Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Walk of Life

Despite the fact that I want to consider myself a person who loves nature and the outdoors, I am not always enthusiastic about actually being outside. I prefer to move through the world quickly, or at least as quickly as I can without being gasoline-powered. And, as much as I'm ashamed to admit it, I'm rarely one for hikes or nature walks. (Nature is just full of bugs, y'all.) I want to be a Patagonia model, ripped and muscular and ready to scale El Capitan in a pair of breathably stretchy linen technical pants; on the other hand, there is remarkably little TV in the forest. A year ago, the idea of going for a power walk just for the hell of it would have raised some puzzled eyebrows on my end. You just want to walk...around? Can't we just bike there? Or maybe get a coffee and read a magazine?

But having a baby changes things, and while NS is still in his infancy, we can't just stuff him in a pannier and bike around the city. We have to choose between transit, begging for rides, and walking. In the face of a TTC crush, or trying to work around our parent's schedules, sometimes it's just easier to lace up our comfy shoes and put one foot in front of the other.

Surprisingly, I've taken to city walking. We've done five big, multi-hour, multi-kilometre walks in the last week, mostly with NS napping in the stroller as we push him through the city. He sleeps remarkably well as we roll him over the sidewalk's cracks and bumps, and the noise of the traffic doesn't seem to bug him at all. Meanwhile, we get to chat with each other (not always possible on bikes), and pop into different little storefronts on a whim, and get a refresher course on the city we've lived in for years. Things change, block by block, and from a car or on a bike, it's not always possible to tell how.

When I lived in Stratford, we used to walk through the Dolan, a natural area bordering the cemetery, with a river and everything. Dolan walks were the sort of thing we'd do after Easter dinner, when we'd been eating for days; the ground was always muddy and the trail was halfheartedly maintained. The forest is never my favourite place to be. You never know when you're going to come across some sort of spider family reunion. But it was nice to be outside, getting our shoes wet, poking through the underbrush.

More often, we'd take family walks at Sauble Beach, which I loved, and still love. Sauble is a special place for my family: we've been there for literally generations (four now!), and the walk from our cottage up to the big bathrooms on Sixth Street is a five-times-a-week occurrence. Usually it's after dinner, as the lake is sequinned with a thousand gold and copper sparkles, and the beach is littered with other families doing the same: walking along the waterfront watching the sun go down. Sometimes, it's in the morning on a weekday, when the beach can be nearly empty. Or at night, when the wind whips up and we come back inside with our hair blown out. Powering along the sandy shore, a little buzzed on the wine we drank with our dinner, chatting about everything and nothing in particular, it's a special time.

Walking in the city is sweet, too. It's just that I miss the ionized wind coming off the water, or the deep-oxygen feeling of the forest. We are firmly inside the city—not close at all to natural features like High Park, the Don Valley, or the waterfront, where we could conceivably go and get our nature on. Ironically, we'd have to transit or drive there. And while Toronto might be "the city inside the park," as its signs boast, those parks are often micro-parks—a corner here, a roundabout there. A pocket of green tucked between two houses or behind a subway stop, not a rolling expanse where I might conceivably be afraid of an actual natural experience. Walking those parks take all of two minutes. It makes me ache sometimes for something more nature-adjacent.

But you know what they say: the grass is always greener, yadda yadda. Walking the city sidewalks is also a great thing. M wears the baby, or I push the stroller, and we explore. We're both working on losing our winter/baby/Netflix weight, and coming home with sore feet is a nice way to do that. If you had told me a year ago that walking would be such a source of physical pleasure, I would have scoffed. It's not going to get me ripped, that's for sure. But a gentle stretch towards health, before I try really getting back into shape, is so lovely. And doing it as a family? How happy we can be.