The first Wednesday of April is National Walking Day. This is one way the American Heart Association promotes habits that keep our heart happy. Whether you walk alone or with others, the idea is to get moving. If you can connect with nature while you’re outside, so much the better.
Buddhist author Thich Nhat Hanh leads walking meditations at his retreat center among the sunflowers of Bordeaux, France. In Peace Is Every Step he reminds us, “Be aware of the contact between your feet and the Earth. Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”
Librarian Ann Vogl and English teacher Cheryl Gorsuch decided to hike the Ice Age Trail–all 1000 miles of it. It took them five years, getting together on weekends to do a bit at a time. They often talked while they walked and got to know each other very well. They also got to know thirty counties of Wisconsin as they followed the edge of the last glacier! Upon achieving their goal this month, Gorsuch commented, “I think you see so much of Wisconsin at a personal level, foot by foot, step by step.”
Mark Hirsch is another inspired Wisconsinite. Every day for a year, he walked to a 163-year-old Bur Oak, took a picture of it, and got to know it very well. It became “That Tree” project, completed just two weeks ago. (See www.facebook.com/photosofthattree.) People who saw his photos posted online got to know the oak, too, and shared their stories of special trees. So whether we hike a thousand miles or walk to the same place every day, there are benefits from the physical exercise and the connections we make.
Though I like taking sociable walks with friends, I pay more attention to flora and fauna if I go quietly by myself. I can pause and watch birds to my heart’s content or lean against a tree until I have set down roots alongside it. For heart health, a rapid pace is best, and I do like race-walking. But for peace of mind, I like to pause and appreciate my surroundings.
Kathleen Dean Moore of Oregon writes in Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature of walking along a river by the Cascade Mountains. She couldn’t help but take her stress with her. “Already,” she says, “just a few hours into the weekend, time feels short. I hurry to relax before I have to go back to my complicated life.” She pauses to watch the river, a tortoiseshell butterfly lands on her arm, and her awareness shifts.
“Lucky. If I hadn’t stopped to watch the river, if I hadn’t worked up a sweat in this unlikely sun, if I hadn’t pushed my sleeves up past my elbows, I might never have discovered how to drink in the peace of this time and place, every warm drop.” Moore continues, “This is what a human brings to the world–the ability to take notice, to be grateful and glad, glad for the river swinging by, for the sun warming my shoulders, for the breeze lifting the hairs on a butterfly’s back.”
May you get lucky on April 3 and every day. Don’t hurry to relax. Take your time and have a heartfelt walk.