Up on the ridge with my excellent Austrian walking stick -- it gives a feeling of security on these wet slippery paths. Compensates for a bit of unsteadyness consonant with my age. So many features! The comfortable curved corklike handle, variable length, hardened steel changeable points for several conditions, wrist strap, and an adjustable spring to cushion long descents. I can poke at stuff to investigate it, and part bushes to look thru them. Scare off wild dogs or cougars.
Thinking and walking make a nice team, more productive than thinking and sitting -- although there is something to be said for thinking and lying, if you can keep from falling asleep. I keep a little spiral notebook in an inside pocket of my jacket, and an extra pen, because I don’t want to think of something and forget it before I get home. If it’s a serious working walk I carry a larger bound notebook with slicker paper, and try to organize my thoughts to coalesce in the vicinity of a bus stop bench, or a stump if I’m in the woods.
Walking is good for you in so many ways it would be tedious to begin to ennumerate them, but thinking tops my list. I doubt I’ve ever taken a good long stroll in these hills without experiencing a flow of thoughts and ideas. Today I fill half a dozen pages of the little spiral book (I buy packs of them) while keeping an eye out for bikers whizzing by. The majority of mountain bikers are courteous, but there are a minority who expect you to get out of their way, without their slowing in the slightest. Nor do they respect signs barring them from the narrowest trails. Walking may be good for me, but getting hit by a 180 pound man coming downhill at 20 miles an hour would definitely not be.
I used to ride in these hills myself, and would still be capable of it, but at a certain age the consequences of a fall outweigh the pleasures of the ride. Comparing walking with the memory of cycling these trails, I can’t say I ever did any serious thinking on the bike. It is exhilarating, huffing your way up, and flying down, but you are a body on a machine in motion, with very little mind or experience of what is passing. You always see something new walking a trail. Today it’s a brown and gray shelf lichen on a fallen oak, multileveled like a highrise condo in the city, working patiently to make soil out of the tree, and return its carbon to the earth for another cycle. As my carbon will be released to do the same, when I am cremated and scattered, as is the fashion now. Watchful turkey vultures circle overhead, just in case my carbon decides to make the return on this walk.
I’ve found that walking generates interesting thoughts, but it’s most useful to just capture quick notes of them, and move on, with my feet and my mind. Just as a landscape artist might do a series of quick sketches which would become the basis for an oil painting to be done in his studio, a few words will suffice to capture the kernel of the idea. Unlike the landscape, which changes slowly as I traverse it, because I'm a slow walker, my thoughts ramble over all of time and space, arts and sciences, history, politics, trivia, the usual neurotic thoughts, and what we might be having for dinner. This is as it should be, it’s the nature of productive thinking to be unruly.
I walk for about 45 minutes and there it is, an interesting thought, probably nonsense, but I am not up here to edit myself, and it goes on one of the little sheets, the page is flipped and the notebook goes back in the inside pocket. Not fifty feet down the trail, and another thought, and soon I am walking, juggling stick, notebook and clicker gel pen, despite a light scattering of drizzle, because it is one thought after another for a quarter mile until the mental motor sputters to a stop.
“It is only in walks that are a little too long, that one has any new ideas,” wrote Brenda Ueland (If You Want To Write, 1938). “If you would continue to be alone for a long time, amblingly swinging your legs for many miles and living in the present, then you will be rewarded: thoughts, good ideas, plots for novels, longings, decisions, revelations will come to you.”
Another mile back to the car at the end of the road, stopping briefly to chat with the lone pedestrian I encounter today, although bikers have been passing steadily. Home for a couple of drinks, dinner, coffee, and then to my office with the little notebook to transcribe these words into a very long document that simmers on my computer desktop like the French housewife’s perpetual stockpot, into which goes everything. Sometimes there is something worth developing, others it is all worthless dross, but it doesn’t really matter, because I had a wonderful walk up on the ridge.
Causes Michael Lipsey Supports
Marin Agricultural Land Trust, Nature Conservancy