walking distance

Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time.

I like slow modes of travel: walking and bicycling. But sometimes cycling is just too fast. On a bicycle you don’t have time to stop and visit with the young woman in a wheelchair who is being pulled along by an enthusiastic one-eyed Samoyed named Astra. Why was the woman in a wheelchair? I don’t know—I didn’t ask. How did Astra lose her eye? I don’t know—I didn’t ask. This is what I do know: Astra is a dog, and all dogs are wonderful no matter how many eyes they have. She’s not a one-eyed dog; she’s a dog—a dog who  happens to have half as many eyes as most dogs. But you don’t judge a dog by the number of its eyes. You judge it by its dogness.

The same is true of people, by the way. The number of operative legs a person has is a pretty inadequate metric for evaluation. If you’re on a bicycle—or worse, in a car—you may not stop long enough to remember that.

On foot you can stop and chat. I’m a big fan of chatting. Oh, I enjoy deep, meaningful conversations about politics and religion and Important Things as well. But there’s something delicious about a brief aimless chat—with friends or with strangers. “Hi, hello, how are you, isn’t it a lovely day, you have a beautiful dog, I like your hat, is there anything better than a sunny day by the river, take care, g’bye.” You can’t do that so easily on a bicycle.

If I’d been on my bike, I probably wouldn’t have stopped to chat with Mike and Jodi, who were just loitering along the river, taking a walk themselves, watching the water go by and the fisherman waste their bait. They seemed a tad embarrassed when I asked if I could take their photograph—but he straightened his cap and she removed her sunglasses, and both seemed pleased by what they saw in the LCD monitor.

Just ordinary people out on an ordinary Sunday afternoon taking an ordinary walk. The only thing out of the ordinary was when some long-haired character with a camera approached them, nattering away, and asking to take their photograph. I figure I gave them something to talk about—fair exchange for a photograph. With any luck, Mike and Jodi will have met Astra on their walk.

Farther up the river—much, much farther—I came across (actually my friend Stacey came across it first and pointed it out to me) a water-logged text written in what appears to be a form of Sanskrit. I never would have seen this on a bicycle (nor, I daresay, would she). There’s a Hindu temple nearby; I assume somebody was studying along the river and accidentally dropped the book in the water. Or perhaps somebody just wanted to share it with the frogs and fish and pelicans (the annual autumn white pelican migration is taking place now—is it a coincidence that the best English-language books are published by Pelican Press? Well, yes. Of course it’s a coincidence. C’mon).

It’s a beautiful written language, Sanskrit, and although I’ve no idea at all what this says, it’s a lovely addition to the river.

Steven Wright is correct—everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time. This is why you should take the time. Or make the time. Because the people you meet and the things you see will, if you let them, take you farther than your legs will carry you. It can give you an entirely new understanding of walking distance.

(Update: I am reliably told by Arvind Kumar that the text is in Hindi, not Sanskrit; both languages use the Devanagari script.)

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3 thoughts on “walking distance

  1. As I type this, I am walking to the ocean. Curiously, I also happen, now, to be standing in front of an Asian temple of some kind (The Nagara Dhamma Temple, which I will Google once I send this). Golden Gate Park is to my right as I’ve opted for the more direct path to the ocean this time. I am hoping to get a few photographs before heading home, possibly by light rail, possibly on foot, but by taking a different route.

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  2. Greg, this is so beautifully written.

    Walking is my favourite means of transport, too. You see so much more and there are opportunities to interact with strangers, especially when you’re walking on your own. I’m working up to being bold enough to ask to take people’s photographs but the landscape never needs to be asked.

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