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A walk around the block

I used to walk only when I thought I should not be driving a car. During fuel shortages, I felt it was unpatriotic to start up an engine when I didn’t need to. Other times I felt guilty that I was becoming an inactive slug and should heed the advice of doctors to get my own engine running by walking.
I remember years ago when a new tennis teacher moved to Corydon for the summer. He was from another country but seemed to know more people in our town than I did. I noticed that after tennis practice, he would load the balls in a big basket, put the basket on his head and head home on foot. When I asked him how he knew so many people, he said it was due to his not having a car. He walked through neighborhoods and the downtown, talking to people along the way. It caused me to think about my own practices. It is true that, when navigating stop signs and avoiding other cars, one does not carry on a single conversation with neighbors. And who can see ‘ really see ‘ the buildings that you pass if your eyes are on the road?
Now, it seems to me that often the things that are bad for us are the things that taste good and are fun, easy and glamorous. But have you ever heard anyone say that walking should be avoided for moral, economic or health reasons? In fact, the Mayo Clinic web page states that ‘Walking is one of your body’s most natural forms of exercise.’ It can: ‘lower the bad cholesterol, raise the good cholesterol, lower blood pressure, reduce risk or manage type 2 diabetes, manage weight, improve mood, and help one stay strong and fit.’ All this by just putting one foot in front of another.
Last summer, my legs weren’t working too well. Every step hurt, and I didn’t go very fast. During a walk with a friend, it was a challenge just to keep up and not complain. Now, the disease that affected my legs is gone and, as I take off down the street, I realize again the joy of swinging my arms and moving freely.
Walking for fun, not just as a means to get somewhere, is a glorious experience. I love the way the air feels as it moves against my arms. I savor the sound of the wind blowing against the tree leaves. (You do know, of course, that all leaves do not sound the same as they flap in the breeze.) And, from each flower garden and backyard barbecue, the air carries a different aroma to delight.
When I first moved into my house in Indianapolis, I would have described my neighborhood as a collection of brick houses. That was before I began walking. Now, I realize that the variety of doorways, windows, chimneys and broad architectural styles is amazing. We have colonial, Spanish, Tudor, modern ‘ oh well, you get the idea ‘ it is a wonderful architectural mix.
Walking lets me appreciate the landscaping which adds the greatest variety and the most beauty to my neighborhood. People express their individuality through plants, rocks, gates, walkways and lawns. No boring expanses of grass dominate this neighborhood. There are folks who have manicured gardens done by professionals and others who like the more natural homegrown look. Yards give real clues about the people who live behind the closed doors. It is fun to imagine the variety of lives that play out around me. One yard I discovered recently has lavender-colored chairs placed among playful fountains and statues. I would love to meet the folks who created that oasis in the city. Another home I like is sitting beneath giant locust trees and seems like a gingerbread house out of a fairy tale. Someone with a sense of whimsy must have designed that yard. I missed all of this when I drove past it in my car.
The best part of a walk is meeting new neighbors along the way. I find that an evening stroll produces different opportunities for greeting people than one taken in the middle of the day. If you vary your exercise time, you are bound to eventually meet everyone living within walking distance of your home. What once looked like a silent neighborhood lined with brick buildings, now proves to be a vibrant community with such a variety of interesting folks.
This isn’t just an improvement in my social life; it is a very practical security issue. Neighbors who know each other keep an eye out for one another. If you know who belongs in the neighborhood, you can immediately spot a ne’er-do-well who ventured in with evil on his mind.
I’m old enough to know that life is not just a stroll in the park. But I have grown to realize that a good brisk walk sure can improve the quality of my days on this planet.