In 2012, I spent the summer with my parents in their home in Santa Fe, NM.
Most mornings and evenings, they headed out for walks. They had to get their little coyote-looking dog Ginger out, but the walks saved them from life’s daily stresses.
Most times, I was invited. Often, I joined them on the streets winding around adobe homes, dirt paths, and arroyos. I learned “a little walk,” unless it was dark, typically took an hour. So, sometimes I declined in honor of time and solitude.
Often, I heard my stepmom say, “I’m a little tired. I’m going for a walk” or I could see her emotional edge (we all have one) sharpening. Those moments called for solo walks with Ginger.
They both returned brighter and kinder. The desert air, the smell of dirt and pine, and the expansive skies covering the Land of Enchantment can clear the blues.
Back in junior high, my stepmom introduced me to running by entering a ten-mile race through the Garden of the Gods in Colorado on the day she married my father.
At 14, my skinny legs and thick willpower carried me through the course.
Mary Jo was a runner. So, I became one. Not a jogger. Certainly, not a walker. In my mind, walking was what old people did in malls.
I ran through my teens, 20s and 30, but by my forties, my body wasn’t as forgiving. Yet, my mind couldn’t imagine the power of walking, except for wimps. I’m not a wimp!
Neither are my parents. Now in their 80s, they’re big time drinkers—of water. They’ve travelled the world, and ridden bicycles across the country on serious trips: across the Great Divide, from New Mexico to my dad’s high school reunion in South Dakota, and one summer they rode 4,000 miles from Virginia to Oregon, covering over 50 miles on most days.
So, it shouldn’t have surprised me when, the summer of 2012, my dad met my offer to join him on a bike ride with, “I need to get a real workout in.” Ouch. Hey, old man!
He was right, though. I couldn’t keep up with him mountain biking on the trails, and though I intended to, I never made it up the vertical-as-a-wall killer hill he took like a 12-year-old.
Between bicycle rides, walking served as my parents’ constant. Like water, it’s the simple, almost unnoticeable key to health and longevity.
As Artist’s Way author Julia Cameron states, “You might walk out with a problem, but as you walk, you come into a solution.” She added walking as a third tool for writers, after morning pages and artist dates.
Between Ms. Cameron and my parents, walking became my secret weapon.
Even if walking doesn’t bring me to a solution or resolution, it transforms me. When I’m angry, I must run, but when agitated, irritated, or tired, walking offers revival. It can be medicine, but it’s best taken daily like vitamins.
After that summer in Santa Fe, I returned home to Minnesota, but not to my husband. Yeah, I’d learned to walk in several ways.
Anyhow, in my next chapter, I took up walking with my new neighbor Michael and his German Shepard Jessie. As Michael and I walked among the Victorian homes of Cathedral Hill, St. Paul, we discussed men and women and relationships.
Each step dropped our defenses and forged a friendship I doubt would’ve happened over coffee or meals. Walking made talking easy.
I also walked alone, slowing into the pace of poetry.
Later, when I moved to Worthington, OH with my sister Jayne, our evening walks tamed workday stresses and unraveled the threads of grief, relationships, and childhood memories matched with our adult perspectives.
During winter, my sister and I long for and lean into spring so we can get back to our synchronized steps.
Up until a year ago, my Labrador Phoenix joined us. There’s nothing like a dog to get us out for walks. She’s gone now and it’s more of a chore to drag myself outdoors during the cold days.
Still, every time I go, especially stepping into the woods and letting nature return me to mine, I’m better for it.
On my most recent visit with my parents in their new small Santa Fe apartment, I said, “I need to get out for a walk. Would either of you like to join me?” They both declined the cold. The wind of their aging blew through me.
Of course, we shared many walks that week: down Canyon Road by art galleries, along the downtown arroyo surrounded by glistening yellow Aspen trees, and a drive out close to my folks’ old neighborhood where Ginger could run free as Mary Jo and I plunged up and down hills and through sandy arroyos where she lost her hat and we had to go back.
Walking carries us back and forward, to reflection and perspective of beauty that a drive, or even a bicycle miss.
Ginger is slowing. My parents are growing into what, despite their health, is old age. My companion Phoenix aged out.
I try to pick up the habit of running again, but I’m thankful my parents passed onto me a new constant to carry me through life’s daily joys and challenges.
So, when you’re feeling lost or blue, I encourage you to get out and experience the magnificence, simplicity and magic of walking.