Sunday, December 30, 2012

Walking: The Journey From One Year To The Next

Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.
                                                                                    ~ Henry David Thoreau

McMahon Avenue, Kingston, Ontario, Canada
Only yesterday I walked a long lonely road in the near whiteout conditions that have settled upon my little corner of the world. I trudged through the snow. My muscles complaining with the new regime. My breath came in and out with sharp little icy blasts. I relished the difference in environment. I worked hard against the snow and was rewarded with rosy cheeks and a light heart.
Last year we barely had any snow. But it is amazing how much change can occur in one year.

Las Vegas, Nevada, United States

The Path I chose to follow in 2012 started with a long lonely journey but it brought me to this road; a stretch of open road ringed by desert mountains that lay out before me, teaching me that life is full of possibilities. The minute I arrived on this path I fell in love with my journey but getting here was not easy.

Boiler Room Climbing Gym, Kingston, Canada

I started the year by climbing the walls. Literally. I joined a climbing gym. Once strapped in to my harness and roped up I began walking the walls of the cavernous gym. Forged by the fire of pain and sweat from each climb my muscles began to take shape and to tone my arms and calves.

                               The soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone.

                                                         ~ Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe  

Kingston Mills Locks, Canada

Technically I was never alone during my climbs. I always had friends standing by to support me and to cheer me on. Though I was accompanied by a guide, my journey into the desert was a solo venture. Solo by the very nature of the inner workings of my mind, body and spirit. I saw beauty and adventure in places that only people who stand on the precipice of their world view can see. I saw potential in my life. Through my experiences on the walls and rocks I was able to see things from up close. I was able to feel smaller muscles that I never thought existed. I was able to put my nose to lichen and limestone and smell the musty scent of the world. I smelled the musty scent of a life that needed more action and so I made the decision to seek out adventure.

Walking into the desert was a defining moment for me. Red Rock Canyon, Nevada USA

Upon entering the desert terrain my thoughts consumed me. My emotions flooded me. The hot sun, the smell of the dry mountain air, the sage brush and yucca plants all stood at attention waiting for me to succumb to the magic of it all. I scaled the red sandstone walls of the canyon. Upon reaching a small ledge on the wall I had the opportunity to sit and take stock of how it was I came to be sitting there, as much a part of the landscape as the wind the sun and the rocks.
So this is what it is like to walk into a new environment with an open soul.

Contemplation: Red Rock Canyon, Nevada USA

It had taken some encouragement to take this journey. I followed the advice of a sage world adventurer and ended up on  the first of many adventures to come. But not all of them would require a trip on a plane.
I decided I needed more time for contemplation and that the best way to achieve it would be by clearing the space in my head. To do so meant I would need to walk more. Climbing gave my body the boost I needed. It gave my body a thirst for oxygen and for the pounding of fresh blood that ran through my veins carrying with it ideas and inspiration.

The sum of the whole is this: walk and be happy; walk and be healthy. The best way to lengthen out our days is to walk steadily and with a purpose.
                                                                                            ~ Charles Dickens

And so it is I made a decision that would propel me into the world of walking.
I decided to walk with purpose.
I decided to walk with reason, with mindfulness, with faith.
I decided I was going to take a long walk with a friend in an attempt to consolidate my health with my happiness. This journey would require training, of the mind, the pen and of my physique.

Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend.  
                                                                                               ~ Albert Camus

Me and Jenn. Wolfe Island, Canada

Meet my friend Jenn. She walks with me in spirit as she lives half a world away. Together we walk on opposite sides of the world, she with sandals on tropical beaches, through monsoon rains and on distant jungle paths.
I walk on city streets and through suburban landscapes. I walk on pre-Cambrian Canadian shield, by great lakes and rivers populated with modern industry. I walk in the boreal forest and through big box parking lots.
Our paths are divergent but will soon be merging to create one big meaningful journey.

The new year will yield promising new directions for the both of us as we plan for our adventure.     
I will keep walking, training and writing here in North America and Jenn will keep walking, training and writing in far corners of the world but we will together walk the crooked paths that will lead us to fresh new vistas.

“As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me. 

