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Going Nowhere

By Edith Pearlman

I'm reluctant to discourse on the pleasures of walking- walking alone, in pairs, in groups, walking in cities and along the river; walking to work or for fun; walking anywhere and everywhere and nowhere in particular. I don't want to remind you that its rhythm and slow pace invites conversation, reflection, and intimacy; or that, on foot, you may pause to examine things that, in a car, you don't even suspect exist; or that, erect and free, you can perform acts that, seated and belted and gripping the wheel, you cannot - slip your fingers through the fingers of your 10-year-old, for instance, or put your arm about you teenager's shoulders.

So, you ask, other than the highly promoted health benefits, what does walking do for us? It encourages companionability, and sweet speech and respectful listening. It reminds us to be alert both to danger and to unexpected delights. It teaches, in an offhand way, sociology, architecture, nature, history, and democratic principles. It reveals to us the nature of cities or villages, or woods. It emboldens us to reminisce about our childhoods. It introduces us to one another, and to ourselves.

Family walking may start out as a way of getting through that terrible Sunday when both the television and the car are in the shop. But it develops into a taste.
You begin with the well-worn paths - the freedom trails and the historical routes. Or you amble down a country lane where wildlife is known to hang out. Perhaps you glimpse a deer, fixed as a statue, or perhaps you spot a well adjusted pheasant (not the suicidal type who turn up on suburban driveways). Or maybe you and the family board the bus or subway and venture downtown, discovering to your surprise that your fellow travelers are not winos and desperadoes but by other families speaking a cosmopolitan array of languages. Once downtown you window-shop and end up at a café for cannoli and cake.

Encouraged, you go further. One day you all take a train or a bus to a neighboring city and walk around some other family's downtown, try somebody else's freedom trail. Who lives in this city, anyway? You find yourself snooping like a columnist, or an historian. Or you stay in your own town but choose odd times for your strolls. You discover the ruby walk at dawn, the golden one at midday, and my own favorite, the walk at dusk, when every window glows like a topaz. The innards of houses are so mysterious. What do you suppose that lady is cooking? Shall we turn back? One more block, Daddy.

The taste has become an addiction. Can you imagine driving along the high tide line, or in the zoo, or through a carnival? Some day will city driving seem as ridiculous?

Walking is of course a way of getting someplace, if we happen to have someplace to go. But the walk without destination is just as satisfying; the journey that, headed nowhere, takes us everywhere - backwards in time, forwards is spirit, through a crisis, towards a resolution. The idle stroll. A whiff of revolution, perhaps - I recommend it heartily, and wave you on.

Edith Perlman has published stories in The Massachusetts Review, Yankee Magazine, The Antioch Review, and The Kenyon Review, among many other journals, and has twice been included in Best American Short Stories anthologies.

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