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Tuesday, November 21, 2000

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Walking and wandering

I finished reading "Wanderlust: A History of Walking" by Rebecca Solnit. I've been browsing through it for a couple months now, enjoying it all. Rebecca takes us on a trip from the past to what the future could be for walking. We go from when walking was like breathing, to where it was used against people to keep them in check, especially women. The book follows the modern view of walking from the 18th century romantics, through the working class factory workers who fought to keep access to the countryside alive and into today where it's either cherished by those who choose to walk or looked down on by those who consider it to be too common and ordinary.

There were so many places that I identified with. I loved how the romantics "discovered" walking when few of their class had walked before. I felt sad to read how women had been treated like prostitutes if they dared to walk. I enjoyed the view of urban walking, though I did feel that it was a bit looked down on by the author. I agreed when she said that pedestrians are looked on as subversive, if not criminal, too often, even now, as though decent people would never just walk. They jog. They exercise. The have fun runs and charity walks. But so few of them just walk and wander and ramble.

Rebecca talks of walking as a form of protest in both picket lines and walking around nuclear sites. She tells how walking was a form of protest for her as she walked despite sexual innuendos from people she walked by and even some danger and she talks how some women have encountered real danger just because they dared to walk by themselves or even with just another woman.

I hate the word empowered since it's so overused ("Oh, I felt empowered to try peach blush instead of mauve blush!"), but I did feel empowered since walking is such a large part of my life and one of the things I enjoy so much. There is a real bias against just walking which is one reason I enjoy volkswalks since I can then hold them up to people as a reason to walk even though I'm really just walking because I enjoy seeing a place from the pedestrian point of view.

I walked to work this morning, in the dark, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I've rarely felt unsafe during the prework hours. I would love to walk at night in the dark but that is scary since the human predators are more active than in the early morning hours. The times I have walked at night, if I could free my mind from dangers lurking in the shadows, I have loved it. It's so great to glide through the darkness, especially on a summer evening when the heat is gone and the air is like silk. I especially like it when I'm by myself as there isn't the need to converse but to just enjoy the night around me. I do resent not being able to do this safely.

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(c) Rachel Aschmann 2000.
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