The Path to Enlightenment Just Might Be a Greenway

(Originally published in Nashville Scene, June 23, 2016)

Let me first explain that odd text I sent you, the one that said, “Häagen-Dazs celiac kringle.” That wasn’t meant for you. And the one about balloon animals made of chorizo? Not for you either. Sorry for the confusion. I was walking and texting, which makes walking and chewing gum seem like child’s play. I misfire a lot.

But the walking makes me feel great. It makes me think more clearly and sleep better. My walking thoughts tend to be more optimistic than my sedentary notions, so I’m happier when I walk.

When I’m walking is when most of my personal epiphanies occur. I was on a walk when I found the house my family now lives in. On a walk when I figured out what to name my baby. On a walk when I told my parents I wanted to be a writer.

Now I do a lot of my writing on walks. The rhythmic motion jostles ideas from the low points in the brain in the same way, I suppose, that it keeps lymph from pooling in the ankles. Balloon animals made of chorizo bubble up to consciousness in a most exhilarating way.

I’m not the first person to link pedestrian activity and deep contemplation. People have been pacing forever. That’s how the Philosophers’ Walk in Germany came about. And labyrinths. And courtyards. Long before Harvard scientist John Ratey wrote Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, the poet Wallace Stevens composed verses on the two-mile stroll to his insurance company office in Hartford. I’m not holding my Häagen-Dazs celiac kringle up to “The Emperor of Ice-Cream”; I’m just saying there’s a generous precedent for ambulatory cogitation.

Sometimes I walk alone. Sometimes with a phone. Sometimes I talk into the phone. Sometimes I use the phone to take notes, which I text to myself or, inadvertently, to other people, who text subtle replies such as “I think your message got autocorrected.” No. I was actually typing about chorizo balloon animals. I just didn’t mean for you to see it.

Sometimes, I get out of my own head and walk with another human. That’s the best. A walk on a greenway can turn an acquaintance into a friend more surely than any lunch in a restaurant ever will.

Women know this. We know that walking together has curative and inspirational power. That’s why we team up two-by-two with our aspirational jog strollers, to shed the extra pounds and sleep-deprived anxieties of early motherhood. But even when we return to our prenatal girth and relative sanity, we walk with friends to help us hold it all together.

I love my walking friends.

Sometimes on our walks, we buy stuff en route and call it shopping. Sometimes on our walks, we carry red Solo cups and call it cocktails. Mostly we just stride side by side and think out loud. About our husbands, kids, mothers. Our past, present, future. Lather, rinse, repeat. Nobody considers it weird. Or romantic. Or cardiovascularly subpar. It’s just what women do. We walk with our friends. On our best days, at least.

Men are different. As far as I can tell, men fear walking. Unless they’re wearing fleece, in which case they call it hiking. Or carrying sticks and balls, in which case they call it golfing. Or following a dog greater than roughly 40 pounds, which somehow qualifies as a higher-order athletic endeavor. Maybe a holdover from the days of gladiators?

But in the absence of extreme gear, competitive handicaps and big canines, a lot of men regard walking as a remedial version of running, tantamount to giving up.

And if they’re not inclined to lace up sneakers and walk around the block, they sure as hell aren’t going to do it with a buddy. I’ve heard a man, sober for two decades, say, “Dude, you wanna grab a beer?” because that’s what men say to each other. I’ve never heard one say, “Bro, you wanna take a walk?”

But reliable sources tell me that’s changing. And not just on the campus of Twitter or Apple, where the late Steve Jobs was famous for his meetings à pied. I’ve heard rumors about men — in Nashville and beyond, in industries from science to finance — who are electing to walk together. No North Face, no nine irons, no labradoodles. Just walking and talking.

Men, it’s high time you figure out what women have always known: A long walk is better than just about anything, and walking with a friend is even better than walking alone. I hope this new trend catches on for you. And I hope our paths cross soon. Until then, Häagen-Dazs celiac kringle. Oops, sorry about that. I was trying to text you, “Happy trails. See you on the greenway.”

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