I miss my Mazda Protégé. I miss it a lot. I don’t love my life in London, and in lots of ways I can’t wait to be able to just hop in a car again—preferably a zippy little five-speed—and drive to Target or Publix or Old Navy for whatever it is that I think I need.
It all started when I was a kid. I grew up in Davenport, Iowa, as some of you know. We didn’t live far from our school, St. Paul’s, so we walked there everyday. About six or eight blocks. In the mornings, the whole neighborhood of kids just poured out of their houses, rain or shine, snow and wind. We all met up and walked together. My cousins lived down the street and we walked with them. Cars honked full of older siblings driving to the high school. Even when I was in kindergarten, I walked to Washington School by myself—but with other kids all around—everyday for my half-days with Mrs. Corsiglia. Yes, I can still spell and pronounce her name right: cor-SEE-lee-yuh. I think it might have sparked my love for the Italian language and long walks in the Italian countryside.
When I was older, I used my bike to get around some, but I still walked a lot. I worked during the summer for Junior Theatre in Davenport—even at 14 I was teaching 6 and 7 year old acting—and I walked from home to my classes and rehearsals there. We’d finished up and it would be dark, but it didn’t matter. Mom would say, “Come straight home.” And I did. Where else did you need to be, other than home?
When I was in high school, my Mom was on a health kick (she taught where we went to school at Assumption High) so for a while she would walk to school in the mornings: it was at least 3 miles or so. My brother John would drive to school early for band practice and sometimes I would go with him, or sometimes I would walk with Mom. It took almost an hour.
Nobody walks anymore, least of all in the Midwest. My sister and her kids live as close or closer to the schools we went to as kids, and she drives them or they get rides. Everyone claims it’s because of “bad strangers”—that nothing is safe anymore— but I don’t buy it. My 12-year-old niece is smarter than most adults I know, and walking in a group with her friends, there’s slim to zero chance of anything happening if they know the ground rules. “Go straight to school” and “Come straight home.” Easy.
So maybe I get claustrophobia in London, but at least it gets me walking. England is a nation of walkers, with public footpaths and right-of-ways everywhere. London makes me walk. If I want to take a bus or a Tube or a train, I have to walk to get to it. And I don’t mind at all. If I want to buy groceries, I have to walk to get them. And I don’t mind. I even walk home with the beer I want to drink, or, instead, I walk to the pub and drink it there. Along the way, I do my best to encourage a friendly ‘hello’ from my neighbors (working at the local pub helps in the recognition department) or I walk with my MP3 player, lose myself in the music and turn every step into a musical.
By the way, if your excuse is that you can’t walk in the States, you can. I walked everywhere in Kansas City, from the Plaza to the 39th Street, through the Volker neighborhood to the Art Museum and UMKC and back. I loved living in Midtown because it still had sidewalks, god forbid. Imagine: a neighborhood with designated places to walk.
Walking isn’t an “activity,” a mode of transportation or even a workout: it’s a state of mind. And, like everything else that feels right, it becomes you. Feel your legs and you feel your feet. Feel your feet and your feel the earth underneath them: the sponginess of soil, the heat of the cement, and the texture of the grass, to start. On those feet we are upright and we are evolved.
Hope you enjoyed the photos of the latest place we walked, the Lake District in Northwest England. I know William Wordsworth did, for he lived there all his life. If you want to see more pictures, click here.