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VOL. 44 | NO. 17 | Friday, April 24, 2020

Walking is big winner of virus-induced shutdown

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Thinking of a color change for your house? A stroll around the neighborhood could provide a wealth of ideas.

-- Photo By Joe Rogers | The Ledger

Walking, the original means of locomotion, nowadays offers an additional and equally beneficial function: The power to keep us from going stark-raving nuts. Maybe. I hope.

Walking’s value to physical health has long been celebrated. That’s why, with contemporaries left and right undergoing knee replacements and zero desire to do so myself, I had recently substituted brisk treadmill walking sessions at the Y for the pounding runs of younger days.

Boredom is a side effect when you’re basically moving without going anywhere. But to combat that, the Y’s treadmills offered TV, and I became part of the regular audience for Nicolle Wallace’s daily hour on MSNBC. The timing worked out nicely; our viewpoints meshed well.

Then, enter pandemic, exit Y sessions. Goodbye, Nicolle, hello, East Nashville sidewalks and streets.

Physical benefits aside, another reason to head outside soon became obvious: There’s only so much that reading Stephen King, binge-watching “Ozark” and comfort-eating banana pudding for breakfast can do to stave off cabin fever.

Based on the number of neighbors I see setting forth every day, many with dog and/or small child companions, I’d say many people are drawing the same conclusion.

Strolls for me offer the opportunity to escape the confinement that four walls, our efforts at artful decoration notwithstanding, eventually impose. They also provide the opportunity to breathe floral-scented spring air, listen to the love songs of frisky birds and further acquaint myself with a relatively new neighborhood.

All that at a decidedly non-brisk pace, to allow for appreciative examinations of the various houses along the way and assessments of other people’s landscaping efforts. Even biking, another component of my current mental and physical health regimen, is too speedy for a proper appraisal of the environs.

Preliminary observations: East Nashville has quite a stock of appealing houses in a variety of styles. There always seems something new to admire, no matter how many times I’ve passed by before: The furniture treatment on a porch here, architectural details in a window frame there, an unexpected combination of colors in a paint job somewhere else.

Who would have thought to combine ?that? shade of green with that purple? And horizontal, contrasting stripes? Didn’t see that trend coming.

I give extra points to anyone with a magnolia tree in the yard, stained or etched glass in a door, an old iron fence (or reasonable facsimile) or a cat visible in a window. Points off for a cat outside. The streets are too dangerous.

Also noticed: Many neighbors have greener thumbs than I. And a far greater capacity for engaging in flower-and-bush planting. I applaud their achievements but hope they’re not all flocking to Home Depot now for their supplies.

Yet another benefit is witnessing the vigorous recovery and rebuilding projects going on block after block not far away, where last month’s tornado cut such an ugly gash. The pounding of hammers and whine of electric saws have never sounded so comforting.

By chance while reading the Sunday book review recently, I came across an ad for a book titled “Beneath My Feet: Writers on Walking.” With my newfound dedication, I was a prime target. Parnassus Books had it delivered to my front porch in days.

Within the book was advice from the British novelist Nicholas Shakespeare on when to walk: “[A] walk before sunrise contributes to a person’s tranquility.”

I’m unlikely to test that theory.

And a suggestion on the company to keep (none) from the English essayist William Hazlitt: “I can enjoy society in a room, but out of doors, nature is company enough for me.”

I don’t mind going solo, but my wife is also welcome. We compare notes.

Of course Thoreau is in the book. And Mark Twain in a delightful piece – did he write any other kind? – on a rather leisurely ascent of an Alpine peak.

It must be noted that, for many of the writers included in the book, the other primary travel options at the time were (a) riding a horse, or (b) riding in something pulled by a horse. So going afoot wasn’t that novel a choice.

Plus, their idea of a walk often differed substantially from mine. The English cleric and reformer John Wesley, I read, “made the great discovery that 20 or 30 miles a day was a wholesome allowance for a healthy man.”

Apparently I am about one-tenth the healthy man that Wesley envisioned. No matter. Shorter treks have their rewards, too.

For instance, someone has painted this message on the front of a nearby house undergoing tornado rehab: “Kindness is also contagious.” A more comforting notion than the political conflict MSNBC used to encourage in my brain.

I also, literally, sometimes stop and smell the roses. Can’t get that on a treadmill.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com.

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