Today I discovered that you can use a stretch of the Shoal Creek Greenbelt trail to walk between Bookpeople and the Central Library. That means if I added less than a mile to one of my epic Greenbelt walks to the Central Library I could almost walk from my house to Bookpeople without using a city street…
My new favorite thing, stolen from Ryan Holiday: Whenever I’m scheduled for a long phone call, I go for a walk.
In the past month, I’ve talked for 2 hours to my dad while I walked the greenbelt home from downtown, chatted with my friend John on a 3-mile hike in the woods behind my house, and caught up with my editor on the trails behind my branch library. It’s been really delightful.
Best of all, if you’re using a headset, you can still use your camera when you’re on the phone. Here are some pictures I’ve taken while chatting:
Alissa Walker — a case of nominative determinism if there ever was one — is on Jocelyn Glei’s Hurry Slowly podcast this week, talking about, yes, walking. If you’ve read much of this blog, you know I’m a huge proponent of walking, so I found lots of good stuff in there, especially this little tool you can use to draw a mileage radius on a Google Map to determine your “walkshed.” (A “walkshed” is a walkable area around a point of interest.) Alissa, who lives in Los Angeles, recommends drawing a 2-mile radius around your house to discover your own walkshed and things in your neighborhood you might not have thought walkable.
I had a few thoughts while listening to Alissa, most of them influenced by my recent adventures living in the SW suburbs of Austin, which, like Los Angeles, is not known as the most walkable city on earth:
1. Walking is a way to be present. Not just present as in mindful, or in the moment, but present as in presenting yourself — being seen in a particular place. My wife and I live in push our boys in a huge red stroller around our neighborhood every morning, and almost every time we meet someone who lives in another section of our neighborhood they’ll say, “Oh! You have the big red stroller. I see you out walking.” One time I passed some people participating in a neighborhood 5k, and a guy said, “I see y’all on my way to work—you do a 5k every day!” There is, in E.B. White’s words, a bit of “the indignity of being observed,” but there’s also a sense of identity that comes from being “those people.”
2. Even crummy suburban spaces can be interesting on foot. This is something I learned while reading John Stilgoe’s Outside Lies Magic. There are all kinds of bizarre spaces in the suburbs that you don’t come across because you’re in your car. I find a good deal of SW suburban Austin visually repulsive when driving, but I have a favorite six-mile walk I take from my SW Austin neighborhood to the central library, where I had to sort of weave my way behind our neighborhood in a strange suburban no man’s land, past a La Quinta, over the highway, then across the pedestrian bridge, and through the greenbelt to downtown. I see all kinds of weird stuff. (Also: When Alissa said that she likes to “infiltrate as many structures as possible” on her walks, I remembered how much I’d like to also make a case for the weirdness of walking a shopping mall.)
3. You can park with a walkshed in mind. Even when I have to drive on errands, I’ll try to park somewhere that I can do everything I want to do on foot. This, in its own way, can be a kind of exploration. Even a suburban parking lot has bizarre zones in between box stores where you can find bits of weirdness. Sometimes I come across stores that I’ve driven by literally dozens of times but never noticed.
My father was a very disciplined and punctual man; it was a prerequisite for his creativity. There was a time for everything: for work, for talk, for solitude, for rest. No matter what time you get out of bed, go for a walk and then work, he’d say, because the demons hate it when you get out of bed, demons hate fresh air. So when I make up excuses not to work, I hear his voice in my head: Get up, get out, go to your work.
Get up, get out, go to your work.
(Thanks to Matt.)
“Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” —Thoreau
Almost every single morning, rain or shine, my wife and I load our two sons into a red double stroller (we call it The War Rig) and we take a 3-mile walk around our neighborhood. It’s often painful, sometimes sublime, but it’s always essential to our day. It’s when ideas are born, when we make plans, when we spot suburban wildlife, when we rant about politics, when we exorcise our demons.
That last one might be the most important. Here’s Linn Ullmann, on her father, the film director Ingmar Bergman:
My father was a very disciplined and punctual man; it was a prerequisite for his creativity. There was a time for everything: for work, for talk, for solitude, for rest. No matter what time you get out of bed, go for a walk and then work, he’d say, because the demons hate it when you get out of bed, demons hate fresh air.
These morning walks are so important to me, and so crucial to my work and home life, that I try to never plan anything before nine in the morning. They are also the reason why I, regrettably, almost never attend our local Creative Mornings meetups: every morning pushing The War Rig is a creative morning, and I just can’t afford to miss one.
Related reading: Get out now
“GET OUT NOW. Not just outside, but beyond the trap of the programmed electronic age so gently closing around so many people…. Go outside, move deliberately, then relax, slow down, look around. Do not jog. Do not run…. Instead pay attention to everything that abuts the rural road, the city street, the suburban boulevard. Walk. Stroll. Saunter. Ride a bike, and coast along a lot. Explore…. Abandon, even momentarily, the sleek modern technology that consumes so much time and money now…. Go outside and walk a bit, long enough to forget programming, long enough to take in and record new surroundings…. Flex the mind, a little at first, then a lot. Savor something special. Enjoy the best-kept secret around—the ordinary, everyday landscape that rewards any explorer, that touches any explorer with magic…all of it is free for the taking, for the taking in. Take it. take it in, take in more every weekend, every day, and quickly it becomes the theater that intrigues, relaxes, fascinates, seduces, and above all expands any mind focused on it. Outside lies utterly ordinary space open to any casual explorer willing to find the extraordinary. Outside lies unprogrammed awareness that at times becomes directed serendipity. Outside lies magic.”
—John Stilgoe, Outside Lies Magic
[Image above: a page from Show Your Work!]