Take a walk

When we walk we stop killing. We take our place in nature and restore our humanity.

Topics: Environment, Science

There is only one way humans are made to move. They are made to walk. There are many other ways to get around. You can canoe, for instance. Or paraglide. Or jog. But these modes of transportation are not the staple of human mobility. Walking is unavoidable, a necessity for those with two working legs.

The entire scheme of nature, and the human’s place within it, is built around the understanding that humans use their legs to move. It’s a great unspoken assumption. The earth expects humans to walk.

Wildlife expects humans to walk, and it has trouble with other forms of transport. North American drivers kill 1 million animals each day, nearly 12 animals per second. Four hundred million animals are killed by drivers in North America each year. Almost 2 million deer are killed on North American roads yearly.

According to the National Institute for Urban Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 50 to 100 million birds are killed each year by vehicles. Research reports that roadkill is a significant factor in the decline of amphibians. Motorized transport dramatically reduces insect populations.

Though humans invented vehicles, we have trouble understanding them, too. The 210 million vehicles on North America’s 4.5 million miles of roads cause 47,000 human deaths a year. But, how many mammals, birds, amphibians and humans would be hurt or killed if humans only walked?

A walker is not likely to “run over” a gopher when she walks. If she waded into a stream, she’s unlikely to step on a fish. All creatures, in this sense, understand walking. Walking is a primal transport, expected by the world’s animals and the land itself, evidence of an ancient arrangement between humans and their world.

Walking serves as a bridge between other humans and other animals. Humans tend to walk between 2 and 5 miles per hour — an average of around 3 miles per hour. Dogs walk at speeds between 2 and 4 miles per hour. Camels walk an average speed of 3 miles per hour. Horses and mules, when walking, operate at speeds of 3 to 4 miles per hour. Elephant walk at 4 miles per hour. The old friendships between humans and some animals partly depend on a shared walking speed. A walking pace is the speed of community.

Though we don’t walk with many other animals, we could. Many other animals share a similar pace: bears, mice, ants, snakes, cats, aardvarks. The ordinary human can keep pace with a puma, a zebra, a rhinoceros or an American president.



Yet, humans are obsessed with the top speeds of each living thing. Many sources announce, for example, that the elk has a top speed of 25 mph. Very few note the walking speed: between 3 and five 5 mph.

As part of that obsession, humans find ways to travel faster every year. Usain Bolt’s recent Olympic sprint averaged 23 mph. When he sprints, he is unique, and alone. When he walks, any walking human can keep pace. Top speed emphasizes difference.

Mechanically assisted types of transport alienate humans from their planet, and from one another. The fastest humans, currently, ride in the space shuttle traveling at 18,685 mph in orbit; 18,685 mph is an unearthly speed. Top speeds separate us from one another and alienate us from the earth. Lower speeds unify us and bind us to our planet.

For those who like speed, there is a price to pay. One cost is tension. The mind, when you drive, is consumed, for the most part in the exercise of managing extra speed, paying attention, watching for potholes and pedestrians. Even jogging requires more attention than walking.

Researchers report that the faster you travel the more tension you experience. A number of studies report, for example, that when speed increases, negative emotions intensify. This factor alone plays a large role in what has been termed “road rage.”

Another cost is a diminished sense of context. When you walk, your field of vision is nearly 180 degrees, 140 degrees of which feeds your awareness. The Optometrists Association of Australia reports that human field of vision “is reduced with increasing speed.” For example, at 62 mph, field of vision contracts to 40 degrees.

Higher speeds cause peripheral vision to “smudge,” which hampers object recognition, and lowers response times. Motorists traveling 25 mph or faster have more difficulty determining whether a pedestrian is ready to cross a street, and in consequence have more difficulty deciding whether they should slow down.

In other words, speed impedes thinking and decision-making. Thought depends on perception, but speed impairs it. Things “come out of nowhere.” Collisions become inevitable. So walk.

Begin. Choose a walk of a reasonable length. Start with once a week. A 5-minute drive from your home, at average city speeds, amounts to a 25-minute walk, one way. Select a quiet route, as thought speaks with a quiet voice. You should be able to hear the sound of your own steps as you walk. Connect it to a light errand of some kind — picking up a quart of milk or meeting someone for joe. Plan some extra time, if you can. It’s great to walk, but walking slowly is delicious. Choose a beautiful day. Dress in layers, so you can adjust your body temperature with your step. Wear comfortable footwear. And walk.

Because walking is a cure. When we walk we take our place in nature. We untie our minds and improve thought. We restore our humanity. So, walk. After all, it’s what we were designed to do.

Bill Bunn lives in Calgary, Alberta. He writes occasionally and teaches composition at Mount Royal College, a 23-minute walk from his home.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>