Today’s Focal Practice: Walking

[This post is part of a conversation on focal practices featured at the Patheos Book Club on the new book Living Into Focus by Arthur Boers.]

“You walked in this weather?” people often ask me, as if walking is only pleasurable in a congenial climate. Will Ferguson a Canadian humorist once walked 500 miles in Ireland and when he grew frustrated with the perpetual precipitation, he was often told: “There is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” Or, as I once heard somewhere, only drivers complain about weather. So, yes, chances are I did walk “in this weather,” whether it was hot or cold, dry or wet, sunny or cloudy. Why not? Walking gives me life.

One day, I layer up because the temperature was below 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Even without complaining about weather, that is cold and can be painful on exposed skin. But I cannot resist. So I put on long johns under my pants, a fleece, a winter coat, thick mittens, a warm woolen hat. Then my insulated boots, with their hiking treads.

As I step outside, snow crunches and squeaks beneath my feet. If my cheeks had not already registered the cold, that squeaky sound reminds me. Ice clumps form in my beard and my eyes begin to sting and water. Yet the sun shines and the sky is blue. Sunlight sparks in the snow. The gently rounded drifts hint at objects below – rocks, stumps – and also tell something about the direction of the winds that had shaped them.

Pine trees are coated with snow, laying thickly on their branches. Limbs bend downward with the weight. At the bottom of the trees, I see little dark caves, embraced by sagging branches.

Setting off, I stride purposefully in my solid boots, watching for icy patches that could send me slipping and sliding. After ten minutes, my heart goes faster and my chest, arms, and legs begin to feel warm. I zip open my coat. I will soon be perspiring.

People I pass seemed friendlier than usual. We are among the few city dwellers crazy enough to be out and about. Some wear scarves over their faces, but the crinkling of their eyes betray their smile. Others grimace about the cold.

I keep moving or the frigidity will too much. But the only bad moment is when I needed to cross a busy road to get to a nearby park. Cars race by and there is no nearby crosswalk or intersection. Finally, I safely make a dash for it.

I enter the park and descend to a treed valley. The farther I go, the less I hear the sounds of city and traffic. Everything feels and sounds hushed. A curvaceous stream ripples past. It is mostly iced over, but water still flows.

As I move through the trees, snow begins falling steadily. Then I step out into a field and the air is filled with flakes. They glow in the shining sun. While they descend, they are like a host of angels.

There is no better way to start the day.

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