I am, as my friend's boyfriend likes to say, indoorsy. While I enjoy going on a nice hike or simply basking in the sun, I rarely think of doing so.
Most of my athletic endeavors, like joining the college crew team or hiking the Grand Canyon, occurred because friends invited me and I'm so grateful for those experiences.
But I never think to simply go for a walk by myself. I can walk with purpose, such as going to a restaurant or a store, but simply going for a solitary stroll doesn't cross my mind.
Part of this is because of the messages drilled into me as a child: don't walk on the prairie path by yourself, always be aware of your surroundings...basically all boiling down to the messages women receive on how not to be raped. I've never been assaulted but the specter is ever present. (Don't get me started on how we should actually be teaching men not to rape, instead of hypotheticals that don't protect women in the end.)
And part of this is simply because I like being in the comfort of my home. I like curling up with a good book or hosting friends for dinner.
It's something I've thought a lot about over the years. I wish I was a more active person and there have been periods of my life where this was true. I walked nearly every day I lived in San Francisco. I'd get off the bus and walk 11 blocks to the office. I'd walk to the grocery store and I'd walk down to Devil's Teeth for my favorite breakfast sandwich. It became a way of life and it was a little disconcerting to move to the Twin Cities and revert to driving my car all the time.
"Walking is mapping with your feet. It helps you piece a city together, connecting up neighborhoods that might otherwise have remained discrete entities, different planets bound to each other, sustained yet remote. I like seeing how in fact they blend into one another, I like noticing the boundaries between them. Walking helps me feel at home." p. 27-8
I read Lauren Elkin's book Flaneuse: Women Walk The City In Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London a couple of months ago and it made me think even more about my own experiences of walking in the cities I've lived. Because of all the walking I did in San Francisco, I do know that city- or at least the neighborhoods I most frequented- better than any other place I've lived. And as I read the book, I realized I want to know the Twin Cities in a similar fashion. I'm trying to push myself to explore on foot, even if it's only a few blocks around where I'm living. I like Elkin's idea of how walking can help us feel more at home in the world.
I want to see how walking here changes me because of what and whom I encounter. The more we learn about a place, the more we learn about ourselves. I absolutely believe this is true and I think pushing past the fears and vulnerabilities that hold me back from taking solitary walks will further embody this lesson.
Last month I decided to explore the neighborhood where I was catsitting. I've stayed there a few times and thought I had a good idea of what the surrounding blocks offered. I was wrong.
Walking opened my eyes to so many things.
The cutest birdhouse I've ever seen
This house had All Are Welcome Here signs in at least 4 or 5 different languages. At least half of the surrounding blocks had these signs and Black Lives Matter signs. LOVED this.
This was the coolest, most unexpected discovery. This marked the house of Arthur, Edith, and Mary Lee who moved to the neighborhood in 1931, the first African American family to do so. People were not pleased. Arthur's friends stood in a protective ring around the house to safeguard it and the family and eventually the crowd went away. According to the sign, there hasn't been a white mob demonstrating against housing integration since. That makes it sound like Minnesota hasn't had a problem with racism since, which of course couldn't be further from the truth. But I was heartened to learn about the Lees and their friends' bravery. I hope the neighborhood learned to truly welcome them.
I see this neighborhood in a completely different light thanks to a 30 minute walk.
Last week my roommate and I went for a walk through our neighborhood. We walked past the beautiful pond and past houses undergoing renovations and a huge fairy town. (There's no other way to describe the magic. I love elf and fairy houses.) Then the piece de resistance: we stumbled onto not one but two Little Free Libraries. While I already liked this neighborhood, the two Little Free Libraries cemented that feeling. I'm already contemplating what books I can leave and what new discoveries I'll make.
And yes, I'm absolutely going back to the house with the fairy town.
Disclosure: Affiliate links included in this post.