                                             ~ Woody Guthrie

As I walk into a new year I will be walking for you and for me. I will be walking with Jenn. I will continue to walk and explore the little things in life that transcend the every day ideals and lift our expectations of ourselves. I will trespass against the ordinary and bring to life in great detail the extraordinary facets of life that so easily get trampled on and forgotten.
Join me. It is going to be a life changing year.
Join me. It promises to be a good year.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

The night sky was a blank slate of black save for the ghostly light of the crescent moon which pierced through to the periphery of the Christmas scene before me. Children milled about the cul-de-sac followed by their parents and the odd family pooch. It was a scene out of any Christmas story book, fresh faces, rosy cheeks, smiles and songs as we walked through the neighbourhood carolling with good cheer.

Our walk was rollicking as boys jumped on each others backs, dogs nipped at our ankles and children chased each other over the green lawns. The mood was merry and our voices strong and our Christmas spirit shone brightly despite the lack of snow and ice to reflect back to us the nature of the season. We wandered under trees decorated with limp brown leaves who, despite dangling amidst twinkling lights and blinking Christmas colours, clearly missed the snow. So did I.

Mother Nature continued to hold at bay those woeful winter winds that swath our world when the wraiths of Father Winter come screaming into the season.
My tiny corner of the world is facing abysmally low records of snowfall. Last winter there was not enough snow for a single toboggan run.

We held out hope as we walked. The wind was starting to chill and as we moved from corner to corner we beheld lights and decorations. Ribbons and wreaths, candy canes and snowmen statues set out to entreat and entice the gods of weather to spare us a green Christmas. A warm winter morning is unseasonable but walking along, delivering warm winter greetings, usher in the festive mood.

It worked.

The next morning the
rain began to fall in thick bulbous drops.
By noon the trees were dripping, the eavestroughs were streaming and rivulets of water raced down my driveway and into the sewer. By the next morning the rain had turned to a slushy snow that dropped to the ground and plunked into puddles and thus I made my first footprints in the winter wonderland.

I awoke this morning to more snow. It had blanketed my neighbourhood overnight. We are finally going to have the white Christmas I have been dreaming of. Today the snowflakes floated softly down to meet the frozen floor of the world. Flurries caught in the pine trees and drifted sweetly past my window.

My dream came true, and as I leave you with images from my frosted world I wish you the Merriest of Christmases and holidays full of peace, love and walks in the wintry landscapes of your lives.

First snowplow of the season.
A happy boy on his way to the toboggan hill.

The beginnings of snowmen in the schoolyard.
Dominoe sniffing snowman parts.

A wonderfully white world.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Walking: That's The Spirit!

"If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”Galatians 5:25

Walking is a vehicle to health. Walking is exercise for the body and mind, but what about for the soul? What is it about walking that not only clears the mind but also renews the spirit?
If we are looking to inject some spirit into our lives then we have to believe in the spirit.
What is the spirit?
According to Merriam Webster's Online Dictionary the spirit has many definitions. The ones that jumped out at me were as follows:
"an animating or vital principle held to give life to physical organisms" Or by my translation the fresh air that brings me to life when I walk; giving me the strength to keep walking when the road gets bumpy.
"a supernatural being or essence"  Again, according to my translation the renewed sense of joy that I get from walking, giving me the strength of my convictions. And, "temper or disposition of mind or outlook especially when vigorous or animated" as in 'high spirits', which tend to deluge me during my walks.
When I get the Christmas Spirit I also tend to enjoy a few alcoholic spirits at times.
But I digress.

