by Mary Hrovat
1. The public library is holding a book or DVD for me.
2. I’m going to see my older son and his family.
3. It’s dusk, and I love to walk in the twilight.
4. It’s late in the evening, a few days before Christmas 2019, and my younger son has just arrived from out of town. He’d like to drop off his rental car, and I decide to go with him to the rental lot so we can walk back to my house together. We stride through the chilly hush of a college town on Christmas break, past colorful lights and down dark familiar streets, talking and laughing.
5. The dew point is below 60°F, and it’s not too hot. I might as well make the most of this break from the heat and get out for a bit.
6. The university library is holding a book for me.
7. I want to see the ginkgo trees in the park in all their autumn glory.
8. It’s been raining heavily all day, and it’s still coming down pretty hard. But I’m out of lettuce, and these library books won’t return themselves. Also, I’m curious about whether the creek running through campus has overrun its banks. (It has.)
For that rainy walk, I carried an umbrella and wore a rain poncho to keep the books dry. My backpack isn’t waterproof, but the poncho covers it completely. However, I discovered on that trip that the poncho drips water from its edges, soaking my pants. I’ve since acquired a waterproof bag, the kind people use on boats to keep things dry, and that’s a much easier way of getting books to and from the library in the rain.
After I sold my car, I bought a wire cart that I pull behind me to get my things home. (The front wheels swivel, and the first time I took the cart out, pushing it in front of me by the handle, the wheels slipped into a crack in the sidewalk, and the cart stopped moving. I kept going, of course, almost diving head-first into my groceries. That’s why I pull the cart behind me when I’m walking on sidewalks.)
I also got some insulated bags for groceries. On one recent trip, I came home with about 35 pounds of supplies, including 8 pounds of toilet paper. I was particularly pleased about the toilet paper; it had been a while since I had 24 double rolls in the house. It feels good to be able to haul that much home by myself.
I have hot-weather gear: bandanas to keep my hair off my face, a thermos bottle for ice water, and plenty of absorbent cotton handkerchiefs to wipe my face (sweat in the eyes is no fun). I often use a sun umbrella to protect my skin, because it’s easy to sweat through sunscreen. I have a hat with a brim that protects my face and neck, but some days are too hot and humid for a hat. (However, the brim is great at keeping my glasses dry when it’s raining too lightly to bother with an umbrella.)
9. It’s snowing!
10. The full moon will be rising soon. I’ll time my walk so that I can watch it rise on my way home.
11. I need to get my teeth cleaned or see my doctor for a checkup.
12. It’s absolutely lovely out, and I want to sit on a bench in the park with a book of poetry to read. Depending on the time of year, I choose my route according to what’s in bloom, which streets are shadiest or sunniest, or where the trees are most colorful.
13. I want to walk past many front yards, hearing the subtle rustle of newly hatched cicadas rising from the grass and seeing them emerge from their shells. A few weeks after this, I’ll want to be out and about often to see and especially to hear the cicadas during their brief mating season.
14. It’s a fall night, and the world music festival just ended. Even if I could get a ride home or take the bus, I’m charged with so much happy energy that I don’t want to sit still. I walk home under the midnight sky, listening to the crickets and re-acquainting myself with the winter stars rising at that hour. Sometimes I see a raccoon disappear into a culvert. I jingle my keys so I don’t startle the skunks. Walking home is a lovely way to wind down.
15. I want to see the early spring wildflowers in the woods on campus, or smell the viburnum or lilacs or black locust trees, or look at all the different kinds of irises in this one front yard I know.
16. I have 40 pounds of books to donate to the Friends of the Library Bookstore. I wonder if the cart and I can handle that much weight. (We can.)
I hope to age in place and be able to care for myself well into old age. One reason among many that I decided to stop driving is that I think there’s no better way to prepare for being an active old person than to be an active middle-aged person. Barring injury or illness, I’ve found that my body adapts to the kind of activity I do, including walking longer distances and hauling heavier loads.
For years the idea of selling the car and doing my shopping on foot was daunting. But the obstacles were more emotional and conceptual than real. I wish now that I’d gone car-free much earlier than I did. Sometimes when I’m walking, I remember driving along routes that I now cover easily on foot, and I regret the time I could have been outdoors. I also regret the money I’ve spent on car ownership. Once I committed to walking as much as I could, I slowly figured out how to do it and gradually grew into a body that’s comfortable walking.
17. It’s such a beautiful sunny day, mild, with a bit of a breeze. I can’t stay inside.
18. This windy rainy day is lovely after weeks of blazing sun. It would be a shame if I didn’t get outside to enjoy it.
19. It snowed overnight, and I’m eager to see all my favorite places blanketed in white.
20. It’s a very cold windy Christmas day, and I’m meeting a friend for a walk. I bundle up and head out. At least the sun is shining. I meet my friend at the park, and we walk a lap on the footpath there. I’m especially grateful for hot chocolate and cookies at his house afterward.
21. I’m out of broccoli and down to the last bell pepper. And as long as I’m going to the grocery store, the chocolate supply could stand to be replenished. It looks like there will be a break in the thunderstorms soon, so I’d better go then.
