“Let’s go for a walk.” Growing up, taking a walk was what we did a lot of. Partly because we were somewhat out in the country. Partly because there were six of us children in a seven-year range, and it was cheap, accessible entertainment. Plus it got us out of the house, and out from under our grandmother’s feet, who needed a respite from us now and then. But mostly, because taking a walk was something my mother and her brother, our Uncle Dick, really enjoyed themselves. They grew up in Vermont, and spent a lot of time on their feet, in town and in the hills. They loved nature, its beauty and peace, and were not afraid of it. So, we walked.
As kids we walked mostly up the hill from our backyard onto to the mountain, which was a fairly modest stretch of the Talcott Ridge in Connecticut. But the walk was special in many ways, not least because along the ridge was the Metacomet trail, supposedly the route of travel of the Wampanoag leader, King Philip, during the early colonial war. Perhaps Metacomet did follow that route on the way to the burning of Simsbury, a neighboring town. In any case, it was marked with blue dots, and we hiked perhaps a couple miles until it intersected a road, where we departed. On our way, we saw the three flashing red lights, warning planes coming into Bradley Field. And stopped at the “Cliff”, a shear rock face with views for miles around. It was a different world, and we could only get there by walking.
We walked, too, through and around a golf course, with a kind of magic of its own. One side bordered a mountain meadow with bluets in the spring, an ancient maple, and ramshackle sugar shack. Another side path was used by the farmer to bring cows from the barns to the fields. More than once we encountered the herd, lead mostly by Morris, the wizened old Jewish man, who’d escaped from Nazi Europe to start life over in the company of more peaceable beings, the cows. That route was particularly good for wildflowers, and in spring and summer, our mission was to bring home a bouquet of wildflowers for Mom, daisies and tiger lilies and Queen Anne’s lace. She loved them, and accepted them with such pleasure, even the ones already wilted and dying from our hot, sweaty hands.
Through my young adulthood, I walked a lot, as my main mode of transportation, turning necessity into a virtue. At college in California, walking was the way of students, from class to class, with our bags and books. On campus, among the redwoods and overlooking the Monterey Bay, we got so caught up in conversation, sometimes we forgot all the beauty around us. During my two year sojourn in Vermont, I walked a lot and alone on those back country roads, as a way of exercise and meditation. One of the patrons of the theater where I worked called me, “The Walker”, before he knew my name; not much is missed in those small towns. In New York City, I put miles on those streets, thankfully in sneakers rather than heels. It was a Zen experience of another kind, to be in the crowd in a rush with so much pressure to move on, and not to dawdle. In fact, I found myself muttering to the older or slower walkers, “Could you go any slower?” Mostly, I remember my aching arms from carrying bags home from the store, or anywhere, my short but unforgettable experience as a beast of burden. Who knew it would also be a life-long investment in good health?