Beatnik Beat: A Riverwest Rambler

by William Morder Days and months are travellers of eternity. So are the years that pass by. Those who steer a boat across the sea, or drive a horse over the earth till they succumb to the weight of years, spend every minute of their lives travelling. There are a great number of ancients, too, who died on the road. I myself have been tempted for a long time by the cloud-moving wind — filled with a strong desire to wander. -Matsuo Basho, Narrow Road to the Deep North (trans. Nobuyuki Yuasa, Penguin Books, 1966)

Millions of years ago (scientists tell us) our distant ancestors did something very remarkable: they stood up. I like to think that they did this because they had decided to get up and walk somewhere. The scientific explanation would probably be that one of us looked up and saw a piece of lucious fruit hanging just out of reach, and so, in order to reach it, he or she stood up, and only later did it occur to us that this upright position made locomotion possible. In any case, as I was taught in church, the Creator’s design admirably suits us to the purpose of walking — more so than almost any other activity. We are learning that gorillas and chimpanzees can use sign language (and invent new words and phrases of their own); dolphins are capable of abstract reasoning; and ordinary house cats can perform complicated mathematical operations. So I ask myself, what is it about us that makes human beings uniquely who we are? And I say, walking. We are the only creature that stands upright on two legs as a general habit; those other species that stand up do so only for limited periods, and as a rule prefer running on all four legs. Did we stand up, and then later get the idea to walk somewhere? Or was it that we wanted to go somewhere, and so got the idea of walking? That gives a good foundation for my own notions, which is that walking is good for us in more ways than we usually recognize, and that people ought to walk more. In my own case, I was trying to solve my transportation needs, and got the eccentric idea of trying to combine this with my desire for more exercise. At first, when I tried it, I lived a little closer to downtown, where I work; now, however, it is a good healthy hike of about four or five miles, I judge, roughly from St Casimir’s Church to the Bradley Center. And that is how I hit upon the admittedly half-crazy idea of walking back and forth downtown from my Riverwest home. Now, I know that most of you will immediately think, Fool! you could save so much more time with a car, or even a bicycle or taking the bus. However, I will hold to my opinion that walking is decidedly the best option in most cases. I have timed myself, and it takes me about 35-45 minutes to walk this distance. Of course, I am six feet tall and have rather long legs, but I mostly walk at a comfortable pace, with lots of time to take little scenic by-ways, to explore steps leading off who knows where, to stop at a grocery store, my bank, or the post office, to smell the fresh air, to enjoy the weather, and so on. When I am in a hurry, and walk at my fast pace (but not my top walking speed) I can make it in just about 30 minutes. In fact, most of the time, I find walking is faster than the bus, when I consider that I usually wait a while for the bus, and if I must transfer, I must wait a while longer. When I look at my watch, I usually conclude that it would have been simpler just to walk. Furthermore, even when you take a car, you must find parking, get in and out of the car, and walk to wherever you are going. These seemingly insignificant actions take at least 5 or 10 minutes. When I walk, I never have problems finding a parking spot. And then consider the cost of fuel, insurance, maintenance, and so on. A bike, too, must be locked up securely. Granted, if I wish to take a very long trip, and time is important, then some other mode of transport is preferable; but really, I am talking only about our limited everyday activity, such as my own, going back and forth to work, over a comparatively short distance. Maybe others will resist regular five mile walks for any number of reasons, but I believe that all of us can find good reasons to take shorter walks — say, 10 or 15 minutes at a spell — as part of our daily routine. Think of the difference it would make: I cause no pollution, to my knowledge, by walking. Also, I save a hefty sum of money, since my total travel expenses for walking have been one pair of good hiking boots (about $150) which have served me well for three years now; and I imagine if I look round a little, I could find a nice pair of walking shoes which would last me just as long for about one-third that price. Cars and bicycles, too, can be stolen or vandalized; thus far, however, I have never had such problems when I walk. I meet all kinds of interesting people whom I would never have known otherwise. I am well acquainted with every dog and cat along my way, most of whom give me a friendly greeting. I have 30-45 minutes completely alone, all to myself; in an age when our precious personal time is shrinking away, this is like a surprise gift. (And when I do decide to take the bus, due to bad weather, for example, this seems like another luxury.) I explore all manner of wild thoughts; I listen to jazz on my earphones; I discover secret niches in the city that I never before knew existed. Most of all, it feels like I have much more time in my life, rather than (as one would expect) less time. There is also one other fringe benefit: I can eat and drink just about anything I want, without worrying about my weight. I have lost about 30 pounds; I have got much leaner, more muscular; my heart is strong and my breathing good. Running is undoubtedly more efficient exercise, but then, runners tend to develop health problems such a shin splints, and even irregular heartbeats. Since developing this habit for walking, I feel like I am 16 years old again (instead of 44). I require about an hour or two less of sleep (which means, again, that I have more time in my day). And most of all, I have an unshakeable conviction in my own abilities of self-reliance and independence. More than anything, my habit of walking has changed my perceptions, and I experience life as something fresh and new. Indeed, I suddenly feel very free when I am walking, because I am not tied to any schedule except my own. From which tree’s bloom it comes, I do not know: this fragrance! -Basho If, for some cause, I leave off walking, I miss it, and within a few days or a week I am back on my feet, and wandering down some side street. My only advice is, try it for a while, and see if you like it. Make your corner of the world beautiful. Give yourself a gift.

The Peripatetic Poet’s Necessary Items

• an extra shirt (for men, or at least for me, this is essential). • a good stainless steel thermal coffee cup, for hot and cold beverages; if possible, one that doesn’t upset easily. • a knapsack, book bag or laptop case; remember you cannot have too many pockets, compartments, hooks, snap-on gadgets, etc., to carry that one extra thing. • a dependable watch. • a list of THINGS TO DO TODAY/THIS WEEK/SOON (I use my list as a bookmark, until it becomes obsolete. Then I start another list.) • a radio, CD player, or like device, with bud earphones. • a cell phone is very handy. (I used to carry spare change.) • books or other reading matter. • a notebook and pen (to jot down thoughts). • sunglasses (even on a cloudy day, it is important to look cool when out walking). • a small umbrella; maybe a hat; a versatile overcoat (but remember, be cool), especially, if it rolls up to fit in your bag. Sometimes, also, a wool sweater. Looking cool is mostly just to be dressed comfortably, for the weather. • a half-dozen heavy plastic bags. (I hate when rare books get wet; worse, if they belong to a friend, or the library). • Keep your personal business in a convenient pocket: checkbook, calculator, postage stamps, pocket calendar. • an all-purpose traveller’s amulet. • durable, comfortable shoes. Riverwest Currents – Volume 1 – Issue 4 – May 2002