Time for some observations on my 2009 walking project. Since the days have happily become lighter, I have been clocking up around 40 foot-miles per week. This has had some interesting effects. 1) I have calves of oak 2) I no longer make time to go swimming. 3) I have ceased to wear shoes with any kind of heel. This last makes me a little sad, as I dearly love shoes with an elegant heel, but I have found my attitude to them has drastically shifted. I now look at my available pairs and ask: can I walk in you at 4.5 miles per hour? If the answer is no, then they are no good to me. But it was still with some regret that I purchased yet another pair of comfortably cushioned Clarks ‘airs’ yesterday. I saw a certain something flicker in the shop assistant’s eye. Yes, I do walk quite a lot. But perhaps I’m also getting on a bit.
Tom and I often talk about our radically different attitudes to walking and running. He finds it remarkable that I enjoy traversing the same paths over and over again. For him, today’s path will never be the same as yesterday’s. Variety is, of course, an integral aspect of his running training, but for him, there is also a pleasure in finding new or different trajectories. Now, it is not that I don’t like to explore. But I do love to run and walk along familiar paths. For the familiar path has a mental as well as a physical geography which I particularly enjoy. To me, these walks are not repetitive, but accretive: each one contains the memory or trace of those that went before. And those traces are not just about location, but about the remembrance of encounter: it looked like this when; today I feel like this; how very different this day is to that day. There is also the human weirdness of these familiar walks, in which daily path-crossings swiftly become relationships with coercive aspects–that is, with rules: today I said good morning to this person, I must speak to them again tomorrow, and every subsequent day. For me, there is always a niggly something, reminiscent of Nabokov’s Pnin in these exchanges. But I have also discovered that they are curiously important to me, and that I must embrace their vague discomfort.
For me, my daily walk is not the same walk. It is a different iteration of the same walk. The joy of traversing the familiar is similar to the one I feel when reading the journals of Dorothy Wordsworth or Gilbert White: in both, there is the pleasure of observing the wonder and ordinariness of a closely-known world, with all its transformations. Such transformations can be subtle. . .
. . . but quite amazing at the same time. And there is always something good about viewing the known from a different angle.
. . .or just finding it mildly amusing.