"No walk is ever wasted,” Mathew Beaumont writes in The Walker: Losing and Finding Yourself in the Modern City. It’s the kind of book I resist, superstitiously, afraid that its dissection of a beautiful thing will, well, kill it.
But I won’t be reading it for reasons more banal than superstition, having worked my way through an excerpt that in only a couple of pages squeezes in references to seventeen great works ––Andre Breton, Samuel Beckett, Henry Miller, etc. – and not one of them by a woman. I even wondered if The Paris Review, in printing the excerpt, snickered between the lines and mocked Beaumont, this priceless specimen they’d found in the wild: “Ooh la la! Mr. White Cis Male Canon here, who somehow missed the conversation of the past 20 years, thinks he understands walking – without having read a woman or anyone non-cis!”
The only thing going for my optimism is that it’s the upside of my paranoia.
But Beaumont’s correct about that one thing – no walk is ever wasted. I generally leave the house at the end of the work day frazzled, nothing more than that last nerve everyone is getting on. And within a few blocks, that nerve has healed and recreated and I’m flourishing, a bed of kelp waving with the tide.
Where does it start? I don’t know. But sometimes I doubt it will come. In the first few blocks, I’ll think: am I feeling better? Am I lifting out of the cares and woes of the day, gaining distance on that file named Backlog in that horrible organizing app?
A few blocks later, I check in again: Is this simplest of actions, this rolling hips-as-hinges movement, this traversing of territory in the jalopy of one’s ephemeral scaffolding, redeeming the anxiety and exhaustion wrought by the world’s pain, most of which is needlessly created by the violence of capitalism and patriarchy and colonialism? No. Not yet.
Looking back, it may have been the sports car, painted orange. I’d never seen one like it, and paused to read the letters on the back. MX, it was called. I phoned my son. He said it was a Mazda Miata, and that the flat, dusty paint job I was describing was “matte”. Right. “You should take a picture,” he said. So I did – circled back to do so.
My son has guided me out of a good number of jams over the phone. “It’s dark and I’ve walked too far,” I might say when he picks up. “Can you hang on with me until I get somewhere a little more solid?” It always only takes a few minutes before the lonely place fills with people, or lights come on, and I can say, “Everything’s all right now,” and he never doubts me. In the same way he never doubts me when I call for help.
After taking the photo of the car, an artless document, I cross a short street that is remarkable for being as wide as three streets. Maybe it was once a farm field, or a commons for neighbourhood animals to graze. Maybe some loophole protected it from private developers. There must be some historical reason.
When I get to the coast road, I take a path that sidles off through a field, a shortcut to the sea, worn through natural use, one of those "desire paths". A few steps in, I look back at the coast road, which I’ve never seen before – not from this angle. A steely building rises above it, looking sure and completely of place. As we all do, really.
At the shore, people are milling around, almost loitering. They’re mostly shadows. Ah. I’ve arrived just after sunset, when, I guess, the people who head to the water to watch that daily inevitability, linger a while, for pride’s sake, maybe, or thinking up the next inevitability to wander to.
I didn’t mean to venture out so early in the evening, but I haven’t adjusted my schedule since solstice, and now the vernal equinox is in sight.
In the early days of quarantine, I said to my son, the same one who periodically guides me out of darkness, “Actually, I find it a relief.” He knew just what I meant: For years he has slept during the day and stayed up all night, making music while the city sleeps, in that generous privacy. Of course I was panicked and sad and angry about the unnecessary deaths, and the disproportionate number decided by disenfranchisement and injustice more than the virus. But without that, this forced retreat has been nearly entirely a joy. The pressure is off. Here was a break from fighting social anxiety and the attendant self-loathing with tooth and nail. The truth is, I head outside after dark because after dark I am not seen.
The air was cooling quickly. On the breakwater, a couple walked a rabbit on a leash. Its name was Ms. Bunny. Four divers staggered down the granite block foundation. As they lowered themselves into the water, a very young boy asked, “Were you in the ocean?” The last of the four, still above sea level, looked up and said, “We’re just going in.” Moments later, all there was of them was a green pool of light in the water, moving as they explored together with their headlamps. When the light separated into individual beams, a chill ran through me.
There was a pile of teens at the end of the breakwater, sitting on the rocks, noisy with talk, music out of speakers. It was the beautiful noise of spring. Of spring in the time of the vaccine. Later, when they fall into bed, their skin will smell of salt, and their hair will resist their fingers the way darkness defines itself on its own terms every time you apprehend it.
I stopped for groceries on my way home. Coffee was on sale, so I loaded up. Cat food, eggs, bananas, bread – also all on sale. “I’ll give you five dollars off,” the cashier said, apparently as compensation for my having bought three times as many groceries as would fit in my backpack. Even with the five dollars, my arms soon ached, and partway home, I called my son to meet me and take some of the load. I kept walking, but just knowing he was on his way made it all a little easier. And seeing him walk towards me made the burden lighter still.