Taking walks category archive
I feel like most people I know wish they took walks more often, and are always glad when they did. And you’re always hearing about the health benefits of taking walks. As a mother, writing at home, I don’t get very much alone time, so lately I’ve been trying to take walks more often. And every time I do, I think, this is the simple key to happiness.
I bring along a little notebook and pen. I pull my sweatshirt tight against the wind, breath in the fresh air, notice primroses, tulips, a house for sale. I pant up flight after flight of stairs that cut up the hill to Twin Peaks, San Francisco’s highest point. Problems with the current thesis chapter hover in my mind like helicopters, somehow louder and clearer as I walk. Today, I realized this is reason alone to get out on walks. I’m currently inspired by how the novelist Dawn Tripp describes why she runs, in her post for Cynthia Newberry Martin’s blog Catching Days:
“I don’t run for time, speed, or distance. I don’t run to stay physically fit. I run to find a clearness of mind.”
And later in the post:
“Every morning I go out and run for this precise reason–to find my way deeper into a character’s self, some key turn of a story, to find that certain edge between intellect and free creative thought, to feel that shift in consciousness that allows me to write well. It’s not a state I can simply sit at a desk and think myself into–though many writers I know can. I have to be outside. I have to move. For me, it is that experience of the world–when I can breathe in the wind, the sun, the heat, the salt smell, the cold, and the light until the floss is stripped, and I am right there, in the pulse and life of a separate and entirely real, fictional world.”
What if I walked every day? What might happen in my writing?
Tell me, does walking (or running, or biking, or other movement) help you write?
Walks are my escape when we’re visiting JJ’s family in Spain. In winter, I put on layers against the cold, pull on socks and sneakers, and wrap a scarf around my neck. “I’m going for a walk”, I tell JJ and his dad, “listen for Basil”. Then I walk downstairs, grab the remote to exit through the garage, and breathe deep. I walk up the hill, noticing the overripe pomegranates on the neighbor’s tree, hanging like jewels on the bare branches. I cross three short blocks, down a hill and up another, cross the street, and I’m in “Los Pinos”, the pines.
Today the air hangs heavy with mist, and my breath loops out in front of me like a filmy balloon. The pine trees rise majestically through the mist, the ground below them bare but for a carpet of bright green grass that reminds me of spring. Magpies swoop from branch to branch, and I can hear the low rumble of doves. Tufts of white rabbit fur dot the ground, though I can’t imagine where they’d be; the acidity of the pine needles inoculates the ground against the growth of underbrush.
I pass a couple walking their dog, but mostly I have the trails to myself. The quiet washes through me like the first fall rains, pouring over streets cluttered with fallen leaves. Walks have always been an escape, but nowhere is the quiet and drifting thoughts they bring more important than here. Maybe it’s because I’m American and the Spanish are more social, or maybe it’s because I’m an introvert, who needs quiet time. All I know is that each visit there reaches a point where the constant interaction with family, interruptions when I’m reading or writing, company for breakfast, lunch and dinner, stops feeling warm and dear and starts making me edgy. And so I take walks, often with JJ and Basil, and sometimes, deliciously, alone.
Today I do two loops around the pines, pausing to lean against the damp bark of a tree to spend five minutes writing. Then I walk home, swinging my arms and breathing deep, thinking, ‘I want to start my day with a walk like this every day’.
No tangerine and pomegranate maple trees here, at least not yet (we do get a few). Fall colors in SF include brilliant spreads of bougainvillea, and bright green hillsides of grass shooting through the brown summer grass. The air has a chill to it, but the sky is blue on my morning walk today. Fall is my favorite time anywhere, but especially here where summers are so disappointingly gray and cold.
Am getting slower walking up the (MANY) hills around here but still trying to walk a few days a week. I do prenatal yoga twice a week too, which helps with the random aches of being six months pregnant. This little one moves a ton, and often makes me smile as he wriggles around while I work on my thesis or sit on the couch next to JJ at night looking for our house.
If you own your house, how long did it take to find it? We’ve been looking for about 2 1/2 months…
I am determined to move out of this city. At the same time, I am determined to enjoy it now that my mind is made up. And there is little I enjoy more than taking walks with the camera, snapping pictures right and left, getting ice cream with JJ, or coffee, or appetizers at the Ferry Building.
Our first apartment was down by the baseball park, and we often walked along the Embarcadero to the Ferry Building and downtown, taking pictures of the bridge or the old fireboat house, talking about technology and education, or dreaming about the future. “I’ve always wanted to live in San Francisco” I said, “and here we are”. It was so right for that time in our lives.
Now, we’re in our fourth house here, counting a short-term sublet last summer. Six years have gone by, with one away in Barcelona. We’re in a quiet neighborhood, and our house is the bottom floor of a 3-story Victorian, with views of buildings climbing the hills behind, and the brown peaks of the highest point in the city. It’s very quiet for the city, with easy parking, a small back deck, and a garden down below. The neighborhood is clean, and the shops are delightful. There’s a cafe 3 blocks away where I like to go work on my dissertation, or just write.
