Nietzsche said, "All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking." There's nothing like the combination of fresh air and physical activity to make one feel good while fuelling creativity. What's not to love about that?
The world has been flooded with brilliant sunshine for the last few days. It’s still cold outside, usually below freezing for the first part of the day, but the sun and clear blue sky make it easier to bear. I’ve been bundling up my kids multiple times a day to play outside, and we often take long, leisurely walks through the residential streets of our small town.
My favorite time to walk is in the morning, before the day has warmed up. Smells are intensified, as if the air has been cleaned overnight or allowed a respite from daytime commotion, and has not yet been contaminated by the next day’s flurry of activity. Sometimes I catch whiffs of a wood fire, breakfast cooking, a recently cut tree, hot laundry, or stale cigarette smoke leaking out of a cottage. The exhaust from a passing backhoe nearly knocks me over with its intensity. I detect the softening mud signaling the impending arrival of spring and the mustiness of a decaying pile of leaves that somebody forgot to finish raking before it was buried by last winter’s snow.
Walking is truly therapeutic. I’ve read that the repetitive activity of walking triggers the body’s relaxation response and helps reduce stress; it provides an immediate energy boost and improves mood. I love Nietzsche’s assessment that “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” It’s true that many of my best writing ideas come to mind when I’m walking outside, far more so than hanging around the house.
When I was in grade twelve, I had to walk one mile from my house to the highway to catch the bus each morning. This was irritating for a moody teenager whose hairdo was more important than putting on a hat when it was -20°C / -4°F outside, but worst of all was having to be at the bus stop so early that it was still dark in wintertime, the twisty dirt road often unplowed and deep with snow. And yet, as I trudged that route, day after day, with my backpack on and wet hair freezing before it dried, I grew to love the route. It was my only time to be alone with my thoughts and also connected me with nature. Once I met a mother moose and calf. Another time, a black bear went crashing away down the side of a hill as I approached.
My uncle is a big fan of long-distance walking. Some days he walks from his home across the Niagara peninsula, about 40 km (25 miles). He has walked all over France, following the centuries-old walking paths that once were the lifeblood of the continent. He’s told me many times that people need to change their perceptions of distance. Humans are built to walk long distances; apparently we can out-walk a cheetah. Walking is a healthy, green way to transport oneself, but it requires time, which is at a premium nowadays. By making the time to walk, however, we create a healthier world filled with happier individuals.
My kids won’t see moose and bears running around when we go for walks in town, but I want to teach them how good they’ll feel while doing it. May they learn to crave the mixed sensation of peacefulness and exhilaration that comes with propelling oneself, rather than hopping into a fuel-burning car. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the lingering tingle of exercise and cold air on my skin, which never fails to clear my mind and inspire me. What more could I wish for?