Thursday, February 4, 2010

Paul Mathers on foot

I walk a lot. There's something meditative or pacific about it for me. Moving at a human pace, seeing what's going on around me, being in touch with my body and the Earth, and exercising while I'm transporting myself. I've always loved walking. I resisted getting my driver's license in my teens, but, in the end, relented because it was hard to get my friendbase in Huntington Beach to come all the way to Garden Grove to pick me up. I spent a lot of my teenage years sitting on the curb outside my parents house waiting for people who said that they were coming to pick me up.

If I had my way, in my perfect world, I would not drive and I would ride in automobiles only minimally. I have a strong inclination to trade my truck to my step-son for a new bicycle with a helmet and lock, but two things hold me back from doing that quite yet. One is that the truck comes in handy when Laurie's at a job and needs me to bring something to her, usually our home vacuum cleaner (it's amazing how many people buy bad vacuums or do things with vacuums that ought not be done.) The other is trying to be wise about future work situations. If I get a full time job on the other side of town, well, let's just say my love of walking is the inverse of my dislike for riding a bus.

But as for now, I walk a lot on my own. I do walk for errands (I'm about to walk to the post office when I finish this post.) But if errands do not present themselves, I walk for pleasure. I try to take Schubert on a walk every day because, let's face it, both of us could stand to drop a few sizes.
There are two places I walk with Schubert. The first is Bidwell Park which looks like this.

Very lovely and scenic as you can see. I've written about it before. Laurie prefers for me to walk in Lower Park because it's nicer, but more to the point, there's always someone in screaming distance. So I'm less likely to get mugged in Lower Park. There really isn't much in the way of cons about walking in Bidwell Park for walking except that 1) it's a place I have to drive to in order to walk there, which always seems a little absurd to me and 2) there are other people walking their dogs and Schubert isn't the best behaved little dog in the world.

So sometimes I will instead go walking down the bike path by our house. It's a horribly ugly walk. As you can see from the pictures, it's through an industrial area with chain linked lots with great stacks of broken pallets, battery stores, trucking yards, and power company towers flanked on one end by a greasy Asian buffet and on the other by an economy Mexican restaurant.

Billboards everywhere. All the benches had graffiti although I'm hard pressed to imagine why a young person would want their name associated with that place.

I'm a little surprised by these pictures that it doesn't look as bad as it does in person. But the positive side of this is that no one else goes walking on this bike bath. Occasionally a vagrant will ride by on a bicycle, but otherwise it's fairly secluded. For a reason. It's a Purgatorial road. So, there are not other people walking dogs. Also it's a walk I can take just by walking out my front door. Laurie likes it less when I walk here because there is never anyone in shouting distance. But I also like this one because there are often small signs of the wild reminding me of the impermanence of all of this. Some finches, some moss growing between the cracks in the asphalt, some poisonous berries on the decorative trees.

Of course, walking and preferring to walk does not make me a better person. Unlike Thoreau I am not going to say that the way I am is better than everyone else and everyone would be better if they were more like me. I mean, I certainly wouldn't recommend walking in my neighborhood after sunset to a 16 year old waifish girl.

There was an old man who ran a Friends of the Library bookstore back in Orange County who used to say "My motto is: If someone loves books, they can't be all that bad." Which was nice and sweet and home-spun and made one smile when the charming old man said it. Also there's an opera radio show host I know of who said in an interview that he thought people would be better in general, more respectable, better behaved, more decent and reverent, if they listened to opera. Both of which I really want to agree with because I love both and think both are valuable resources hopefully pointing humankind toward higher aspirations. But that doesn't change the fact that there are many historical examples of people who loved books or opera or both and were complete monsters! You can love opera and books and still be a terrible human being (It would be so easy for me to play the Hitler card here on the subject of opera, of which he was an avid fan, although his love of books seems to have been entirely over how well they burned.) Of course, you can also be a saint and love books and opera. And walking for that matter. Or anywhere else on the scale of human decency.

I notice other pedestrians, I would even go so far as to say the bulk of them, who are walking because of poor lifestyle choices they've made in their past or present. They may have been caught driving under the influence. Certainly some of them seem to have chosen a life where methamphetamine abuse is a higher priority than owning anything else or doing anything else that doesn't lead to abusing more methamphetamines. John Wayne Gacy was just as capable of walking as St. Francis of Assisi.

You could live your whole life devoted to walking, reading and being a patron of the arts while every thought that rattles around your mind is saturated with hate and fear. Or, perhaps to make things a little more uncomfortable, you could live an entirely unremarkable life of walking, reading and being a patron of the arts while you are living in a nation which destroys civilizations, murders innocents, rapes and pillages. All while you passively indulge yourself in morally neutral behavior, helping no one. History in general will probably not be terribly kind to you. Or, to take it to a religious area, you can walk all the way to Hell. Your salvation has nothing to do with your works.

Of course, walking is a good thing to do in the sense that you are not contributing to pollution, you are probably saving a lot of money (in the present with car and gas. In the future with medical bills.)

I had an English teacher once whose entirely adult life and career sort of revolved around asking, examining and re-asking the question "Is it possible to have morality without God?" I have a theater director friend whose life's question is "What is an action?" So, here's the big question in this instance that I certainly ask and re-ask myself: What makes a person, place or thing good?

What I find is that good is an internal condition and a work of the Holy Spirit. Certainly Christopher Hitchens donating blood would fall under the heading of "common grace." But all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God as an aspect of the human condition. It's only by Christ's atonement and effectual calling that one can have Christ's imputed righteousness before the face of God. Of course, out of the abundance of the heart will then come good works; and faith without works is clearly dead. But the reprobate are capable of doing helpful and friendly actions. It's not about works. It's about the condition of one's heart and most people are walking around dead. Only God can remove the dead heart and replace it with a living one.

Huh. I didn't mean to end up here at all. I meant to just write about my favorite places to walk. I guess I've got a lot on my mind lately. Sorry for the rambling post.

Which is another good thing about walking. I can listen to lectures or music or radio shows. I can also legally talk on the cell phone. But more importantly, I can think.

But that's just me.


  1. You have a profund sense of yourself and your environment. I wish I can be like you who loves to walk. I am the kind who only has those things in my wish list but never really has the determination to do it.

    Now I wish you all the best in your blending family.

  2. I have just read every word of your post, Paul - could not stop. Greedy for beauty, I always check out the most scenic routes for us - but while lovely things along the way can be inspiring, it is also distracting, when it comes to thinking. We are glad you were not distracted too much and that we could share in the results of your thinking!