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.
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.
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.
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?
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.