I may forget to bring water or ID when I go for a walk, but I never forget my iPod. Occasionally I'll listen to music as I walk, but most days I use the combination of walking and listening to podcasts to still my mind. While my body finds its rhythm, my mind is brought back under my control through new scientific discoveries, craft ideas or audio books. I've included a list in the sidebar of my favorites. Some are designed to be podcasts (audio shows sent over the internet) and others are podcast versions of radio shows I love. I can't tell you how many of the stories I tell start with the words "I heard on a podcast that..."
Apparently I'm not alone. Molly Wizenberg of the Orangette blog recently wrote a post about Radiolab, one of my favorite radio shows/podcasts. This is a show I always have a hard time describing the appeal of, but she does it wonderfully. She writes,
"I started listening to Radiolab as a way to pass the time while I walk the dog, because he needs a lot of walking, and now I listen because I’m crazy for it. It’s part science, part philosophy, and part sound editing wizardry, but mostly, it’s good storytelling. Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, its hosts, spin the kind of stories that lure you away to somewhere else, and when you drop back into yourself, you realize that you’ve been staring into space, grinning like a dope, through the entire show."
I know that dopey grinned look well, and it's only partly due to the joy of walking. I've laughed out loud while listening to Molly's podcast Spilled Milk (a cooking show that's worth listening to for the banter, even if you rarely enter your kitchen). I've stopped and stared into the middle distance while listening to a particularly complex explanation in This American Life.
Just as the guitar solo in INXS's Never Tear Us Apart evaporates time, and I'm suddenly 16, sitting on the shag carpet in our den, giant donut headphones slipping off my ears, eyes closed tight to ignore my family around me; the podcasts I listen to become linked to the place where I first heard them. I can't walk down this stretch of road without hearing Heather Ordover from Craftlit talking about Jerry from A Tale of Two Cities and the rust on his boots.
There's a section of the bike trail that I always associate with Brenda Dayne from Cast-On. She did a show where she took us along for a walk through the winter woods in Wales. I listened to it on a wintry day in Massachusetts and now when I walk that same path again, I see in my mind the image I've created of the Millennium Woods as Brenda described it. The list of associations goes on and on. There's a house on my road that always makes me think of an interview I heard with Maya Lin, the creator of the Vietnam War Memorial (On Point podcast) and a certain field that makes me wonder what it's like to see the world without language ("Words" episode of Radiolab).
When I listen to a podcast while walking, I can go farther before feeling tired. The science behind that was discussed, actually, in the "Limits" episode of Radiolab. And sometimes when I have no desire to walk, but am dragging myself out anyway, hearing the opening music from Craftlit is all it takes to make me eager to be on my way. Craftlit is "a podcast for crafters who love books". It begins with talk about crafting, but then the majority of each show is the reading of a chapter or two from a book, with commentary and background information to make even the densest texts clear. When I'm listening to a particularly good part of a book, I'll take multiple walks in the same day just to find out what happens next. It's a bit like a friend of mine who listened to all the Harry Potter books on tape. Whenever a new book came out he'd be at the gym every day, working out and eager to hear the next installment. Then, when he finished the book, the gym was all but forgotten. Now that the series has ended and he's relistened to each book multiple times, he's on the lookout for similar listening material. Any suggestions?
Someday I'd like to be able to still my mind, release it from its useless whirling through walking alone. Not that I'd stop taking along my walking companions. Walking "solo" would just be a good skill to have, like accurately reading a map. But that's a story for another day.