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Walking Companions

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. 

Associations 110710
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.

Falling Leaves

I live in the suburbs, so even though I think it's pretty quiet in my neighborhood, there's often a plane overhead, a leaf blower a block away or the faint sound of traffic in the distance.  Typically I can tune it out.  But I was recently in a rural area and realized with a shock that it was quiet enough that I could hear the leaves falling from the trees and landing around me.  I shot a little video to capture the moment.  The images aren't exciting.  You may want to just close your eyes and listen. 


If you're interested in just how prevalent noise pollution is today, check out Tom Ashbrook's conversation with sound ecologist Gordon Hempton

To pedal or to walk

    I was recently listening to an episode of On Point about the rise of biking in the US.  As a child I loved to bike, to be able to get from point A to point B without asking my mother for a ride, the excitement of racing down hills with the wind in my face and my ears full of the whirring of tires against the unforgiving tar.  It was magic.  I still ride my bike from time to time and when I do I'm amazed once more at how quickly the tires chew up the miles, and the satisfaction of feeling my body moving in rhythm with the machine.   Biking Pease

    Ernest Hemingway praised the advantages of the bicycle over the car by saying, “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them."   Anyone who has ever biked a road that they typically drive,  has to agree.  A road that seems pretty flat in a car, can be anything but when you're on a bike. If I may digress, isn't the image of Hemingway's bearlike frame balanced atop a bicycle priceless?   For some reason in my mind's eye, the bike has a big wicker basket (a la Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz) in front.  Anyway...

    Biking, for the adult me, is simply another driving experience. I am part of the town traffic.  My mind is alert to the motion of bikers and drivers around me.  I'm thinking about how their next move will affect me and vice versa.  I gave other vehicles little thought as a teen, riding helmet-less two and three abreast down the middle of our neighborhood's streets.  Cars better watch out for us, was the attitude.  Sometimes we used the appropriate hand signals to indicate we were going to stop, but that was more for the fun of communicating in code than any desire to inform drivers of our intentions.  Today when I strap on my helmet and start to ride, every inch of me is aware of my proximity to cars and just how inattentive drivers can be.  I use hand signals religiously, I stick as far right as possible and since my town is thick with bicyclists, I try not to do anything sudden or unexpected that could throw them off as well. 

    Somewhere in my mind a calculation has been made and as much as I enjoy the feeling of flight that biking makes possible, the advantages of walking carry more weight.  Today I walk a lot like I biked at age 8.  I do it because it feels good to be moving, to be outside, to see new things.  I stop or change direction when something attracts my senses, an unfamiliar sound in the trees, an interesting building in the distance, an unexpected scent.  I'm a truly irritating person to take a walk with.  A bridge, a wooded path, a weather vane, I can't resist taking a closer look. When I leave my house I rarely have a destination in mind, which has lead to all sorts of discoveries (and countless chances to get over my fear of being lost).  

   Favorite Things book  I keep a little notebook where I list things that make me happy.  Some of them are big parts of my life, relationships and the like, but many of them are one time occurrences.  Often they're things I see on my walks that I would have missed if I were traveling any other way: baby wild turkeys disappearing into the undergrowth, the laughter of a family eating dinner together, the first fireflies of the season.  These sightings make my world new again, and turn every block into a land of potential discovery.

"Let us not take it for granted that life exists more fully in what is commonly thought big than in what is commonly thought small."
--Virginia Woolf