Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Today's sermon is about walking. For those who want to skip ahead, there is a photo of a pair of gorgeous Turkish socks below. But bear with me -- you might find this interesting.

There was a Washington Post story making the rounds on a couple of my e-mail lists this week about the near-impossibility of simply walking to a destination in the suburbs. No news there, at least not for me. But it did get me to thinking about the subject again. I'm fortunate to live in a town and a neighborhood in which walking is not only possible, but usually very pleasant. My neighborhood is 100 years old, complete with sidewalks and just a few blocks from the walkable downtown business district. There are 3 quality yarn shops within walking distance of my house, including one a mere block and a half away (way too convenient!!). Yet with all of this accessibility, I'm stunned at how few of my neighbors ever actually walk. I have seen some even drive to my house to pick up their kids.

Of course, walking in the U.S. is something that primarily takes place on treadmills and hiking trails. Bill Bryson has a very amusing essay on this in his book, "I'm a Stranger Here Myself," in which he shares the cultural shock of returning to his native U.S. after 20 years in England. For those who don't already, Bryson is now moving his family back to England.
Another excellent read on walking is Rebecca Solnit's book Wanderlust: A History of Walking.

My family owns a car now, and we do use it occasionally, but mostly we walk. We chose our house because of its location -- the vast majority of our regular needs can be met within a mile of the house. We have two groceries -- a mainstream and a natural foods co-op -- within a mile, also my hubby's office and the kids' school. I walk my children to and from school every day, regardless of the weather. Today was heavy snow and most of the other usual walkers received rides from parents, which puzzles me because I would much rather walk in it than drive in it. I will be pulling the sled to the feed store soon to get dog food. On the way back, I can stop by one of those yarn shops and get a skein for mittens -- my son complained that his hands are cold in his thermo gloves, so I told him I would knit him a pair of mittens tonight. I recently knit some for myself in GGH Aspen, a chunky merino-acrylic blend, and wow are they warm.

Back to walking. Why is using one's feet and legs as transportation considered such an exotic activity in the U.S.? I can certainly understand why people who live in scary asphalt covered suburbs wouldn't want to walk anywhere, but why is it unpopular even in a great walking town like mine? I know people are in a hurry, but some of their choices don't make any sense. One neighbor (who has since moved) used to drive two blocks to the health club to work out! She would also run 5 miles a day, but walking a few blocks downtown was never even considered because she was too busy (I don't think it takes much longer, maybe 5 minutes, to walk there). Another neighbor told me she felt like she had to drive 3 blocks to work because she needed her car at lunchtime to run errands. I try not to be judgemental about things, but I don't really find much merit in their reasoning.

There are so many good reasons to walk. In addition to the obvious benefits -- personal, financial and planetary health -- there is opportunity for family, spiritual and community growth. My best conversations with my children come during walks, I think because we don't have the usual distractions of home and they have no choice but to talk to me. When you're alone, walking is a great form of meditation. And it's a great way to meet your neighbors, who, while not walking, might be out working in their yards and open to impromptu conversation.

Now, the promised sock photo. Disclaimer: I didn't knit these, although I wish I had and, as an owner of Anna Zilboorg's "Fancy Feet" and a healthy yarn stash, I ought to be plotting out a pair right now. These were knit by an anonymous Turkish woman and purchased by my brother-in-law for roughly $10. Enjoy!

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