“The Slow Death of Purposeless Walking” by Finlo Rohrer. BBC News Magazine 5/1/2014
“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.” —Henry David Thoreau (who else?)
The BBC article caught my eye because I thought the title meant we would come to a slow death by too much purposeless walking, but, no, it is about our modern society where leisurely walking just for the fun of it is dying out. Pay attention to those tiny prepositions!
The author attributes the decline of walking to increased city living where cars, bicycles, buses, and trains are all readily available, but I beg to differ. City folk are precisely the ones who do walk. In several instances, New York City strangers (who I found very friendly) assured me I could easily get to a destination over a mile away by walking (and later, walk back).
My wife comes from rural South Jersey, and once we were married I was surprised to find she was not used to walking anywhere. Distances in farm areas are too far to walk . They don’t have corner delis or local sub shops. Even friends’ homes are too far to walk. The first thought when going anywhere is to jump in a car. She did not dislike walking; walking just did not occur to her as an option, even when the destination was around the corner.
She readily accepted the idea of walking around the block in the evenings, the purposeless walking whose passing the BBC author laments. Our cat would often tag along with us, but once we got halfway around, he had had enough and would take a shortcut home by cutting through the yards.
In the UK, May is National Walking Month, which is probably why the reporter was assigned to elaborate on the topic. There, a quarter of all journeys are made entirely on foot, but a mere 17% of trips are “just to walk,” including dog-walking. Mere 17%? Sounds pretty high to me, but the UK is a small country where walking is a tradition.
The value of a leisurely walk is that it doesn’t require full attention, so the walker is open to creative thinking. The mild exercise increases the blood flow to the brain that Lord knows we need. The author cautions against the common practice of using the walk as a time to chat on a cell phone as that misses the whole point of a walk. Even listening to music is too distracting. And, either walk alone or with someone very compatible who understands the value of silence.
When we were visiting the English Cotswolds, public footpaths were surprisingly common on private property, leading between houses, out through the sheep fields where signs told us to either climb over the style, just as in our nursery stories, or to be sure to close the gate behind us. It all seemed to work well for everybody. That was years ago, and now they even have a website telling you where the footpaths are. On the website, you will often get the following message, also very British:
Sorry, we’ve run out of our allocation of data for today.
The problem with a free service is we cannot afford to buy more data.
Please try again later/tomorrow.