I love walking. I savor walks. I look forward to them like a normal person looks forward to dessert. I’d be far from the first person to tell you that taking walks is an excellent way to clear mental blocks. That it's a great way to refresh yourself, and good for you. But it’s not about being first. Especially when walking somewhere.
My family has long looked to walks as a bonding activity, as something to do after a meal. Since before I was born, my family has always had a dog, and my folks would walk them three times a day. They were like mail carriers: they’d stop for nothing. I would go with them in my stroller, then of my own volition. Even without a dog of my own, I take walks to ground myself.
I often find myself drawn to the street, usually after a long period of sitting, or heavy screen use. It calls out to me. I grab a few essentials and jog down the back stairs of my apartment building, walking across the small roof; before spilling out onto the alley.
It’s quiet here. Occasionally cars drive by, usually unknown neighbors of mine, heading home. In rare situations a ride-sharing driver will head through here as if it’s an unmarked road.
Immediately the alley presents a problem: there’s no way forward. Only left or right. I either head towards the nearby college, where there’s people, a grocery store, cafes. Or the other way, between train stops, with a quiet park where people bring their dogs to run. I choose the park.
That’s the only choice I’ll make on this walk; from here on out, I’m going where my feet take me. I'm restless, almost unsteady. It seems like if my feet stopped moving I'd fall over. So I don’t let them. I walk with a constant pace.
It is about four in the afternoon. Being Winter, it’s nearly dark. The streetlights have come on. Still, to the West, deep maroon clouds contrast against the pale blue sky. Scratches in the veil from an unseen hand.
I walk as if pulled along a wire. I’m free to look at my surroundings, take it all in. Once I get away from the larger streets, it’s quiet. The few people I pass make no noise. It’s as if everyone is in unspoken agreement not to violate the stillness. To speak would shatter the illusion.
I continue on, but before I get to the park, my feet pull me across the street, South, away from where I set out to go. It’s as good a direction as any. Right now is not about where I’m going, or how I get there; it’s only about the act of walking.
In 19th Century Paris, there was a type of person referred to for their wandering: the Flâneur. To Walter Benjamin, who brought her under our inspection as a philosophical fixture, she was more than a saunterer. She was an inquisitor, a conscientious objector to the city and it’s trappings. The Flâneur was an individual in observation of Paris at the start of the capitalist society we now inhabit. With the economic shift, the Flâneur driven all but to extinction.
I walk on. The train rattles above. For me, walking is like using a slow-cooker. It takes all my vague memories, breaks them all down into their basest parts, and combines them to a cohesive stew. It was on this walk I started pulling together this piece.
Of course, I lose some things on the way; especially if like me you don’t stop to take notes, or record your thoughts. But what remains is of far more value than anything lost to the atmosphere. Ideas percolate, getting sifted through my surroundings.
As I looped back, I stopped at a grocery store, and bought a piece of salmon to make for dinner. By this point, I had been walking for over an hour. I put the fish in my bag, and went back outside. By now, night had fallen. I walked up the row of stopped cars, waiting for the light to change. High above me, the Moon is light gold as if reflecting the streetlights, diffused through the thin layer of clouds.
I stopped to look at it. The crowd appears around me. I sit like the salmon must have in the middle of the stream, letting the waters flow about my waist. Cars inch on towards the lake. I should head home to cook this. No longer am I a wanderer; now I am only a member of the crowd. Perhaps sometime soon, I can wander these streets again.