A walk is never a waste

Sometimes I wonder what it would’ve been like to live in Jane Austen’s time. The dances and dresses and calling cards and country homes all sound quite lovely to me. Of course, I much prefer the running water and electricity and cars and opportunities for women of modern society, but still the era delights me. But a wonderful pastime still very much possible today? Walking. As Austen knows, whether it’s a turn about the room or a stubborn ramble in a storm or a long stroll on a fine November day, walking is good for the body and the soul.

If I find myself with some free time, hardly ever do I consider taking a walk. And I certainly never schedule one into my day. Sure, I walk to church and the post office and the library, but rarely do I take a walk for its own sake. I often run for exercise and bike when the parking near my destination is tough, both of which feel productive and practical, both of which carry me much further in a short amount of time than walking does. But perhaps that’s where the value of walking lies: it is, at least at first glance, not particularly useful.

When a friend and I visited my parents last weekend, we went for a hike with my mom. It wasn’t particularly strenuous, and the views were simple and lovely. We walked three abreast where the path was wide and single file when it narrowed. Conversation flowed easily from the mundane to the more profound. I was already tired when we began, but the fresh air and chance to stretch my legs gave me new life. We quickened our pace as the sun slowly set and the chill of the air reached our bones. And when we piled into the car at the end of the trail, I felt almost triumphant.

Of course, going for a walk is not an impressive accomplishment. I am more apt to get excited about a half marathon or triathlon. There is nothing to show for a walk (except perhaps if it’s the Camino). But a walk is slow, and deliberate, and purposeful. On a walk I can more easily take in my surroundings, notice, savor. If I’m alone, I can get lost in my thoughts without the pressure of distance or pace when I’m running. If I’m with a friend or two, we can easily carry on conversation side by side, free to share deeply as we watch the path ahead and not each other. On a walk, I lose track of time, see details I always miss when I’m whizzing by, remember the goodness of treating myself gently.

It doesn’t take much, to be sure. Even a half an hour will do. As spring nears and the cold lifts and daytime lengthens, I especially love after-dinner strolls through the neighborhood as the sun goes down—perfect for reflecting on another day done. Or morning hikes on quiet trails accompanied by singing birds. Or even slower, longer errands that are still productive but have that air of carefree timelessness about them. So the next time you have a free window of time and even the slightest ounce of energy, when your body and soul could do with some uplifting, how about it?




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