Tag Archives: walking

The sleep-walking cure

Oh to be a bluenoser now that the three-minute-long spring becomes us

It is one of those nights that occasionally afflict a man over a certain age when Morpheus refuses to show his drowsy face. I cannot get to sleep. Nothing works. Not chamomile tea. Not hot lemon water. Not even my regular go-to sedative: a good, stiff belt of New Brunswick’s very own gin thuya.

I think I’ll go for a walk.

One of my favorite observations about putting one foot in front of the other comes from American comic, Steven Wright: “Everywhere is within walking distance if you have time.”

Which is another way of saying the first rule of ambulating is to avoid destinations. If you know where you’re going, you’re not walking; you’re beating a deadline.

U.S. President Barack Obama once said, “If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress,” which might have been a rejoinder to 20th Century author C.S. Lewis’s point that “We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”

Personally, I’m not all that interested in the progressive nature of my temperament. I’m going for a walk, and I’m going nowhere.

At 2 o’clock in the morning, my street is empty, and the air is as clear as my mind is cluttered. A mild breeze blows from the southwest, carrying on it the sweet scent of apple and cherry blossoms. I move down to the corner of Moncton’s Main West drag and Vaughan Harvey boulevard and head towards the new downtown event centre, rising lazily from the rubble.

I link my fingers through the fence and wonder what strange new structure will encompass the dinosaur bones of iron girders and cement foundation there. Will it be something the city’s citizens embrace, patronize, use? Or will it be another hockey arena? I begin to worry, so I move on. I am walking again.

I travel past the derelict storefronts just beyond the subway underpass, where restaurants and boutiques once delighted the urban core. Old signs about moving to new locations still festoon one window. I remember that time when, years ago, my wife and I entertained relatives at an early August lunch in that tiny, perfect district, and how we skipped home up Robinson Court, thinking about the little things that make life in a small city precious.

I trudge past the Capitol Theatre and stop, remembering my good friend, the late, great Marc Chouinard. As the General Manager there for many years, he was, in every important respect, “Mr. Downtown”.

I recall his acerbic wit and wisdom. Sometimes, he would turn to a patron of one of the city’s outdoor cafes and instruct: “Those pigeons up there aren’t going anywhere. I’m sure you don’t want poop in your soup. Tell the owner to clean up his act. We’ll all be happier for it.”

I laugh and head toward the river and remember the great effort to restore the mighty Petitcodiac to its former self – before the causeway of 1968. I conjure the image of California surfers riding the newly refreshed tidal bore 90 miles up from the estuary and into downtown Moncton.

As I walk home, I realize that I’ve been here longer than I’ve been anywhere – longer than the place of my birth and the place of my upbringing.

I crawl into bed, careful not to wake my wife, and as I drift into sleep, I realize that this nowhere is everywhere.


The walking cure


I rise from my perch, where I scribble, throw on a parka from the back closet, grab my keys, wallet and phone, and struggle to lock the door behind me. I face the wind, look both ways before I cross the threshold of the front porch and then I begin. I am going for a walk.

I do this every day, but I do not do it lightly. At a specific time, usually mid-morning, the sun squeaks through the blinds of my downtown Moncton home as if to remind me that my feet must move, my legs must stretch, my lungs must breathe. Take, it says, the walking cure.

The cure to what, you may ask? Well, whaddya got?

The fact that more Canadians live in poverty than at any time since the Great Depression of the last century; there’s that. The realization that big corporations in this country are literally flowing with retained earnings, yet penny-pinching their employees to the blood-blister point; there’s that too.

But, no, the real spiritual malaise in all of us stems from a desperate certainty that we have become pawns on the chess board of global politics; that the right hand of power meets the left, daily and dutifully, in the assemblies and parliaments we once assumed were ours to direct, as citizens of elected democracies, from the muddy, munificent middle.

No more, no more. I’m walking.

I trudge through the streets of the old West End of Moncton, admiring the modest homes that a socially democratic nation made possible 60 years ago. I pause, occasionally, to stare at the mansions that absurd wealth and privilege have purchased only recently.

Should we be that rich? Should we be that poor? How shall we all live together, living, as we do, in such close quarters?

