Sometimes the Only Way is the Long One

Wanderlust

Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit

During a 2013 vacation where each family member chose an activity close-to-home for us to share, my wife’s selection was a day at a local retreat center.*  Upon arrival, I was pleased to see that the center had created a labyrinth in the woods.  Labyrinths have come to have a special place in my heart.  A dear friend of our family who died in his early 20s was memorialized with a labyrinth designed for people of all physical abilities.  Andrew had spent the majority of his life in a wheelchair, but that never constrained his spirit. Back at the retreat center, “walking the labyrinth” became my activity for the morning.

I was reminded of this recently while re-reading Rebecca Solnit’s wonderful book Wanderlust:  A History of WalkingAn early chapter is titled “Labyrinths and Cadillacs: Walking Into the Land of the Symbolic.” (I told you it was a wonderful book!)  Solnit, who describes herself as “having been raised as nothing in particular by a lapsed Catholic and a nonpracticing Jew,” found herself walking the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco one evening and then muses on the “rules” and “moral” of the practice:

“…sometimes you have to turn your back on your goal to get there, sometimes you’re farthest away when you’re closest, sometimes the only way is the long one.  After the careful walking and looking down, the stillness of arrival was deeply moving.”

Trinity Church Labyrinth

Labyrinth in Memory of Andrew Lane at Trinity Church, Staunton, VA

Walking in symbolic space doesn’t require any particular spiritual or religious practice, but it strikes me that thinking about these truths are useful for everyone. We take journeys in work and life and the path is seldom straight. Short cuts often lead to dead ends. As Solnit notes, “Part of what makes roads, trails, and paths so unique as built structures is that they cannot be perceived as a whole all at once by a sedentary onlooker.  They unfold in time as one travels along them … Symbolic structures such as labyrinths call attention to the nature of all paths, all journeys.”

I hope you’ll take some time to think about your journeys, and have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

* You may not be surprised that for my selection in 2013, I stretched the idea of staying in the region and chose a family weekend in Pittsburgh to see the Pirates, cross another baseball stadium off my bucket list, and work in a return visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.  My daughter’s choice had us spending three days at the beach, while my son picked out four ethnic restaurants around DC where we expanded our culinary palates.  When you have 21-year old children and you’re paying college tuition, this “make your own” vacation is a good alternative to a couple of expensive weeks out-of-town.

Walking as an Act of Citizenship

Oxfords

A nice pair of oxfords for walking

I love the fact that smart phones now have built-in pedometers. Knowing I can count my steps has encouraged me to find opportunities to walk around the places I live and work each day. In the process I’ve become much more familiar with the Foggy Bottom Historic District (near the Watergate where I work) and Silver Spring (near my home).  In snowy weather, as we’ve seen this weekend on the east coast, walking is sometimes our only reliable means of transportation.

Fred Kent, the founder of the Project for Public Spaces, has noted that “If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.”

Walking doesn’t have to be for any great purpose.  The BBC News Magazine had a recent article that highlighted the “just to walk” stroll – titled appropriately The Slow Death of Purposeless Walking.

But the same study found that a mere 17% of trips were “just to walk”. And that included dog-walking.

It is that “just to walk” category that is so beloved of creative thinkers.

“There is something about the pace of walking and the pace of thinking that goes together. Walking requires a certain amount of attention but it leaves great parts of the time open to thinking. I do believe once you get the blood flowing through the brain it does start working more creatively,” says Geoff Nicholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking.

“Your senses are sharpened. As a writer, I also use it as a form of problem solving. I’m far more likely to find a solution by going for a walk than sitting at my desk and ‘thinking’.”

A few years ago I read a wonderful book by Rebecca Solnit entitled Wanderlust: A History of Walking. In it, Solnit wrote:

Walking is only the beginning of citizenship, but through it the citizen knows his or her city and fellow citizens and truly inhabits the city rather than a small privatized part thereof. Walking the streets is what links up reading the map with living one’s life, the personal microcosm with the public macrocosm; it makes sense of the maze all around….Walking maintains the publicness and viability of public space.

Wherever you are going, enjoy your stroll today.

More to come…

DJB