Lately I’ve Been Taking Walks
Lately I’ve been taking walks. Not the kind of walking that gets you from one place to another. Walking for the sake of walking. I started with my Beloved over the winter holidays and have continued fairly regularly, without setting any particular goal or resolution, just going when I have the time and the energy, and sometimes when I have neither – just a strong desire. And this, too, gets me out the door.
At the start of almost every walk I have a little daydream about a time, hopefully soon, when I will live amongst the trees and fields instead of having to walk from my apartment to the park to see them. It’s like a plant zoo. I want to see all that green in the wild, in its natural habitat. But there is much we can’t control in this life and for now I walk to the park, and then around it, and back, 4 kilometers all told.
It starts with a decision. And sometimes, hesitation. It’s after 5pm, why did I wait so long? The idea was to get some precious sunshine, and now it’s too late. Is it too late? Go anyway.
I walk fast. I don’t have fancy gear. It’s winter and I bundle up, though by the end of it I’m sweating nicely. One big difference between commuter-walking and walking-for-walking is that I carry nothing. Just keys in pocket. A kleenex. I want to be light. I want my arms to swing.
I weave through the people pushing strollers, and the kids on their way home from school. Across the rue de Belleville, down a narrow street and through the big black gates.
So many people tell me about having ups and downs. For a few seconds my mind scrambles to understand what the downs are and what can be done about them. Then I have to ask: wait — why would it be otherwise?
The park – the Buttes Chaumont – is not flat. When I cruise through the gates with my swinging arms and my spiffy pace, the path slopes down. It’s as though the earth is pushing me along. The wind is on my face and I feel pretty good about myself, walking fast and looking at the trees. After half a kilometer, things change. I feel my legs working and I have to lean slightly forward to keep moving at the same pace. My heart beats faster. I breathe out my mouth. The first time I went up this hill I slowed to a crawl and thought I’d have to sit down or have a heart attack. Now it’s easier. But it’s still uphill. It’s an effort. But what a bore it would be if there were no ups and downs. It’s after the hard part that I feel really good – hands tingling, muscles moving, color in my cheeks, inner heat stoking up against the cold outside. It’s after the hard part that I know I’ve done something. It’s after the hard part that I feel alive.
When I walk with my Beloved, I match his step, and when we round a bend we stay in tandem like starlings, not breaking stride. When I walk with my Beloved, talk comes too easily. It’s good talk, but it’s harder to be out of my head. I like the sound of his breathing and his sleeves scraping his jacket. When I walk without him, I get a little lost. I don’t take the same paths. I have to pay attention to where I’m going. When I walk without him, it’s a different walk. It’s not a bad one.
Towards the beginning of the walk I tell myself what to think. “Think about your novel! Inspiration is supposed to come to you when you walk. Plan your workshop! Use your time wisely.” Luckily that lasts about five seconds before I tell myself to shut up and walk. And look.
Look: you are walking faster than the traffic backed up on rue Manin.
Look: four men sitting on a bench in the growing twilight, their mustaches white against their pale faces, old-fashioned hats with earflaps so big they all look like they have the mumps. They are not speaking French. One of them looks up and returns your smile as you go by. He’s missing a front tooth.
Look: a little boy sitting on a skateboard, rolling downhill towards you, wheeeee. A little further uphill, and only a bit bigger, what must surely be his sister, running to keep up. Go, sister, go! It may seem like less fun without the wheels, it may seem unfair. But your muscles will be the stronger for it.
Look: the runner who has stopped to take a photo with her cell phone. You turn and walk backwards a bit to see what she sees. How does she frame the world? What caught her eye? In the rectangle in her hand you see the black veins of tree branches, the blue-going-grey of the sky, the honeyed glow of light from an apartment window. And with a small adjustment of the eye, you see the scene huge before you, borderless, uncapturable.
Look: the moon is up and it’s just a shaving away from being full – a full blood red giant wolf moon they’re calling it. Or something like that. In a time within your memory, they were just called full moons, and no one talked about them much except the Farmer’s Almanac. The moon is in the media now. So much the better. The Chinese just planted cotton on the moon. It sprouted, and died the next day. Look at this green stuff, the tremendous trees older than you, bowing their heads in the dusk. Only here, as far as we know. Only on this Earth.
Life is this — simple, thrilling. Snatching it as we walk on by, like stringing beads, accepting the pearls that are left in our path, with wonder, with humor, with gratitude.
Suddenly I see the little restaurant, the Rosa Bonheur, all lit up with strings of fat colored bulbs. It means I have made the loop. I cannot believe it’s the end. How could it be? It feels like I just started. It went so fast. And to think I almost didn’t come. I would do a second round. But I want to go home and write it down.
Elaine Konopka is the founder of The Attentive Body in Paris, offering private sessions in attention-based bodywork and pain management, and workshops on writing and conscious breathing. You can also find her on her YouTube channel dedicated to writing for wellbeing, The Write Thing to Do.
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Photo: Vincent Desjardins