Walking School

Walking dog in snow
When my mother was a young girl in elementary school, the principal took her aside and said, “please come to my office during your break.” He then offered to give her walking lessons. She was mortified and immediately agreed to take lessons. It sounded awfully strange to me, but then again I never saw my mother walk before she had walking lessons. In any case, she walks perfectly normally now. Sometimes she walks rather loudly but that’s my only complaint.

Nobody can deny that walking is important. For getting from point A to point B, it sure beats running backwards, crawling, or throwing yourself to the ground repeatedly as a sign of adoring submission to the feet of a hated despot. Do you ever feel you must walk that way with your boss? I hope not.

I write tonight to examine a response from a friend to my post about the harm of spending lots of time indoors. He said that at first he thought it was a silly notion, but then “reconsidered” (the quotes are my own, to be explained in a moment). He reconsidered in part, he said, because of a book he’s reading. But also because when he was walking in the hills like his distant ancestor used to do, something remarkable happened.

But first, more about his ancestor. His ancestor would climb trees during raging storms for the sheer ecstatic joy of being alive and buffeted in the top of a swaying Douglas fir. Most other things paled to the magnificent force of Nature.

Anyhow, with this context, when my friend was walking in the hills recently, he encountered some wild animals. And sometime during his whole experience, the solution to a problem came to him — a problem that had seemed “intractable” to his lab. Now, I know my friend well enough to know that, like his Scottish ancestor, he certainly greatly values wild places. He doesn’t need much convincing of their importance, which is why I put “reconsidered” in quotation marks, in homage to his ancestor and his personal background as a National Park ranger. But he did raise an interesting question of whether it is actually important for the mind to get outside. And additionally, if it’s more important to some than to others.

This is relevant to your writing, by the way. I met a writer this summer who would take his dog for a five mile walk along the beach and then he would write. Never mind that he was writing a book about walking! Although he didn’t say it, I think it helped him clear his head and focus. Which was important to do BEFORE writing.

Walking School: Lesson #1

How to replace words with gesture?

She stood right in front of me expectantly, saying nothing. I didn’t know what to say!

I was sitting, she was standing, and the top of her head was about level with my chest. We were in the family kitchen, surrounded by activity. The brother coloring, the father’s girlfriend cooking dinner, the Grandmother laughing and showing off Halloween pictures of the evil ventriloquist doll she’d posed by the father’s bed to terrify him when he woke up in the morning.

The young girl stood right in front of me expectantly, saying nothing. I didn’t know what to say, so I asked her if she’d like to learn how to whistle with her hands.

“No,” she said, and smiled.

So, for my own amusement, I cupped my hands together, and blew. At first nothing, then a sound like a morning dove, or an owl. After that, I changed the position of my hands, and made a more high-pitched whistling sound.

These were the memories I had of my grandfather — the loggers sawing wood, the congregation in the church, and the whistles he could make, all with his hands. She smiled again, and her brother looked over, fascinated.

Next time you don’t know what to say, is there some gesture you can make? Can you instead sing, or whistle? Can you simply do nothing at all? What if you were to take a piece of paper, and fold it into a crane, a cup, a hat, a giraffe?

Sometimes in prose too you may be at a loss for words.

This does not have to be a bad thing, at all. When can you replace words with a gesture?

Living Inside

Is it damaging to you to live inside all the time? Yes, it probably cramps it horribly. But then there’s Emily Dickinson, who lived in the same house for all her life, lowering her basket to the outside world. You couldn’t call her orderly poems ugly. On the contrary. But then again, she had a beautiful garden.

What do you think? Does it damage you to spend most of your life “indoors”?