The black flies always drive me out of the woods by June. This is usually the end of my quiet walks for a few months. Not expecting much, but missing the walking time, I tried a route along the road this year. It was different than the woods, but to my surprise, I really liked it. On lucky days the litter and the cars are fewer, but regardless, the sky is always bigger.
My mom was a walker. Often by herself, but almost everywhere we lived, I remember places that we walked together. She probably got it from her parents, who walked twice a day, often for a good two miles, well into their eighties. When I picture my mother or grandmother, I picture them drinking tea or taking a walk.
People who meet us together often consider my husband the quiet one. Depending on the situation, he can be happy to let me do the talking. But when it’s just the two of us, I can be lucky to get a word in edgewise. Without intending to this summer, we’ve made a habit of an after dinner walk together. It’s nice on lots of counts, but the biggest is how much easier it is to feel connected to each other.
There is something about walking that is hard to put your finger on. Cars, dogs, and people intersect our time without intruding on our space together. Curiously, the circle of togetherness feels both small and big. Walking with my husband, I feel connected to my mom, my grandparents . . . and it probably sounds crazy, but people in general. I walk, listening intently of course, to recaps of NPR, ESPN, etc. Meanwhile pictures of people walking amble through my head. Not just my heroes, the pioneers, but escaping people, exploring people, refugees. Mothers with babies on their backs, teenagers holding hands, tired people, laughing people, amazed people. All kinds of people go through my head. I think again of the man beside me. How much he drives me completely out of my mind. What a gift it is to be an us. The mystery of imperfect love. The kindness of slow time. How much simpler, easier it is to listen here on the side of the road.
Humans, I learned, walk about 3 miles an hour. A friend recently walked from Ottawa to Montreal, which took twelve days. Afterwards she was struck by the speed of car rides. She said all she could think sitting there was, “Why would anyone want to go this fast? You can hardly see anything like this.”
She’s right. You see things when you walk. You hear things. Walking alone, there are windows to wholeness and peace that pass my understanding. (Alone walking is where I bring my disordered fragments for realignment.) Walking together, a doorway opens between the separateness of souls. We walk, like breathing, without thinking about it. Unhurried space that is both ordinary and intimate. Gallons of water, misunderstood, assumed, taken for granted, criticized, and frustrated, have gone under the bridge (along with a few cats, some kids, missing tax receipts and a broken lawn mower) by the time we walk each day. It doesn’t all get said but it all gets sorted out. Because baptized in the shared humanity of 3 mph, we hear and see each other as friends.