It’s the nicest place we’ve lived so far. But this summer, I’ve finally realized that as much as I’ve enjoyed living in San Francisco, it’s not home. I am ready to grow roots, but not here. I need to be somewhere that’s warmer, wilder-feeling with more open space. Somewhere where we can own a house, paint the walls any color we want, garden and know it’s ours. I’m not a city girl, it turns out!
So we are talking about moving. And I am trying to make this feel like home in the meantime.
It makes me wonder: When did you feel like you’d really put down roots somewhere? What made you feel that way? Was it children? Buying a house? Getting a job you loved? Something else?
Out on the marsh, I watch birds. A tall, white crane, standing still at the edge of the water. I take a picture, wishing I had brought a zoom lens, knowing the photo wouldn’t capture the feeling I have here. The feeling of being open, relaxed, taking in the world. Suddenly the crane lifts off, flies above, wings large and almost awkward for the size of its body. It swoops around, flies out of sight, and I keep walking. Smelling fresh air blowing off the water, feeling fresh spring grass against my ankles. The next day, my body still relaxed from a weekend in Pt. Reyes, I can still see the orange poppies when I close my eyes, feel the open space and rolling green hills.
Back in the city I worry about which windows are open, whether I locked the backdoor, and what time I have to leave today. I think all too much about clothes though my wardrobe doesn’t matter in grad school. I walk to yoga class, grateful to have found a teacher nearby. I worry about the progress I’m making on my thesis, whether it’s enough, what it means to me, what I will become when I finish. What if there are no jobs I’m interested in applying for next year? I feel completely open to shifting my career for family, yet children feel further away than ever. I’ve stopped thinking ahead, planning, thinking about what things will look like if I get pregnant this month, or next. Who knows?
I stall this morning, making a quiche for tonight’s class potluck instead of writing first, as I know I should. Chopping broccoli from last week’s farm box, weighing down the crust with rice and putting it in the oven for 10 minutes, mixing together eggs and milk, throwing in thyme, cheese; all the while listening to the radio, a show on Alzheimer’s and new research about its causes and cures. “The scariest thing for people is losing cognitive functioning” a doctor says. “I think, therefore I am Shakespeare wrote, but he might as well have written “I remember, therefore I was, for without our memories, who are we?”
It’s a good question. What will I remember from this time in my life?
For all of you in colder climes, spring is on it’s way! Here in mild Northern California it means hills covered with thick green wild grass. Bright, carrot orange California poppies everywhere, from street corners to parks. Light, misty rains. And wild mustard, sprouting up everywhere from cracks in our street to wild hilltops.
A Sunday walk at the beach. Blue sky, then swooping fog. Sand dollars on sand, white dotting brown. Dogs of all kinds. Walkers in sweatshirts and coats, hoods tucked against the wind. A little girl with a red shirt and long, blond hair, climbing a sandy cliff hand over foot like a monkey. Skateboards seen from below, skidding along a roadblock at the edge of the cliff. Water cold like snow, turning toes red. Sand pipers skittering along the shoreline, feet a blur like hummingbird wings. Deep breaths of salty air. A lone tree, high on the cliff.
“My childhood dream was to start a business, like my dad, and then use the money for a good cause”, says my friend Kate as we pick our way along the hill on a narrow, muddy path. She tells me how her dad arrived here as an immigrant, worked hard to support his family. “We didn’t even have milk money at one point” she says. “My dad had left everything behind in Asia, but he built a successful business from nothing, and now quietly gives back to the community. He’s an inspiration to me.”
It’s Saturday morning, a glorious day already. Blue sky, low-lying ribbons of mist along the bay that come into view as we climb Twin Peaks. We wind up wooden stairs bolted to the side of the hill, climb up to the topmost peak, where the city and ocean sweep out around us. We talk about entrepreneurship, and education, and making an impact.
“I don’t know, sometimes I think making money first is more important than focusing on the cause; once you have money, you can do so much more” Kate says. “It’s true, money is power”, I reply, “maybe it’s better to start by making a lot of money; but the problem is, people sometimes end up losing parts of themselves in the pursuit of money, and they forget about the cause.”
We keep walking, and the conversation turns to other things. But the question stays with me. If you want to do good, does it make sense to focus on making money first, or working for the cause you care about? Can you do both at the same time?
Sand, pushing against my steady gait, filling my shoes, hiding the city behind with tall, grassy dunes.
Ocean, rolling waves toward the shore, carrying surfers and foam and piles of coiled, hairy seaweed.
Rocks, piled with sand dollars, funneling the quicksilver water and turning it to foam.
After years of living in SF, I’ve “discovered” the beach is right over the hill, a mere 15 minute drive. I will be back.