I don’t really like to go walking in the morning. I like to wake slowly. Maybe read a bit before I get out of bed. I like to ease into the day. Drink some juice, eat my morning Advil, have a cup of coffee with too much sugar and too much cream. I like my mornings comfortable. I like my mornings unhurried.

So it makes no sense whatsoever for me to rise early, dress hurriedly, skip my juice and coffee (but not my Advil), and head out for a long walk — especially when it’s damp and chilly. Which is what I did yesterday. But you know…fog and mist, dude. Fog and mist.

why my shoes were muddy

why my shoes were muddy

I don’t like to walk in the morning, but I do like to walk in fog and mist. And since those conditions occur more frequently in the morning — well, there it is.

I like to walk in the fog and mist because they smooth things. They soften the corners of things, they plane off the sharp edges. They make the world soft and a wee bit vague. Fog and mist elevate the ambiguity of the world — everything seems less solid, more forgiving. Less harsh, more indulgent. More romantic, and I mean romantic in the medieval sense of the term. Open to adventure and mystery and imagination.

rail bed

rail bed

I enjoy purposeless walking. I don’t walk for exercise, and unless I’m on an errand, I rarely walk with a destination in mind. Well, that’s only half-true. It’s not uncommon for me to walk to or toward a specific location, but that location isn’t really a destination. I’m not going to that spot for any particular reason. In fact, I’m not really going there at all. It’s just a vague geographical marker, a reminder to suggest I should consider turning around and heading homeward.

I rarely have anything that resembles a schedule, but I always have work to do. Taking a walk gives me a pleasant interruption during my day; walking idly toward a specific fixed point provides me with a very flexible timetable. If I want to walk for, say, an hour, I have a general sense how far I’ll walk in thirty minutes. I know, for example, that it will take me about forty minutes to reach the heliport (which, okay, isn’t really a heliport at all — it’s just a concrete slab that was probably the foundation of some sort of shed, but I’ve never felt any overpowering compulsion to adhere strictly to reality). So when I get close to the heliport, I can decide to turn around and begin walking vaguely in the direction of home. Or I can keep walking. It’s a system.



Even though I often walk with a camera tucked away in a pocket or in a bag slung over my shoulder, I’m usually not walking to shoot photographs. I’m normally not actively looking for things to photograph. I’m just walking. With a camera. On the vast majority of my walks, the camera never leaves my pocket or bag. I do sometimes go on photo-walks, but that’s a whole nother thang.

For me, most of my walks are a form of meditation. I generally walk mindfully, as Buddhists like to say. When I was part of a Zen community in Washington, DC the roshi explained mindfulness to me; he said it was the quality of being in the immediate moment, fully aware and cognizant of what’s going on around you, but not involved in it or with it. I was able to tell him, “Dude, I was a private investigator for seven years; I did a lot of surveillance; I’ve got seven years of practice at being mindful.”

So as I walk I notice a lot of stuff. Birds, the condition of a passer-by’s shoes, signs in windows, bits of paper being shuffled along by the breeze, the breeze itself. I can notice stuff and appreciate it without being distracted by it. I don’t feel any need to try to ‘capture’ it with a photograph.

i saw this stick

i saw this stick

But at the same time, it usually registers when I see something that might make an interesting photo. Sometimes it only really registers after I’ve taken a few steps. It’s like my brain sends up a flare and it takes a moment for the flare to rise high enough for me to see it. Dude, you just walked by some interesting graffiti — you might want to turn around and take a look. Like that.

It sounds almost robotic in a way, though it doesn’t feel that way. I mean, it’s as if there’s some sort of algorithmic process taking place below the conscious level. A quiet decision-making process I can mostly ignore. Dude, you just stepped in some mud. “Is that important? If ‘no’ then keep walking; if ‘yes’ then stop and clean shoes.” Naw, not important. “Keep walking. Will it be important later? If ‘no’ keep walking; if ‘yes’ walk on the grass” Yeah, it might important later when I get home. “Walk on grass.”

Everybody has those internal discussions. Don’t they?

eight ball

eight ball

This is why most of my walks are solitary. If I’m with another person, there’s a social obligation to interact. I like walking with other people, don’t misunderstand me. It’s just a different experience. And not always a pleasant one — for them, that is. I usually have a good time. But as I said, I walk fairly slowly. More an amble than a walk. A stroll. A meandering stroll. And I stop now and then. And I comment on stuff. “Do you smell cinnamon?” “That woman had the most extraordinary eyebrows.” “Did you hear that? Black-capped chickadee.” “Sign painters should be required by law to learn the rules of apostrophization.”

I can be annoying on a walk.



Yesterday morning on my walk I noticed the lottery jackpot was US$130 million. This afternoon I think I’ll walk toward one of the local convenience stores. Maybe I’ll stop and buy a lotto ticket. There’s one about fifteen minutes away, one about twenty-five minutes away, and another about forty minutes away.

This is what passes for a scheduling decision in my life.

3 thoughts on “walking

  1. i relish my solitary walks too (which i often take after work because i need to decompress). and like you, i have a camera with me wherever i go because who knows what kind of cool shit we’ll find along the way? i love your walk posts – it’s awesome to see your corner of the world.


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