The simple pleasures of walking

A leisurely stroll brings sheer enjoyment.

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    SNOWY STROLL: Snow doesn't deter a walker and joyous dog in King George V Park in Farnborough, southern England.
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Americans find it difficult to engage in any activity for pure pleasure. We have to have a higher aim – a purpose – for every moment of time. For example, children take classes or join clubs to increase their self-esteem, build talent, or try out a potential career. Adults attend parties to make business contacts, garden to raise vegetables, and mow the lawn to meet neighborhood standards.

I'm here to tell you about one of my guilty pleasures. It doesn't cost a thing, takes very little time, and brings me lots of personal fulfillment. Best of all, you can indulge in it for sheer enjoyment. Will you increase your social standing? No. Do you have the potential to make money? Absolutely not. Should you reproach yourself for indulging? Perhaps.

It's walking – strolling, sashaying, traipsing, perambulating, ambling. There's something about walking that's different from jogging. When I'm jogging, I'm constantly challenging myself to go farther or faster, sweat more, and breath harder. But when I'm walking, I'm taking time to go outside and put one foot in front of another while I look around, breathe, blink, and feel the sun and the wind. When I walk, I'm submerging myself in life.

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On walks, I make friends with myself. That little voice in my head asks, "How are you going to finish three major projects this week?" I answer, "Now, calm down. This is your time. No deadlines, no projects, no have-to-dos."

On walks, I confront myself, too. There's no avoiding my recent irrational response to the neighbor with straying trash or the petty argument I started with my husband. While I walk, I put into perspective what's important to me.

My favorite reason for walking? It's a time when the strangest things pop into my head. As I walk, I devise new recipes to test or a solution to the Middle East conflicts. Sometimes, I dream up brilliant inventions that would make me $1 million if only I had time to create them.

Solitary walks and walks with companions each have their own pleasures. On walks with companions, acquaintances become friends and friendships deepen. People I've known for years open up and reveal the struggle they went through to find the right career, the trials and tribulations of their children's adolescence, and their excitement over a gem of a movie or a nugget of self-discovery.

I first became intrigued with walks when I read "Pride and Prejudice." The intrepid Elizabeth Bennet walked three miles to visit her sister.

Then, still in my impressionable pubescence, I learned that the Romantic poets – William Wordsworth, John Keats, and Percy Bysshe Shelley – frequently strolled for hours for creative inspiration.

It's an easy mannerism to assume. I might not have been able to write like these poets but I could take walks as they did, I thought.

In college, walks were my only escape from the hordes of people who surrounded me in the dormitory, boardinghouse, classes, parties, dates, meetings, and library sessions. Wherever I went, I constantly had people telling me what to do or asking me what I thought or felt. I figured out the answers on my walks.

I remember one tramp in the pouring rain when I made a decision to break off a serious relationship with a boyfriend, and another when I cobbled together my own explanation for the rise and fall of American imperialism.

During my children's infancy, they and the stroller and I were a familiar quartet as we wandered our way down the sidewalks, poking at roly-poly bugs with pine needles, shouting the colors of parked cars, or making up rhymes about our progress.

As time went on, I often grabbed my walking shoes in times of despair. My hobby was set early, and I've continued because of the stimulation and solace that walking brings.

And because I walk so often, I now have a list of my favorite walking spots. One of my favorite spots is a park near my house. The park is familiar yet ever-changing; it lets me experience the cycle of the seasons at my convenience.

I also enjoy walking anywhere with my children, Lily and Seamus, who constantly open my eyes to new discoveries – rolling down a hill, tracking a squirrel, or finding a sparkly rock.

And I always relish walking in cities new to me. I recently discovered Atlanta's multitude of streets with "Peachtree" in their names by walking the length of midtown and downtown. Getting lost on a walk in the Paris harbor district with my husband is a treasured memory, too.

I'm convinced that you deserve the unadulterated pleasure of walks for their own sake. But if you're still not convinced, I've provided a list of excuses you can try on for size:

First, get a dog. You not only have a justification to take a walk, you have a moral obligation. And not just once a day, but several times.

Second, try building walks into your exercise program.

Last, borrow a child or two. You can claim you're expanding their horizons and teaching them about nature.

Artist Winslow Homer said, "The sun will not rise, or set, without my notice and my thanks." Where else can you notice the sun's movements except on a walk – an opportunity to appreciate joy in the world for its very existence?

Another inspired quote about walking comes from Raymond Inmon, who said, "If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking. Angels whisper to a man [and, one assumes, a woman] when he goes for a walk."

I think that these are both excellent motives for allowing yourself the guilty pleasure of walks.

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