path, to stop and examine the particulars of a site, to chat with neighbor kids, or to quit when I’m too tired, too cold, or if I want to get back to the computer so I can download my musings.
Of late I have been narrowing my thoughts to some forthcoming walks that add purpose to my idle pedestrian ambles. There are scores of purposeful walks, of course, these are just some with which I am personally involved. Every walker his a similar slate of walks for a cause.
- First is the Raise Our Collective Voices to Say No walk and rally next Saturday, October 20. The walk is planned to alert voters in North and Northeast Minneapolis to the pernicious implications of the Voter ID Amendment that will face voters on November 6.
- Or there’s the Walk to End Hunger, a monumental collaboration in which walkers of every stripe and stature will gather at the MOA early Thanksgiving morning. It’s a fundraiser sponsored by several hunger-related organizations working in tandem to address the travesty of Minnesotans lack of access to essential food resources.
- Also playing in my mind are plans underway for the annual President’s Walk in Northeast Minneapolis. It’s not till February but it’s this neighborhood’s very special way ro honoring our nation’s presidents by walking or biking the streets on which we live, running from Washington to McKinley and (sort of) beyond. It’s a great neighborhood event during which neighbors celebrate the presidents and the history of Northeast. Intrepid walkers are delighted that the 2013 walk has caught the attention of some hearty bikers who will defy the wintry odds by peddling the presidential route. Plans are percolating – details later.
It’s great that walking offers a low-cost fitness routine. Walking can also promote social justice and political change. Still, if the sages ask me why my saunters are wasted on the earth and sky, I’ll tell them that, if neighborhoods are made for seeing, then walking is its own excuse for being.