I march down Gordon Street, which inexplicably becomes Queen Street, past the halfway houses and empty lots, past the real estate companies and condo developments, past the placards that taggers have signed, “What do you have to hide?”, past the agents’ billboards that declare there are dreamy properties in the offing if only you will offer, perhaps, your first-born cheque on a dare of belief in the future of a province that can’t seem to balance its books, care for its invalids, and educate its precious young.

No more, no more. I’m walking.

I walk the way a man stumbles into the woods: with one knee pounded into the ground and one hand splayed angrily against the sky.

As the late, great polemicist Henry David Thoreau wrote in the 1900s, “We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return; prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only, as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again; if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man; then you are ready for a walk.”

Are we, then, men and women in Canada, in New Brunswick, prepared to ask, challenge and agitate – in effect, to rise from our various perches for a gritty stroll that risks changing our attitudes, our very minds about what we can achieve?

How many of us are actually willing to go for a truly meaningful walk in this country, in this province, in this city, in this time of our lives – to cross the threshold and, in the wind, begin again?


The healing properties of a great walk


Chained to a post, the bike languishes in the baby barn like a forgotten pony. It’s not its fault. It’s done nothing wrong to deserve its alienation from my increasingly fit company. It’s just that, gradually, over the past year or so, it’s been replaced in my affections by a sturdy pair of walking shoes.

Nowadays, they take me everywhere within a five-kilometer radius of my home in downtown Moncton: to the lake, the park, the grocery store, the cafe that serves the best coffee east of Montreal. They are admirably beat up, like a hobo’s boots.

I began my deliberate, quotidian, 45-minute marches for no other reason than to see if I, a man in his early 50s, could muster enough self-discipline to stick with something that had nothing to do with the usual mid-life preoccupation of making money. It was easy, at first. Then, it got hard. Walking every day without exception, I discovered, was as much a mental as physical game.

Still, in a recent broadcast of CBC Radio’s Sunday Edition, host Michael Enright explored what appears to be a renaissance for the alternately graceful and rigorous pastime of perambulation. His guests included a psychologist, a biologist and an urban planner. The show’s promo put it this way: “It seems that walking has come back in vogue. Walkable neighbourhoods are a cornerstone of current urban planning and they help drive real estate values up. People are moving back to the downtown cores of cities, where they can walk to do their shopping or get to work.”

Our ancient history, of course, supports the walker. (Even though, over the past 100 years, we’ve done everything we can to render him extinct – from inventing the internal combustion engine to enshrining the American television sitcom).

Says the CBC blurb: “Humans and their forebears have spent five million years perfecting one of the talents that make us most unique as a species. . .the ability to walk upright. We evolved to walk on two legs. Our bodies are meant to walk, and our biology wants, even requires, us to walk.”

Event the Internet is now telling us to walk. Here are some words of advice from About.com’s Wendy Bumgardner: “Walkers live longer. The Honolulu Heart Study of 8,000 men found that walking just two miles a day cut the risk of death almost in half. The walkers’ risk of death was especially lower from cancer.”

Not only that, she says, walkers are smarter: “A study of people over 60 funded by the National Council on Aging, published in the July 29, 1999, issue of ‘Nature’, found that walking 45 minutes a day at a 16-minute mile pace increased the thinking skills of those over 60. The participants started at 15 minutes of walking and built up their time and speed. The result was that the same people were mentally sharper after taking up this walking program.

They’re more emotionally stable: “Walking. . .leads to the release of the body’s natural happy drugs – endorphins. Most people notice an improvement in mood. A November 9, 1999 study published in the ‘Annals of Behavioral Medicine’ showed that university students who walked. . .regularly had lower stress levels than couch potatoes or those who exercised strenuously.”

Not inconsequentially, walkers are also more successful than couch potatoes in one other important arena of human interaction: “What better reason for men to take a brisk two mile walk each day – a reduced risk of impotence from mid-life onward.”

For all these reasons and more, I shall remain an ardent walker. My wife and I are spending Christmas week, this year, in Manhattan (a strolling man’s paradise). Someday, when we’re fit enough, we plan to tackle the Appalachian Trail (at least, a chunk of it). Who knows, we may even find ourselves, one fine year, trudging along the Camino de Santiago in northwestern Spain, en route to the holy shrine of the apostle St. James.

In an hour, maybe two, I’ll get out my bike. But first, a good walk beckons.

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