The Spirit can be addressed as an entity all its own. When a loved one passes on we know that they will be with us 'in spirit'. We like to think that like Jesus, for example, they are walking with us in our journey through life.
The spirit can be a feeling of self; that part of us that elevates or devalues our moods.
Why walk by the spirit?
We walk by the spirit otherwise we would be alone. We do not like to be alone, especially when confronted with the puzzles that plague our minds and crowd our crowns. 
So some of us walk with God, hoping that his presence will bring consolation and peace of mind.
Some of us credit our spirit to being a part of our selves, so we walk with these inner lights of our beings that warm us when we move.
I walk with the spirit of a friend who lives half a world away, training for the walk we plan to do together, soon.
And so it is that I walk. Ever with my spirit; that spark of life that brings clarity to my mind and the spring to my step. It is the lifeline that connects my inner self to the tangible world around me.
My spirit soars when I walk. My heart spreads open its wings to let my spirit free and in return my spirit returns with a light that nourishes my soul. It is the spirit that makes one happy.
Meet my walking Buddha buddy. He will be accompanying me on my walks from now on. 
When I set out to walk it is with a purpose. I walk to clear my head. I walk to find peace of spirit and mind.
“ set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Romans 8:6
There has always been a connection between spirituality and walking. The last walk I took I thought about iconic figures who have walked before me. Jesus walked with children. He walked with a cross upon his back. Moses and his people walked for forty days and the desert no less.
The Kaaba.
Photo Credit: Author: Al-Fassam (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic)
Muslims walk via pilgrimage to Mecca where they must then walk seven times around the Kaaba.
Buddha walked and walked until he finally settled under his Bohdi tree, which is now the destination of Buddhist pilgrims and tourists.
Kings and Queens, Popes and paupers have walked The Camino de Santiago de Compostela in order to renew their beliefs and re-evaluate the nature of their spirits.
I believe that walking makes sages of us all. Given the chance to clear our minds we can then let in the important messages from our spirits; whether it be God or Allah or the spirit of a tree in our backyard. We walk to clear ourselves of bad spirits and to find the spirit of forgiveness or of hope. We walk to turn our lives around and to lift our spirits. We walk to solve problems.
“If we are facing the right direction, all we have to do is keep walking”
                                                                                            ~Buddhist Proverb

Starting off on the right foot is the best place to begin. We may walk in circles for years before we find the right path but eventually with enough spirit we persevere, enough at least to get us to the next step in our journeys.
"...all we have to do is keeping walking."
So excuse me while I step out for a moment. I have some walking to do.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Walking With Feet In My Heart.

             "Touch my heart with your foot."
                                    - Annie Hall

For anyone not familiar with Woody Allen's classic film Annie Hall these words were uttered by a character who is described as being emotional. Such was my walk today. Emotional. Heartfelt.

The winter sun broke over crisp frozen grass that snapped with each step I took. The air was cold but since the day was strikingly bright I decided to venture out with the dog and go for a walk. Feeling nostalgic and having the use of the car I decided to take a walk somewhere I haven't been in awhile.

Kingston Mills Locks. It is a site of tremendous history. Irish workers toiled, and due to the harsh working conditions of the mid to late 19th century, paid with their lives to transform the land into a series of working locks along a canal that connects lake Ontario with the Ottawa river. 

In the distance a train streams over the locks. As a child I looked forward to the rumbling and shaking of the earth that signalled the coming of a train.
The locks are also the site of my own history; this is where I spent five years of my childhood. Many hours I ran and played on these grounds. And on the train tracks.

Where do your children play? What will be the landscape of their memories?

The path to the train tracks.......

.......which are no longer accessible by children.

What is the landscape of your youth?       What does it look like now?

I remember the locks being one big playground of nature. There were trees for climbing and trees with secret hiding places for notes and bundles of food and miniature toys. There was water which meant dead fish to poke at and live fish to catch and swimming holes. There were boats that carried us away on our dreams; dreams of one day sailing around the world or of sunning in the Caribbean. There were docks for napping on and for jumping off of. There were shady spots for families who picnicked and barbecued.

Which memories are worth holding on to?

I wandered the grounds searching for memories through the clouds of aged eyes. I saw the rocks I now climb with harness and rope where I used to nimbly canter over. I worked my way up and down the stone steps where I once ran with vigour. I tromped the boardwalk where once I bounced before diving into the depths of the river. I breathed in deep the smell of the fallen leaves and walked with my ear to the ground, listening to the hollow crunch of the leaves underfoot. I marvelled at the cold crunch of the stones I stepped on once back on the path. My senses brought back memories more tangible than I appreciated when I was young.
The winter landscape from the top of the locks.
My 'stairmaster'.
A view of the Rideau as it meanders towards lake Ontario.

Ice forms on the banks of the Rideau.

