The power of a long, meandering walk is often underestimated. One of my favorite authors, Rebecca Solnit, wrote an entire book about walking called “Wanderlust” (2000). It’s something that all of us do every day, something ordinary and unremarkable. It’s an activity in service of a basic need: getting from one place to another. So, what’s the big deal?
Even before quarantine made walking one of the only things that kept me sane, it was still an important part of my life. I often have difficulty shutting the world out and being present, and walking affords me the space to separate myself from my erratic consumption habits. It’s in a sweet spot: active enough to fend off restlessness, and monotonous enough to avoid distraction from an album, a podcast or an audiobook. On walks, I can truly listen.
Walking taught me the beauty of listening to albums track by track. It’s one of those habits I have that people sometimes shake their heads at, like following recipes to the letter or reading tea boxes to see what they recommend as the steeping time. I’ve learned that some of the best albums sequence tracks to tell stories, to give the ear crescendos and decrescendos, highs and lows that flow onward toward their final tracks. Walking gives me the discipline to study these things that are often lost to playlistification.
I’ve found the patience for podcasts on walks. I love “The Writer’s Voice” (2004–), a podcast by The New Yorker that showcases short stories read by their authors. A few weeks into my subscription, it made me laugh when I realized I was subconsciously picking routes that corresponded with the lengths of the stories. There’s something very satisfying about the author delivering their last line right as you reach the doorstep.
I also enjoy “Las Culturistas” (2016–), a silly, conversation-based podcast hosted by comedians Matt Rogers and Bowen Yang. It’s not earth-shattering stuff — they mainly discuss media and celebrity culture — but its occasional broaching of underrepresented topics and people surprises me. It feels sort of sad to admit that hearing other people’s organic, buffer-free conversations makes me feel less alone, but I’m willing to own that if this encourages readers to try it.
The walk is important in and of itself, but some of its best work is done in the aftereffects. There’s very little that is romantic about the world we currently live in. Life often feels flat, meaningless. The comforts of home become obsolete when you never leave them. Walking through my front door, hanging up my coat and starting the tea water is a practice that brings me a feeling of beautiful normalcy in its own little way. I got up, had somewhere to go, and returned with a clearer mind. Walking away can’t solve all your problems, but sometimes, it’s exactly what you need.