I recently went on a walk with a dear friend, and pondered the state of walking in America today.
Due to my current state of carlessness (yay!), it was agreed that we would meet up in Fort Bragg and go adventuring about town. We walked up to Otis B. Johnson park (and a side note—who was Otis B., and what did he do?). The park is an oddity in Fort Bragg, city of oddities. It’s probably only a couple of acres, bordering Pudding Creek on one side, and it’s more or less allowed to run wild. There are a few decaying bridges and sometimes someone comes through and cuts through trees that have fallen across the paths, but essentially it’s left to flourish on its own. There’s a big menacing sign at the entrance to the park, informing the reader that one is not allowed to “traverse” the park after dark, along with a variety of other things.
The secret of the park is that if you hike up to the back of it, and go down a long slippery hill, you end up at the train tracks, which is exactly what we did. And then we followed the tracks out into the east for a time. We briefly considered hiking to Willits but decided to put it off for another day, given the inclement weather.
Which brings up an interesting point about walking, for me. I like walking in the rain. One of the best walks I ever had was one along Fern Gully, where it started pouring rain and then it got dark, and we walked in the dark and the rain until we reached the bottom of the trail and the car we had left there. It was wonderful. But some people think I’m quite batty for being into that sort of thing. I like getting lost in the woods. I like finding new interesting places and plants.
Sometimes I like walking quickly, other times slowly. I like a walking partner who appreciates that, who doesn’t mind leaving me behind for a time or being left behind. I see no need for a party of walkers to adhere to one person’s pace, when it’s very pleasant to walk through the woods on your own, in solitude, and meet up with others when you rest, or feel like it. Sometimes when I walk with a partner, we find ourselves in a state of companionable silence for quite a while. Sometimes we have silly games, like the author game, or the movie game. Sometimes we just talk.
There are some people I don’t like to walk with. Either because they are walking pussies, and wimp out after a few miles, or they simply don’t make good walking company. There are others I love walking with, and it is one of my resolutions this year to walk more in the wilderness, to get out and explore the world.
This was part of my conscious choice in getting rid of my car. I got rid of it for a variety of reasons, but one of them is that I am feeling out of touch with the world and my community, and a good way to get back in touch is to start walking everywhere again. Do I feel slightly foolish traipsing along the sidewalk to the laundromat with a giant pack on my back, like a hobo? Certainly, but I love the things I see on the way, the people I run into, and the flowers I smell. American cities used to be set up in a way which welcomed and facilitated walking, and they aren’t anymore. Suburban sprawl is destroying a long walking tradition—now we need to schedule walks and hikes, because we don’t think of them as an ordinary, every day experience.
I have decided that I want to go on a walk or a hike in nature at least one day a week this year, and to explore more of the trails where I live. I will get back into photographing these journeys as well, a la the banana slug project, a photography epic which shall live in infamy. Given the alarming rate at which we are destroying the planet, I should probably take advantage of its natural beauty while I can, eh?