Invercargill Estuary
Photo by Stephen Day

Walking is modest

They say you can only really know a place by walking through it.

Certainly, when you drive past or fly over a place you get but the merest glimpse of its mauri. Not the smells, not the texture, not the noises. You know only what the road lets you see – signposts and petrol stations.

As a runner and a cyclist, I don’t get to know places as well as walkers do. I move too fast. Huffing and puffing, I startle the birds. But I still smell the damp earth and feel the tree roots underneath me. I know though, when I stop and talk to walkers that they wonder what all the hurry and heartbeat is about.

Last week the Guardian quoted British writer and devout walker Iain Sinclair, who said walking is “opening up your system to the world, making the skin porous, [and] letting all the impressions pour through.”

“We all know what gets in the way”, the article continued, “prejudice, traffic, locked gates, signs painted with the dread words ‘private – keep out’.”

The point is that walking is not just a slow way of getting from A to Z. It is about experiencing all the other letters in between. You’re not wasting time. You’re using it most wisely.

Walking is such a modest activity. It is not an act of greatness. It meanders, harmlessly.

And yet, sometimes, it angers people. Some people feel like walkers are self-righteous, sanctimonious, bourgeois. So we divide the world up into places you can and cannot walk. We limit where walkers can walk so they cannot get in the way, annoy us, slow us down.

Yet, we all start as walkers. Toddlers, even — learning balance and connection to the world by planting our toes on the whenua. Walking is primal.

But, along the way, we sometimes let that connection break. We can restore that connection by rebuilding the legal access we need to link with more of the whenua around us. By doing that we create the possibility for pathways between us and the other people in our lives. Opportunities to connect to communities, to te taiau, and to the time we need to reflect and grow.


Source of dawn chorus with blackbirds in the foreground: Department of Conservation