Practicing a walking place
As mentioned, I am writing my reflections on the 2017 coyote walk from a new home, across the continent, in Washington state. In contrast to New York City transportation here is highly centered around the automobile, though with plenty of pedestrian designated trails within reach, serving as destinations for recreation. I was able to take a long walk this past week, with family, on one of those trails, the Tolt Pipeline. It ran behind people’s homes and reminded me a bit of the Croton Aqueduct in NY, which we utilized in the coyote walk, having a similar ambience, width and of course following a water suppling pipe. My 3-year-old son was along with us. It felt like a first “no escape” walk with child– meaning we couldn’t simply opt out at any moment. He ended up riding on my shoulders for a good part of the time. After an initial period of considering whether or not to turning back (being faced with a big hill) we pushed forward and dug in for the duration. I was reminded of the comforts of a one-way long walk with other people. Stopping to look at things, snacking, negotiating, and spreading out along the trail (some people far out in front and some lagging behind) coming back to the central task at hand made for a traveling atmosphere that I recognized from the coyote walk. There was a great relief in recognizing that, for the time being, there were no other things we needed to do– or rather that everything we needed to do we didn’t need to do elsewhere. And that the walk would not end any time soon. The walking itself turned into its own place and social space. I think it is that place that I see dreams about the coyote walk.
In The Songlines, a semi-fictional account of a kind of ethnographic walking research project in Australia, Bruce Chatwin makes a case that the rhythm of walking, and of being carried by a walker has a resonance with children. It is inherent to the human experience. I wondered if the traveling atmosphere of a car has a similar reassuring effect, putting kids to sleep.
One of the participants in our coyote walk this year brought a short text by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn as a starting point for a conversation, titled We Don’t Walk Alone in this recent short book
When we walk, we’re not walking alone. Our parents and ancestors are always walking with us. They’re present in every cell of our bodies. So each step that brings us healing and happiness also brings healing and happiness to our parents and ancestors. Every mindful step has the power to transform us and all our ancestors within us, including our animal, plant, and mineral ancestors. We don’t walk for ourselves alone. When we walk, we walk for our family and for the whole world.
While a doctor’s or lawyers “practice” might carry an air of professionalism or exclusivity, I am interested in the term practice as a way to accommodate missteps and mistakes, of doing something over again without necessarily knowing the best way to do it. The 9 different paths over 9 years walking a coyote-like route out of New York City were practice. While they had public facing elements in which research was presented and others were invited to walk along, they also served as a way to personally understand my home– geographically and otherwise.
In search of a new practice in/of/for a new place…