Walking grounds you. I anticipate eyerolls with a fartsy declaration, but it’s true.
Australians aboriginals offer walkabouts as a spiritual exercise to gain centricity around one’s position in the world. I’ve been an avid walker, hiker, climber for years. I began with hustles to class in Montreal, and kept going — traipsing around downtown Toronto, climbing above the Hills, and now exploring New York gems.
New York City
Walking fully attuned is a window to how others live. New York City especially is rife for “publicized private conversations” that you’d expect to happen within the comfort of four walls. The city parks host break ups, fights, proposals, celebrations with pride. We have no secrets here, and we are loud in conversations and in life. Spending time on the New York City streets is akin to a cultural and social museum of interactions.
Los Angeles hikes brought solitude more than enlightenment. I’d plug a podcast in and look up the next summit to tackle. Metaphorically, ascension settled my mind from hectic corporate weeks of continued run-arounds and political posturing. It let my worries breathe, air out, and rest. In a city where I did not have an abundance of extra spending power, I collected hours of free entertainment from the hills and its inhabitants (including an hour of pure terror from an unexpected tarantula hiking companion).
Toronto walks trended toward efficiency. I’d go places by foot to avoid costly subway / streetcar fares I did not want to pay. Affording the city required sacrifices of comfort, but I discovered hidden brunch spots and peaceful nooks in Canada’s New York through my pedestrian sensibilities. The quiet, quaint residential areas within a 15-minute pace of my downtown rental left me yearning for more though.
Montreal bi-pedal commutes built me – the icy temperatures and multiple miles to my classes ripped moisture from my face and feeling from my fingers. I mastered the “penguin shuffle” to avoid slipping and tumbling on hidden frosty sidewalks, which happened frequently upon first moving there. The dip in temperatures paralleled my departure from the cozy comforts of home. The culture of Montreal throttled this English-speaking American. The curt, efficient Québécois opposed the oozy warmth of Middle America in an isolating frost. I did not find my inner sunshine until years into my time there.
The Wisdom in Walkabouts
My walkabouts have been short – interspersed throughout the days, weeks, and months of living. Hiking alongside glorious vistas makes for a fantastic postcard, but meaning crystallizes in the everyday repetition of how we see our common spaces.
By looking out in each of my cities, I’ve learned, quieted, realized, and grown. Each step outside instructs me on my inside – what matters to people, how to understand the lives of others, and how I present myself to the world.
Walking has taught me one thing. One unspoken certitude taken from careful watching of society and its players. Humanity is art.