Is there any point to walking?….
Not another boring walk! Screech my cost centres as I suggest some family time. Their looks of irritation tinged with resignation wrapped in boredom pierce my heart as I recognise those same expressions from my youth. How can I inflict this on them? But I do. You’ll look back on this and love our walks I evangelise. Because you will fondly but vaguely remember through the apathy — the togetherness; the random nattering as we slip into paired walking rhythms with the punctuation of laughter.
It’s not clear out of the 250 species of primates that exist (lithub.com) why millions of years ago humans chose to learn to walk. There are many suppositions. Some say we started to do so to free our hands to utilise tools and our bodies evolved to make it easier for us to do so. Others say that as climate changed it necessitated a need to find more hospitable homelands and so in order to cover more ground, we had to move in a faster way than on all fours. I have read that in environments where trees were more scarce, humans needed to stand to scan for prey and predators (BBC.com) evolving from there. But this later theory does not account for why other primates such as apes did not progress with us. Another theory states that a change in hunting practices meant that the more upright you were the more powerful your throw and a further alternative is that walking on two legs requires less energy than moving on all fours as it uses gravity and inertia to aid our movements. Amusingly, cost centre 3 asked me the purpose of our ‘buttocks’ as she likes to call them. The reason — and for it being a powerful muscle is to help our ‘forward walking motion’ and ground our ability to move. So many hypotheses and we have no evidence either way.
But fast forward to today’s world. When you think about it, walking is a weird pastime. What’s the purpose of it other than for itself? Sure it’s an exercise but it’s not very fulfilling as an exercise. Unless you count power walking and I don’t count power walking. But despite its almost inconsequentiality, I can think of two reasons why committed walkers take pleasure in it. First is the solitude; the contemplation without distractions; the you time. Frederic Gros is a Professor of philosophy has written a book called ‘A philosophy of walking’. In it he says walking ‘is the best way to go more slowly than any other method that has ever been found. If you want to go faster, he says, don’t walk. Do something else’. The second reason is to immerse yourself in your surroundings. Soak in the ambiance and allow your feet to take you on an adventure — where your pace chimes with your inner mood.
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” JRR Tolkein wrote this in The Lord of the Rings.
Today we pay little heed to the actual act of walking which gives rise to another curiosity. Why do we rarely trip when we walk considering our lack of attention to the myriad of obstacles in our path as we stroll? Visual input to the brain even after we stop seeing something is incredibly important to locomotion. But It seems our brains are ahead of our physical body and need little stimulus to manage to keep us moving without failure. Did you know that in the early 19th century walking was a popular American spectator sport? ‘Walkers were the first mass-culture sports stars: when a tobacco company inserted trading cards into cigarette packs, what the cards showed was pictures of the walkers’ (The New Yorker).
I take great joy in urban walking and discovering something unrevealed. A detail on a sculpture; a piece of street art; a hidden street, an unread plaque. It’s quite thrilling. I particularly enjoy looking up or down as I walk. That might not make sense but consider, most of us observe on the same plane as we walk, missing what is taking place above or below us. I remember joining an art trail where for part of it we were forced to look down as someone had drawn microscopic drawings on flattened chewing gum on the pavement. It was a strange sensation. A blog I follow is about appreciating what is above us — sculpture; roofs; signage which has the ability to transform the quite bland on eye level into something unusual. I relish that you can discover a ghostly history; hints or remnants of what was the past that others are less aware of. I discovered by looking up that in London there are still street lamps (c1500) that are powered by gas and hence turned on by hand each night which is surprising in this electrical age. Try both as you next wander and see what you find.
I know I’ve still many years to go before the cost centres see anything redeeming about going for a walk. So I should keep taking the screeches and irritation in the hope I can leave them some hazy but fond memories down the line. The belief that I have endowed them with something original. Or much easier — I continue to bribe them to come along and damn the deep and meaningful. Hey, I never said I was beyond corruption to get what I want!