Post- Magazine

treasure under our feet [feature]

rediscovering the joy of walking

“I walk, all day, across the heaven-verging field.” - Mary Oliver, “Upstream”


Would you believe me if I told you there are hidden wonders just down the street? Would you listen if I said they are free for the taking? Would you trust me if I promised they are more valuable than gold? There is only one caveat: The sole way to find these treasures is to walk.

  Before we can run and jump and do the occasional cartwheel, we must first learn how to walk. The action of placing one foot in front of the other takes time and monumental effort to master when we are young. Yet we quickly forget the wonder of the action, the millions of miracles that allow it to occur. We walk to class. We walk to the library. We walk home. We take a car if things are too far or too rainy, and never once do we relish our strength.


Walking, for me, is an escape from the routine of everyday life, a way to ease the countless stresses of being human. I love the solidity of sidewalks and the soft cushion of leaf-strewn trails under my shoes. I love the way the wind feels on my face and the smell of cut grass on a warm weekend day. I walk and I watch and I notice the way a fern hangs low, laden with spores. I feel the cracks in an old brick retaining wall. I hold a staring contest with a squirrel scrambling up an oak. It is the most inconvenient mode of transportation in our modern world (most American cities are designed for cars) but it is, perhaps, the most freeing.

However, I wonder if these simple beauties have become corrupted. The rise of pedometers and flashy apps that advertise that you (yes you!) could get paid to walk has transformed the activity into no more than a means to an end. Now your watch buzzes, telling you how close you are to your exercise goals for the day. We go outside, but how much of it is driven by an obsession over a number on a screen rather than a love of the world itself? I remember once competing on a step-counter app with my family and, to beat my father, I paced back and forth through my house to get to 12,000 steps. After the initial rush of competitive satisfaction died down, the achievement meant nothing to me. No joy lingered. I appreciate that people are incentivized to move and go outdoors, but have we missed the point?

An incessant desire to feel “productive” has warped the experience of walking even more for me. I feel a rush of satisfaction after hitting a particularly high step count for the day, believing that I am special and worthy because I have walked so far. My watch eggs me on, sending affirmations and awards and sparkling notifications when I’ve filled in rings. My unusually quick gait gives me a bubbling pride in my chest as I cut minutes off my commutes to class, head down, legs pumping. Am I, too, destroying the art of the walk?

This need for productivity has seeped even into my leisure strolls. Having recently picked up bird-watching as a hobby, I went to Swan Point Cemetery to see which species I could identify. I speed-walked down Blackstone Boulevard, barely acknowledging the greens and yellows of the trees above. Once inside the sprawling grounds, I tried to navigate a straight route between the grassy plots of gravestones, seeking the most efficient way to cover ground and leave quickly before the sun fell. Passing the rows and rows of names, I craned my neck up and up and up, but I barely saw or heard anything. Where was the black-capped chickadee or the dark-eyed junco or the American goldfinch that should have been there? My throat constricting and my neck aching, the thought of the hour-long walk home made my heart pound. I did not care to notice the cold tombstones or the looming statues of angels or the way the sky glinted off the bay behind the trees. I only worried about what I had gained from all of this. What could I add to my mental catalog of achievement?

What is the point of the walk if it cannot satisfy my ambition?


“But it sometimes happens that I cannot easily shake off the village. The thought of some work will run in my head and I am not where my body is—I am out of my senses. In my walks I would fain return to my senses. What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?” - Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”


I was anxious; a looming final made it difficult to breathe. Unable to concentrate on studying, I left my room and tried to slow my mind. Reaching a quiet neighborhood street where a flock of birds perched in the trees shadowing the road, I listened to their rambling melodies and breathed out the cold air. Yet the final remained on the horizon. The anxiety soon returned, worse than before. So I made my way back to my room, sat down in front of my computer, and continued to work.



“She began to walk forward, crunch-crunch over the snow and through the wood towards the other light. In about ten minutes she reached it and found it was a lamp-post.” - C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe


It is freshman year and every day I feel as though I am stranded in a whiteout, the world empty save for the roar of the wind and voices too dim to distinguish. It’s that particular brand of loneliness exacerbated by the cold, and when a blizzard rolls around, heaping buildings in mounds of snow and dulling the afternoon sun to twilight, what else is there to do but go outside? So I pull on my hat, boots, and biggest coat, and I walk. The sky is white, and the brick buildings look like they were carefully arranged inside a photo box. Flakes coat my crimson hat and I sink into powder along the paths. It is quiet. For a minute, the sadness subsides.

A few weeks later, stifled by the same intangible winter grief, I walk once more. The paths are clearer, and snow lies in patches rather than mountains across the grass. Still, it is slippery, so I slow my pace. Noticing a tree of red berries dusted in white, I smile. Perched in the center, feet tucked into the crystalline mounds, is a robin. As I stand captivated in the middle of the sidewalk, it suddenly flies to the top of the thin, young tree and settles, its orange breast a sun breaking through the branches. I know, at that moment, that everything will be okay.

Just keep watching. Just keep walking.


“So the secret is out there. It’s under the leaves on the trail. It’s right there on the sidewalk. Spring has sprung. Lace up.” - Andrew McCarthy for The New York Times


I tend to take walks alone, worried that the activity is unexciting to others. But one day a friend texts, asking if I want to go wander in the snow. I agree. We pass through the wrought iron gates near our dorm, down the street, and toward a bookshop to the east. We talk and joke, carefully shuffling to avoid slipping on the icy paths. Late afternoon light streaming through the silver, sleeting sky, I am not focused on spotting birds or reaching our destination. I only want to hold onto the peace of being outside and the company of my friend, bottle it up to remember the moment by. There are so many treasures that can only be found when you go outside and take time to look around. Snowing or raining, alone or together, the world has so much to offer us.

To walk, in my opinion, is the closest we will ever come to finding that mythical Fountain of Youth, the closest we will ever be to rowing back against the currents of time. On a crisp late-November day, I make my way back up College Hill after spending several hours doing homework in a coffee shop downtown. Climbing the steep incline, I notice that the sky, still azure, is beginning to streak with golden light along the edges, bringing out the feathers of the cirrus clouds above the canal. Slightly over-caffeinated, pumped with endorphins, I skip around, trying to find the best vantage point of the rapidly blushing sky. At this moment, I am a child again, racing from place to place, swallowed by the beauty of the world. I forget the tasks and homework I vowed to get done, the worries and doubts I too often wrap myself in. In this moment, I am alive and my feet alone can carry me from place to place. The world is magical and I can experience it and that is all that matters. No car or determined speed walk could bring me this joy. No step-counting hike or mental checklist of birds could lead me to this peace. It is only when we slow down, take a breath, and look up that we can find the treasure of who we once were, and perhaps who we are meant to be. 

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