Walking is great exercise. Maybe not as great as a 10 mile obstacle course in Tahoe but it’s still great. You work the largest muscles in your body without putting excess strain on your joints. It’s natural movement. It’s good for you.
But most of the time when I go walking, I’m not doing it for my body. I’m doing it for my mind. I clear my thoughts. I let stress and emotions roll out along my legs and into the ground beneath me. I unravel programming knots. I contemplate stories. I think.
I take a little bit of time out of every day at work to go and walk. It’s the same route, everyday. I go out through the back door. I cross the parking lot towards the pond between my building and the next. I take the path that runs along the stream, that connects the two parking lots. Then, I go along the entire outside of the next lot, step over onto the side street, and follow it to the main street. A right turn, and then I’m headed back towards my work place. It’s just under a mile, with busy freeway on one side, a quiet, verdant pond on the other.
When I’m not solving a problem in my mind, or working out the details of a story, I try to be in the moment. I listen to the cars racing by on Highway 50. I look up at the sky, appreciating the cerulean sky and the softness of the clouds. I imagine the vastness of space, lying just beyond the sky. With no roof over my head, there is nothing preventing me from spinning off into the nothing, save for the Earth herself holding me to her surface. Holding me by my feet, which I keep lifting and moving away from the concrete, like an unruly child squirming away from his mother’s embrace.
Yesterday, while walking this same route I’ve walked for more than a year and a half, I felt like a character in one of my own stories. Details lent itself to narrative. If you’ll indulge me a moment, I will share!
I rounded the corner onto the last street leading back to my office. The heat of the afternoon pressed me from all sides, and I felt sweat forming in the middle of my back. I chastised myself for not walking earlier in the day, when the temperature would have been more mild.
As I made the last leg of the trek, I spotted the corpse of a raccoon lying on the grass, near the road. It lay on its side, its paws pulled up and its eyes closed, facing me.
“Oh man,” I said, and turned away quickly. I thought for a moment how mild my exclamation was. No profanity. Then the smell hit me, and my thoughts evaporated. I quickened my step.
As I moved past, I noticed something else out of place. Dotting the grass and bushes along my path were dozens of pieces of notebook paper. They were empty and lined, though not like typical, college ruled paper.
The paper littered the ground for a dozen yards or so. I’d walked past most of it before my steps began to falter.
In a cartoon world, an angel and a devil would have appeared on my shoulder.
“Leave the world better than you found it,” the angel would have said.
“Get back to work,” the devil would respond. “This isn’t your problem.”
“But it won’t take much to pick up the paper. It’s dry.”
“There are other people who get paid to do this. It’s not your job.”
I turned around. The angel doesn’t always win, but I always want him to.
I walked back to where the paper began. I bent and picked it up, then turned to the next. Then the next after that. The odor from the roadkill struck me again, but I pressed on. None of the pages were close to the dead raccoon, and I considered that a blessing.
A few minutes later, I was back on the path, a stack of blank pages in my hand. I went into my office and dumped the pages in the recycling bin. I sat at my desk and went back to my programming, feeling like I’d done something small, but right.
I walk almost every day. I don’t write nearly so often. I need to write more. When I’m not writing, I get depressed. I withdraw. And apparently, when I go long enough without writing something, I start framing minor events in my life in some sort of narrative.