“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.”

As the neighbourhood floods with brilliant sunshine this morning, I pack up the kids to walk them to their Thursday morning sitter’s house. Usually we drive because she lives across town and we’re in a mad rush to get there by 8:30, but today I can’t resist the call of the outdoors. It’s one of those really fresh, cold, early winter days, with the temperature hovering around freezing.

Winter coats, hats and mitts on, the baby wrapped in the stroller in a flannel blanket, we make our way through the residential streets, sleepily quiet in the early morning. We’re even ahead of the school buses. Smells are intensified in the early morning, as if the air has been cleaned overnight, or allowed a respite from the day’s commotion, and has not yet been contaminated by the next day. I catch a whiff of tobacco leaking out of a sealed up white cottage; wow, it must be strong inside. The exhaust from a passing backhoe nearly knocks me over with its intensity. I detect the cool earthiness of a pile of dirt beside the sidewalk, a flattened hill of partially decayed leaves someone forgot to clean up, the sweetish-smelling pine needles that soften the landscape’s edges in the off-season.

Walking on our favourite forest trail that runs through town

Walking truly is therapeutic. Just last night, I read that “the repetitive activity of walking triggers the body’s relaxation response and so helps reduce stress; at the same time, even a quick ten-minute walk provides an immediate energy boost and improves mood.” My favourite is Nietzsche’s assessment: “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” I may not be coming up with truly great thoughts, but walking does allow time and space for conscious, deliberate thought that is often much deeper and effective than when I’m poking around the house. I often conceive of writing topics while walking and, once those are established, writing is the easy part.

When I was in grade twelve, I had to walk 1.5 kilometres from my house to the main highway to catch the bus each morning. This was a pain in the butt for a moody seventeen-year-old whose hairdo was more important than putting on a hat when it was -20 Celsius outside, but worst of all was having to be at the bus stop by 7:20 a.m. That meant leaving the house when it was still dark in wintertime, the twisty dirt road often unplowed and deep with snow. Yet, as I trudged that route, day after day, with my backpack on and wet hair freezing before it dried (I seriously can’t believe I did that), I grew to love the route. It was my only time to be alone with my thoughts and also connected me with nature. Once, I met a mother moose and baby. The baby was between us and the mother began to get very agitated so I hightailed it out of there; I’ve never run up a hill so quickly. Another time, a black bear went crashing away down the side of a hill as I approached.

My uncle Harold is really into long-distance walking. Some mornings he wakes up and decides to walk across the Niagara peninsula, about 40 km. He’s walked all over France, following the centuries-old walking paths that once were the lifeblood of the continent, prior to highways. He believes that people need to change their perceptions of distance. Humans are built to walk long distances; apparently, we can out-walk a cheetah. Walking is a healthy, green way to transport oneself, but it requires time, which is at a premium nowadays. By making the time to walk, though, we create a healthier world filled with healthier, happier individuals.

A beautiful walk makes everyone feel good.

My kids won’t see moose and bears running around when we go for walks, but I want to teach them how therapeutic walking can be. I hope they will turn to walking as a default mode of transportation and learn to crave the peace that comes with propelling oneself, rather than hopping into a fuel-burning car. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the lingering tingle of  exercise and cold air mixed on my skin. It exhilarates and inspires me, and what more could I wish for?


9 thoughts on ““All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.”

  1. My sons and I were able to walk 5 to 10 km whenever we needed to go to the Mall. We usually got there at the same time as our bus did. Hamilton buses schedules aren’t conducive to our time schedule. I, even in my old age, walk a lot and even to the mall at least once a week. Now that the boys are in their 20’s they don’t hesitate to walk from downtown at 12 am. more than 10 km. So keep up the good work, they will be better for it.

  2. I heartily agree with the importance of walking, not only to our physical well-being, but our mental health. It’s been a long time since Brad and I have walked to work (6km), but your entry makes me think we better start again. We bike in warm weather, but walking is more meditative and conducive to conversation. Thanks for nudge.

  3. I have to totally agree with you because anytime I take a stroll through nature, I come up with my most creative book ideas, or music concepts; glad it does the same for you and the family :))

  4. What a lovely piece of writing! I am a walking-addict…I cannot go a day without it. Luckily, even though I live in a city, we have several urban parks with forested trails close to my house—in 10 minutes, I can be in an old-growth forest and walk for half an hour or more. But, I wish there were more walking paths in the neighborhoods—the city streets are not that nice to walk on. I think we need to build this into our cities with more intent. Walking (in nature) should be a part of life.

  5. My mom’s cars were so often broken as we grew up, walking was our primary form of transportation. My siblings and I used to read to pass the time, which provided the basis for my readwalking post. My younger sister and I would sing and walk. Now I often take my cell phone with me, but I’m remembering to leave it behind some, too. When I let myself be in the walk, I am at peace and possibilities feel endless. I miss that feeling, which was very much evoked by reading this fabulous post. What a lovely boost for this blogger’s afternoon!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s