I made the decision to start walking regularly while staring into the red numbers of my digital clock.
The sun was barely up, beginning to glow between the gaps in the blinds. Throughout my life, my bed was where I made decisions: like quitting a job that was boring me into a coma, leaving one overcrowded city for another, and visiting Malaysia.
In winter, there’s light rain here. It pin pricks windows like imperfections left by a glassblower. I hesitate to go out, procrastinating under the roof line before braving numbing cold. The walking and jogging track changes with seasons. Speckled with frost in July, burning with glare in January. It loops around a sports field where during early mornings the pained expressions of other joggers crunches past on the gravel track. Dogs chase tennis balls and a few people nurse takeaway coffees. I walk with sufficient speed to still feel the ominous tugging of hamstrings in the backs of my legs. Air swelling with dew chills cheeks. The horizon lifts and falls in time to my strides. Hair turns heavy with the misting weight of fog.
We all wear masks due to the pandemic. For most of the past six months, the outdoor sports equipment and playgrounds have been roped off like a crime scene with police tape. I usually stop to catch my breath and buy a coffee; there’s only takeaway food available. Regulations don’t allow sitting and eating in cafes. Seats are removed, probably piled out the back. Now we queue on crosses marked out by tape on the floor, keeping us at safe distances from each other.
Here in Melbourne, our nights are under curfew and for weeks we’ve needed to carry a letter from an employer or doctor authorising us to drive more than 5 kilometres (slightly over 3 miles). I tell friends I’m living in a science fiction novel. I rediscover The Beatles’ music, learn to cook using a smoker, waste time on YouTube, and finish writing a book. Amongst all that—I keep walking.
Walking reminds me of advice I was once given about gardening:
Water with a watering can, not a hose.
It forces you to look more closely at plants as you bend over pouring water. You notice the folds in leaves, new growth, and colour. With hoses you stand back and merely see the stream of water jetting and sloshing into spaces.
In a similar way, walking brought me closer to the landscape. I wasn’t driving in a hurried way, glimpsing a few tops of heads on the oval below or people whisking by. I felt the landscape under my feet and in my lungs. I smelled cut grass gusting in from a ride on mower in an adjacent park. I experienced the nods of passing people whose smiles would otherwise be invisible behind masks. Flocks of starlings zoomed by. Conversations behind masks muffled past.
For most of my corporate life, I’ve barely noticed any of this.
I’ve been too intent on sleeping in on Sundays, or feeling like the weekend was two days of rehab for the working week before plunging in to Monday and another filled inbox. Walking was what I did on my way to the car through the office car park, and if I was lucky, past gardens at lunch.
I’ve had a few epiphanies this year. I’ll confess they should have been more obvious and perhaps even arrived sooner—one was the notion of slowing down. The idea of watching seasons change. Cooking slowly, eating slowly, writing fiction fast, adopting a dog, and day dreaming often.
Now I add walking to that list. Long, optimistic strides through grass at times shorn, at other times deep as a crop of wheat. I don’t need a physical destination to arrive at like an address or a corner in the road. The only destination I need is the light and the air, a shelf of books, John Lennon’s voice, and not to have given up.