Shwangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge in winter. Not exactly just down the road but close enough. If all goes well, I’ll be reporting on a walk around here in August. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
That’s not a date stamp on the post. That’s a date I’m looking forward to. Friday, August 7, 2015. That’s the day I’m going in for the procedure that’s supposed to fix up my back. Two shots of steroids straight to the spine. If it goes the way it’s supposed to, I’ll be up and walking normally by that afternoon. Then watch my smoke!
First thing I’m going to do is take a walk in the woods.
Or through the meadow.
Or along the river.
Or over the hills and far away.
Or just around the block.
All my life I’ve been a walker. Not a hiker. Not a stroller. Though I’ve done a fair share of both. I’ve simply gone for walks.
At all times of day. For whatever length of time it takes me to get there and back, wherever there happens to be. Sometimes I walked with a purpose and a specific destination in mind. Sometimes I walked just to see where I’d end up. Often I walked just to walk, to be outside and in motion.
But at all times, wherever I walked, for whatever other purpose I walked to pursue, I walked to think.
It’s been frustrating not being able to get easily from here to there, even when here is the kitchen table and there is the living room. It drives me nuts that I can’t walk to the store for a loaf of bread or down to the library to return a book. It’s depressing and humiliating having to hobble with a cane into the bookstore or the movie theater or the supermarket, wincing every painful step of the way. I keep telling myself how many people have it so much worse. Doesn’t make me dread running an errand any less.
Running an errand! Good one, Lance.
And for over two years now I’ve been convinced that not being able to take walks has been making me stupid and crazy…because for two years I haven’t been able to think.
A lot of what’s called thinking isn’t having thoughts but arranging them, putting some together with others, pulling thoughts that had been together apart, sorting them, storing them, throwing some out. I used to do all that while walking.
I’ve tried to do it while sitting. I can’t. When I sit and try to think, I end up brooding or dreaming. Whichever I do, it’s a piling up of more thoughts that need arranging. The arranging doesn’t happen. Those thoughts remain unarranged. Disarranged. My mind’s a jumble.
It’s a wonder to me that I can teach. I’m told I’ve been doing a good job. I believe it’s my students who are doing the good job. They’re honors students. They think at the drop of a hat. All I have to do is sit there and smile encouragingly and they’re off to the races.
Back when I was young and truly a good teacher, I did all my teaching on my feet. Walking back and forth. You can call it pacing. But I walked at least a mile every class.
It’s even more of a wonder I have been able to write.
I don’t feel like I have been able. Not the way I used to. I know there’s been a significant fall off in the numbers of new posts to the blog. That may be a good thing. I suspect there’s also been a decline in quality, although no one’s been straight-forward enough to say so and many kind readers have assured me it’s not true. But tell you what I am sure of. There’s been an important loss in subject matter.
There haven’t been any reports from my walks which used to be a regular feature of the blog.
So the first post after August 7th is going to be a report from a walk. Might just be a walk around the block. But I’d like it to be here, the Shwangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge. Which is not too far from here, although a little too far to walk along busy roads or across private property with cows and horses and dogs guarding the paths. Believe it or not, I’ve never been there. I didn’t even know it was there until a couple of years ago when, driving one of Oliver’s friends home after some event at school, we drove past it. A couple of years ago, you’ll note, is when my back gave out.
Anyway, that’s the plan, to go out there and take a walk as soon as I can after I’m up and walking. And if taking a walk works on my brain the way the shots are supposed to work on my back, I’ll get my thoughts arranged again. Maybe I’ll even feel somewhat sane again too.
Like I said. Not walking in the woods or in a meadow or along the river or over a hill has been driving me nuts. Which I didn’t need this New York Times article to tell me. Still, it’s always reassuring to have the New York Times tell you you’re right about something.
A walk in the park may soothe the mind and, in the process, change the workings of our brains in ways that improve our mental health, according to an interesting new study of the physical effects on the brain of visiting nature…
…Various studies have found that urban dwellers with little access to green spaces have a higher incidence of psychological problems than people living near parks and that city dwellers who visit natural environments have lower levels of stress hormones immediately afterward than people who have not recently been outside.
But just how a visit to a park or other green space might alter mood has been unclear. Does experiencing nature actually change our brains in some way that affects our emotional health?..
The article, by Gretchen Reynolds, goes on to report an attempt to answer that question. It also has some pertinent things to say about brooding. You can read the whole piece, How Walking in Nature Changes the Brain, at the New York Times.