You’re probably muttering, “Oh, now that it’s blazing hot, she wants me to go walking.” It may not seem like the right time for this post, just before summer solstice, but walking daily is as important as writing daily. In fact, unless I am on such a tight deadline that I simply can’t find the time, then I walk as regularly as I write. In the blazing summers of Arkansas, I walk early or I walk late, but I walk.
Walking is a tradition among writers, as a matter of fact. Walt Whitman walked miles through New York City day after day. Stephen King still walks even though he got hit by a car and it nearly killed him. Eventually the driver of the car that hit him died “of unknown causes,” but perhaps we shouldn’t go there. Think about Thoreau or Mary Oliver, Julia Cameron or Natalie Goldberg. Try to walk where you can avoid cars altogether. I highly recommend strolling country roads or quiet neighborhoods as opposed to walking alongside traffic on busy thoroughfares. If you live in a big city, find a park and walk. Trees and green and birds and water are calming influences on the writer’s mind. Whether at home or away (as in the above pic, I’m in Washington State) I walk wherever I am.
Think of this time, not as exercise, but more as a meditation. In fact, clear your mind and simply pay attention to what you see, hear, smell, and feel out there in the natural world. We spend an awful lot of time at desks and typing on computers, working inside both our homes and our minds. We need to step out of that place just to breathe what is fresh and to see what is waiting to grab out attention. Quiet the mind. Take some deep breaths. Feel the earth beneath your feet and remember that we are part of it. Beauty isn’t simply pretty words on a page. Life is our inheritance and it is big and broad and endlessly fascinating. Feel each step as you stretch your legs out and find your stride. Allow your mind to wander freely. Questions about your work over which you’ve puzzled endlessly, may be answered on your morning walk. Relaxed, our thoughts find the space to move around and spread out some. No longer confined to the page, the mind is able to find the answer was waiting there all along, just outside the margins, down a gravel road or next to a sidewalk in Central Park.
All you worriers are thinking, “Well, how far do I have to walk? How much time is this gonna take?” I believe the ideal write walk is 3 miles. This gives the body time to relax and the mind the opportunity to shift gears. You need to put aside 45 minutes to an hour at the coolest hour (in summer) to do your walking. If you aren’t use to exercise or walking, start with what you can do. I live on a little 3-acre farmlette in NW Arkansas (often referred to as Arklahoma). One of the first things I did once I moved in was clear a quarter mile path around the perimeter of our land. Part of it goes through the woods; part of it leads through a row of pines so that your feet sink into brown pine needle padding. There are spots along the path where I can see the vegetable garden, the chickens, and the dogs barking because I didn’t take them with me and I forgot to shut them in the house.
Four times around my path/track is a mile and the things I see and hear while walking in this bit of nature are amazing. Pileated woodpeckers, flickers or yellowhammers, hawks, snakes, skinks, deer, and the occasional owl in the evening are common sights. And all this is right in my own back yard. There are a thousand poems waiting to be written in that 1/4 mile walk. It’s good for me and it’s good for my land. I think about the land as I walk my path. I love it back, the way it has loved and fed and watered me. I make a protective circle around it, a boundary against bad people or harsh events. Despite an ice storm which took a lot of trees, we have been lucky in rough weather where our home is concerned.
Don’t take my word for it. Get up a little earlier than usual tomorrow. Scribble in your journal or do a timed writing or two to get warmed up. Then put on your boots or sneakers and head out for a walk. Open up you heart and mind and body to whatever may appear. Then watch what happens to your writing when you return to the page. And wave if you see me out there, too.