Dominoe and I clamber through the rocky paths.

Ice dangles from the limestone cliffs that border the canal.
From the trees to the boulders I used to climb over in my childhood exploits I wandered.Though not yet near the winter of my life I was certainly enjoying a winter walk into the heart of my childhood.

Don't just take your children for walks. Take their hearts by means of their feet. It will give them a bank of memories for each season of their life. 
Rosy cheeks and a warm heart.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Walking Challenge: Signs at the Mall

For some time now I have been walking around my neighbourhood expounding upon the virtues of the little things in life. The other day however I had an opportunity to challenge myself as I walked through the mall surrounded by classic Christmas consumer consciousness and commercial consumption. The cavernous mall encompassed all manner of displays. The windows of stores were dressed in lights and garlands and snazzy advertisements drawn up to lure us in. Music streamed through my one ear and just as it poured out the other a new stream of song would enter in again. Bells jangled and shopping bags rustled. Throngs of shoppers moved through the mall with the madness of a rabid pack of wild dogs.
Feeling claustrophobic I side-stepped into a store and took a breath. Looking around I realized I was in my daughter's favourite store. She and a friend were there with me but I had let them wander ahead. Sure enough I caught a glimpse of the girls further into the store. More than that though I noticed a sign.

Celebrate the little things! Of course! I would challenge myself to dismember the mockery that is Christmas at a mall and I would find the worthwhile little things that I could justify celebrating on this particular walk.

Many of the little things that Laura Secord has to offer.
The mall has many little things. The store which I was standing in while I brainstormed my challenge was full of little things. It was a store full of cheap little trinkets, earings and knick knaks. The next store over was full of little treasures and soaps and lip balms. Another store was full of little candies and treats just the right size for stockings. Fortunately, as I was about to find out, the mall was also full of little signs ready for me discover in my scavenger hunt for the worthwhile in all of these little things.                                                                                                                                  
The Best Friend bracelet
Little thing number 1: Holidays bring people togetherSo do malls.    
The mall is evidence of this. Thousands of people marching through, some hand in hand, friends and family spending time together. My daughter and her friend were not Christmas shopping, they were spending time together exploring a budding new relationship and decided that 'BF' bracelets would be the ticket to cementing this new friendship. What they did not realize was that their spending this moment together would be the glue to their friendship. It made me contemplate the idea that perhaps I should not judge the men and women swimming past me at this moment. Maybe they were after meaningful mementos that would serve to cement relationships. I remembered how my friend met her now husband at the mall, and I too first met my husband at the mall. For many people the mall is a place to socialize. The food court is a place to hang out and talk with friends and the mall offers a program through which people can walk for exercise. The mall brings people together and that is just one of the little things I learned to appreciate while I walked with my daughter and her friend.           
    Salvation Army bucket   
Little thing number 2: The mall takes, it also gives.
As soon as I accepted my challenge my mind began to race with all of the good that could be found in the mall. The first thing to cross my mind was though the mall takes our money, so does the Salvation Army. It is an annual tradition in North America to see Santa ring his bell beside the bucket as red as a Christmas sleigh. Santa was busy entertaining children on his knee so I nodded and smiled to the volunteer as I deposited my donation. My daughter followed suit, and so did her friend, pulling out change for the bucket. It was a refreshing change of pace stopping to do something worthwhile. It made me think, maybe the only thoughts going through people`s heads were of the little things they could do to make their loved ones happy such as providing grandma with a warm pair of slippers or a child in need a new snowsuit. A local radio station had set up an area where toy donations could be made and many of the stores had programs whereby shoppers could make donations when making their purchases.It was heartwarming knowing that people do step out of the flow of the crowd to give. Stepping out to the mall can be an opportunity to give as well as to get.
The little bear on the chimney holds a sign that reads `Santa, we`ve been good`

                    Little thing number 3: Being good does not necessitate getting the goods.  
As I walked along I realized how a mall can be a vortex of greed and gluttony on an ordinary weekend but come Christmas it becomes a virtual black hole of melt downs and misery. There were signs everywhere that told me if I was good I would get good things. It was in the music, it was in the lingerie store and of course, it was in the words of Santa himself.  Children are overwhelmed with signs and ads and commercials during this season. Consumerism has warped our values to the point where we find ourselves walking through a mall completely oblivious to the signals that shout to us that material goods will make us happy and fulfilled. We blindly buy based on how we feel and how we think our goods will make others feel but somehow I suspect that these feelings are not virtuous, but virtual.