22. I want to go through one of my favorite wooded areas to see the reds and golds of autumn.
23. I’m meeting a friend so we can walk out from his house until we find a good western horizon. We want to see Jupiter and Saturn very close together in the western sky. Because we’re on foot, it’s easy to drop in at a grocery store.
24. It’s Thanksgiving 2020. In the afternoon I walk to a friend’s house, where I put a couple of chocolate bars in his mailbox and wave to him from the bottom of the driveway.
25. It’s too late to order my Christmas gift for my grandsons—a set of wooden blocks—online, so I need to walk to an educational supply store and bring them home.
Some of my routes are more enjoyable than others; some are more dangerous. I live close to abundant shopping and dining, but the busy roads nearby are built for the convenience of drivers, not to keep pedestrians and cyclists safe. The trip to buy the blocks for my grandsons took me down a sidewalk punctured by parking lot entrances, where drivers are generally not watching for pedestrians. To get to the big grocery store that has everything you want and more besides, I cross two wide streets with fast-moving traffic, usually sharing my green lights with drivers turning through the crosswalk, all in a commercial landscape built for cars and not for people.
Because the route to that store is so unappealing, I’ve gotten into the habit of making infrequent trips there to stock up: buying 8 pounds of cheese, 6 pounds of dried beans, and so on. (When I started hauling groceries, I realized that canned beans aren’t a convenience food if you have to haul the cans and the water home as well as the beans.)
In between trips to the big store, I buy produce and such from a smaller grocery that’s closer, so the route is less stressful. I get to other stores in a nearby strip mall by a long circuitous route that lets me take low-traffic neighborhood streets and a pedestrian tunnel under a highway bypass.
Cities don’t have to be dangerous or unpleasant for people on foot or on bicycle. For most of human history, shared human spaces were built for people moving around under their own steam. (It’s worth noting that many of the measures that protect pedestrians and cyclists also protect people in cars.) I hope someday my city will choose to make my neighborhood, and in fact the entire city, safe for self-powered travel.
26. It’s graduation day in May, and I want to walk through campus to see happy people taking photos.
27. It’s move-in week in August, and my neighborhood and campus are clotted with cars. I need to take a long walk and get as far away as I can.
28. I’m restless, and I can’t focus. I’m never going to settle down and get any work done unless I get out for a walk first.
29. I’m struggling to stand up under crushing depression, and I feel like I can barely move. But I know that walking will have a positive effect (even if that means moving from −10 to −9 on the mood/energy scale), so if I can manage it, out I go. On walks like this, I sometimes get a peculiarly vivid sense of how vast the world is and how vanishingly tiny I am. I’m so tired, and these short little steps I’m taking can’t possibly carry me anywhere. But they do.
30. The weather has been gorgeous, and I know it’s not going to be this pleasant forever. I should get out and take a good long walk to enjoy it while I can.
31. It seems like it’s been a while since I’ve been to the park.
32. I’m at a loose end or need a break before taking up my next task.
Some of my reasons for walking do not apply at the moment.
33. I have a ticket to the opera, or I plan to attend one of many free concerts and recitals on campus, or maybe see a film at the campus cinema. I don’t have a university parking sticker, but I never have to worry about parking or wait for traffic to funnel out of a parking garage.
34. The women’s basketball team is playing, and I have a season ticket. This walk takes me through a part of campus I don’t get to all that often. I enjoy the walk home after sitting through (most of) the game.
35. I feel like having lunch downtown.
36. I’m meeting my son and his family at the library or the pizza place.
37. I need to get out where people are. Maybe I’ll visit the art museum on campus, or stop someplace to buy notebooks and pens. Or browse a bookstore or the library downtown. Maybe grab a cup of coffee someplace, or find a good place to sit and write. I’m not sure; I’ll follow my feet.
Sometimes I walk in hope.
38. I’m stuck on a piece of writing, and maybe I can shake myself loose by taking a long walk. I put a few index cards and a couple of pens in my back pocket and hope for the best. At the very least, I may come home with notes on things I’ve seen or heard around town.
39. I’m hoping it might snow.
40. I’m going to a public meeting on the city’s new transportation plan, and I’d like to share my thoughts during the comment period. Once I started walking more, I quickly became aware that although the transportation department talks about pedestrian and cyclist safety, there’s a long way to go before the city is truly safe and accessible for everyone.
41. Maybe I can catch a glimpse of the very new crescent moon or the elusive planet Mercury low on the western horizon.
42. It’s late on a winter afternoon, and I’m hoping I’ll run into a flock of crows, raucous and rowdy, preparing to roost.
43. It looks like it might be a nice sunset.
In fact, there are infinite reasons to go for a walk, but they all come down to this: Walking is and always has been the way that humans move through and interact with their everyday world. One of the great mistakes of the 20th century is that we made this basic human activity so difficult and dangerous for so many people. We sold our birthright for a host of problems: personal, social, environmental. Another of the many reasons I walk is that with every step I take, I claim public space for people on foot.
You can see more of my work at MaryHrovat.com.