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Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Art of Walking

As a child in small-town New Zealand, I used to hide my shoes near the letterbox each morning on my way to school. None of the other kids at my elementary school in Gisborne wore shoes but my mother insisted we did, and I had enough things for the other kids to make fun of  without adding shoes to the mix (a stutter, a lisp, braces and a plummy accent from elocution lessons didn't go down well with the other Maori kids - children can be a tough audience).

Many years later, while managing an upper-class members-only nightclub in Aotearoa's metropolis of Auckland, one of the owners saw me strolling through the city barefoot and insisted on driving me where I was going so our customers wouldn't see me. Fast forward another decade, when I was crewing small yachts across the Indian Ocean, and I went six glorious months without footwear. While in the Seychelles, we often chilled out with the Irish captain of the Sultan of Oman's private dhow and he often teased me about bringing cocktail dresses on my voyage but no shoes. When we made landfall in Kenya and footwear became necessary, my expensive Italian hiking boots were too tight as my feet had spread in the interim.

I've since learned to wear shoes, and even to like boots.

These thoughts and many others strolled through my mind as I walked to work this morning, something I haven't done for some time because of hot, humid days or torrential downpours. Today, the morning after our second tropical storm in three days, the air was fresh, the sky clear and blue and the temperature cooler as we approach autumn.

My biggest realization was how much I enjoy simply strolling and exploring and observing, and how out of sorts I get when I don't have that outlet. I've been silent of late, not writing, and blamed it on my grief at losing a loved friend, the complications of a complex, long-distance relationship, a stressful living environment and the many extra commitments I've taken on.  I realized today that, for me, walking is therapy as well as exercise, and  missing both those things is what has made me dumb. It's the one time in my busy day when my racing mind slows enough to process things I don't necessarily notice while running from gig to gig or solving other people's problems. This morning's walk not only cleared my mind and lifted my spirits, I came up with a book idea, came to terms with the current state of my personal life, planned recipes for a friend's BBQ and a motorcycle club meeting I said I'd cater for, and started redesigning my apartment now my messy roommate is leaving and taking her clutter with her. Not bad for a 40-minute stroll, and it also saved me bus fare.

Walking makes me feel like myself once more - something that's been missing lately. I won't forget that again.