The goods I want are peace, love and happiness. You cannot find those at a mall, unless of course those attributes are in a future mate, but you can find ways to do good for others. I sometimes take my students to the mall. The mall is a great place for a field trip as there are many tools in a mall for learning and networking, for socializing and being socialized. As long as we walk with conscience through the maze of  materialism that is a mall we may find that it is not so bad a place for a walk after all.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

In Which I Contemplate the Value of Walking.

Today started out with petite flurries flitting past my front window. I was sitting on my pretty little red love seat wrapped in a blanket, dog on my lap and water boiling for tea. The view was picturesque.
Knowing I had errands my vision clouded with the logistics of how best to get what I needed in the most timely fashion. I decided I could entertain a good walk and that it would also give me something to write about as it was cold and starting to snow harder. My destinations were concentrated in a cluster of shops only a fifteen minute walk from my home. I could do this.
I thought of my friend in Thailand. She makes the world her home and like the majority of her neighbours she walks variable distances in order to secure daily and weekly provisions. For her it is a lifestyle choice. When I walk it is a choice. For so many it is not a choice. It is the only means for survival. Strong necks, backs and legs are a necessity in many regions of the world; not a vanity.
We in the west take it for granted that we can hop into our cars and make a five minute trip to the grocery store or hospital.
The value of this lifestyle is not lost on me. Nor is the value of my friends lifestyle which is why we have been sharing stories of walking; which is why I write this blog. The overall aim? To re-evaluate the value I place on my lifestyle.

My friend and I have been talking about our impending fortieth birthdays. There is a lot to evaluate and re-evaluate about how we have ended up in our current incarnations. I have decided that weaning myself from the habitual dependence on convenience is the first step to a stronger, healthier lifestyle. I intend to walk into my fortieth year with an enthusiasm and passion built from the life lessons I am accumulating.
I prepped myself for a walk in the indecisive weather. I dressed in layers, wrapped a scarf around my neck and topped myself off with a black woolen cap.
These boots are made for walking!

I gleefully slid my feet into my newly purchased top of the line winter boots from Columbia, a store that has been supplying most of my adventure gear lately. So far not much weaning going on. I hoisted my backpack onto my shoulders feeling lucky that I wouldn't have to lug home milk and bread on my head.
I opened the front door to find the snow now dropping in thick meaty flakes. The wind drove them into my face as I started down the street, out to the perimeter of my neighbourhood and across the road towards the shops. I walked carefully as I thought. I took in the sights making mental notes here and snapping pictures there. Today was the first heavy snowfall of the season and I thought it very festive. So lost in thought was I that I declared to myself that it would be a perfect day to be sitting on my red couch with hot chocolate and a book. Old habits die hard.
My couch and books and cozy blanket and pillow....!

It was at this moment when I realized that no, I should not be inside sitting, watching the snow fly by my window with all the secrets of a wind that winds itself around the world. I should be out chasing the wind and snatching at the secrets in order to make them my own. That would truly be a productive start to mid-life. I readjusted my thoughts and lightened my step. I was exactly where I needed to be; outside, feeling the sting of the cold and breathing the freshest air of the year.
I returned refreshed in body and spirit having accomplished more than just my errands for the day. I avoided toxic emissions from my car by choosing to walk. I was active which energized my body and my mind. I walked in the cold snow; something I always try to avoid. And, I had an epiphany. I thought that to sit around looking out the window in other parts of the world would mean atrophy, physically and mentally. It could mean death to be so sedentary. Now as I sit on my little couch writing and drinking my tea I have a greater sense of perspective. I realize that my spirit is at stake and my spirit is as important to the value of my life as food.
The best way to chase the value of life is to do so by your own steam power. Value your circumstances. And if you are feeling the need to evaluate or re-evaluate the path you are on, try to do so outside; with purpose. As much as possible. I dare you!