Category Archives: walking

Perils of the Imaginative Life

We are not morning people in our house; we never have been. However, this semester, I had all early classes, and of course StepLadder had to be taken to school, so that meant everyone had to be up and out the door, and mostly it was Feckless doing the dropping off and me doing the picking up. Yesterday morning was no exception, we were all a little slow getting out the door, and StepLadder still had a piece of jam toast in her hand as we started off down the street. We said goodbye as I headed to the bus and they headed to school.

Feckless said “I am not awake yet,” as normally they chat on the way to school, to which SL replied, “That’s okay,” and they walked in companionable silence. The school is on a busy street, so we walk her across the road, but usually hug goodbye at the gate to the school field, and she runs to play for those precious 5 or 10 minutes before the bell rings. That part of the day went as usual.

Feckless waited for the lights, crossed the street, and then turned to see if SL wanted to wave goodbye. To his surprise, she was still standing just inside the gate. He watched for a few moments, and she didn’t seem to be moving. He wondered if there was something wrong. She’d seemed happy enough to go to school, but then, they hadn’t talked much on the way.

So he waited for the lights again to cross back to the school, all the time watching as SL stood, head down. By the time he got back across the street and walked up to her, she had moved all of a couple more metres.

“What’s wrong?” he asked. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” was the reply. “I’m being a turtle.”

“Well,” he said, “It’s nearly time for the bell, and you need to wash the jam off your face. Could you maybe be a leopard and run really fast and go wash up?”

“I can be a cheetah.”

“Excellent.”

By the time he got across the road again, she had run all the way across the fields, the playground and the courtyard, and was going in the door.

This morning, I took her to school, and as I hugged her goodbye, asked what animal she was going to be today.

“A wolf,” was the response. Well, they are fairly quick, even if they go on all fours, so that was fine.

Walking

I’m going to tell you something about myself that may make you think less of me. I don’t have a car. Actually, I don’t drive. It’s partly a lifestyle choice, and it is also partly an environmental choice. I think the economics of it balance out – I have always chosen to live in the inner city and pay a little more rent, so that I am close to work and good public transit, but I don’t have the expense of a car. (I must confess that I do buy expensive shoes. I fell in love with Camper when I read the description of a pair of pumps – “for women who walk.” Yes! I thought, these people are my tribe.)

Walking is a normal part of my life. Sometimes it is annoying (but then so is driving in traffic); most of the time it is enjoyable. Walking is a Slow choice; the time it takes to walk, and I think the rhythm of the physical activity itself, help to create a liminal space between here and there.

Sometimes I deliberately try to do nothing, and to think nothing as I walk, other times is a time to think, plan, fume, daydream. Often I listen to something on my iPod as I walk (I prefer audiobooks and Rachel Maddow to music); if I’m walking with someone, there’s time to have a conversation.

In the city where I live, walking is not seen as a normal thing to do. In fact, you could be mistaken for thinking it was a disease or a disability, or even something to be embarrassed about from the reactions of the people who find out you are on foot. “You’re walking?” reapeats the grocery store clerk incredulously when I turn down his offer to carry my purchases to my car. “Are you sure?” asks the colleague who pulls up beside me to offer an lift. “You really want to walk?” asks the kind mother of a child in my spawn’s class when I politely refuse her offer of a ride home. Walking with a child is somehow much worse than walking just by yourself; “We saw you walking,” acquaintances confide, in hushed tones.

None of these people are lazy; I am sure they all drive to the gym a couple of times a week. They pick their children up in the car and drive them to a physical activity because they worry about the “epidemic of childhood obesity”. When I walk home with my spawn, I know she is getting 25 minutes of mild exercise. That’s nice, but it isn’t really the only (or perhaps even the main) reason we walk.

In that space between school and home, I can feel her unwind. If it’s been a hard day at school, sometimes she stumps along, or drags her feet. As the walk progresses, her steps get lighter, until she’s twirling and dancing with her usual joy in the last block before we get home. As we walk, we chat: I know who is in her secret club and what the password is this week; I know that she is proud of the puppet she made to go with the legend she wrote, even though some boy said “Cats can’t be pink”; I know that her ‘big buddy’ in Grade 3 made her day by spending a couple of minutes talking to her; I know so much more than I want to about Swannalina and Swanna – characters in the story she is telling in her head. This information takes time to trickle out; it isn’t what you get when you ask “How was your day?”

Walking gives us time to notice what’s going on in the neighbourhood, to understand our environment, to feel connected. We know where the puddles form when it rains. We know who shovels their walk, and who doesn’t. We know lots of the local cats, and have our own nicknames for them. Our favourite is Hammock Cat, who, when he isn’t sitting in the window, often leaves a little stuffed toy dog to mark his place.

We’ve been tracking the progress of spring in lots of ways. We know who has good flowers in the garden, and we’ve been watching the tulips come out, and speculating on what colours they are going to be. There’s a huge plane tree next to the pedestrian overpass; when we walk up to the top of the ramp, we are level with its upper branches, and we can see the progress of the buds and leaves.

Walking is worth the time it takes – and I guess that’s the whole point of slowness. Once we get home, life speeds up.