I have to confess that I have no regular walk.
I do walk, of course, almost everywhere, so there are many places where I walk regularly, paths that connect my house to the local farmer’s market, to the little grocery store down the street, to my church a few blocks in the other direction, to the several parks that distract my children most mornings. and to the many other places that I inhabit frequently. None of these constitute a regular walk, however, not in the sense that I have found to be so important to others over the years.
For example, my favourite books as a child were C. S. Lewis’ Narnian books, and when I had exhausted them, I went looking for everything else that Lewis had written. I started reading vast quantities of literary criticism, theology, and apologetics, all well before I could know what any of it might actually mean. In the midst of all this, I also read Lewis’ autobiography, Surprised by Joy, and a volume of his collected letters. In both of these books, he talks about his regular walks. Often taken with others for company, these walks did not necessarily have a set route, and they rarely had a destination as such. Their purpose was not to arrive anywhere in particular, but to provide the opportunity for thinking and for conversation. They were less exercise or transportation than a unique space where the life of the mind could be practiced.
Though this was the first time I had heard of walking in such a way, I have found similar practices among many others of the authors whom I enjoy and respect, and my imagination has joined these figures together into some sort of ideal figure of the walker: part G. K Chesterton, idly slashing at trees with his swordstick; part George Grant, finding religious epiphany while passing through a farm gate; part Ernest Hemingway, tramping country roads and forests; part Hugh Latimer, discussing theology while climbing Heretics’ Hill; and, most recently, part Henry Koch, collecting seeds from the trees along his path. The regular walk, as practiced by this ideal walker, becomes a kind of intellectual and spiritual discipline, a kind of devotion.
Certain aspects of this walking do come to me naturally. I have no trouble undertaking a walk without any particular destination in mind, and my walking is not often tempted by anything resembling urgency. I do not jog. I do not stride. I do not hike. I hardly even walk. I amble. I stroll. I saunter. I ramble. I perambulate. Yet, I do not walk in this way as a regularity, as a part of how I am. I do it only on occasion, usually at someone else’s suggestion. Though my wife has something like a regular walk in this sense, I do not. This is my confession, and it is a confession, I think, that is a symptom of my larger discomfort with a certain kind of reflection and meditation and solitude. I am not one to make resolutions, but I feel the need for a regular walk, to be regularly apart and reflective, to recapitulate the discipline of the walkers who have preceded me. I desire this devotion as my own.