One of the particular pleasures of living in the city is the opportunities it provides for walking. I take advantage of those opportunities throughout the year, and even more so now that summer has truly arrived here in the Pacific Northwest. On average of late, I tend to get in a good five miles or more of walking each day. The more, the better. I walk my errands and my pleasures: grocery shopping, shipping packages at the post office, picking up books at the library, the occasional eating out, a pint and a movie at the second run theater, a visit to the park, or just an evening walk with my fiancee.
I find that walking grounds me. I suppose it does that in a certain literal way as I pass across the city, each footstep a small transfer of energy between myself and the earth (even if it so often is, sadly, intermediated by concrete). But it also places me into a rhythm, a satisfied state of mind, and engages my body in ways healthy not just physically, but mentally as well. Walking often settles me emotionally. And when I don’t read while walking (an occasional habit) it helps me to both clear my mind and to break away from my preoccupation with the troubles of the human world.
It’s too often forgotten that the human world is just one small part of our world. The rest is there around us, though too commonly ignored: our swirling ecosystem made up of so much more than humans and our myriad artifacts. I hear it in the chatter and cries of the crows, in the feel of the breeze, the rustle of trees and plants, the blooming scent of flowers, the pollen-induced sneezes, maddened squirrels, and the well- and not-so-well-tended gardens. It’s far easier to lose track of the nonhuman world here in the city, with its gridded streets and right-angled buildings, and yet it’s still not nearly so dominant as we imagine. There’s a lot of world out there that has little to do with humanity.
This all grounds me. And in a time of increasing chaos and upheaval, that grounding is critical. I’m a person who reads and studies and tracks our various predicaments. I don’t imagine I need to go through the data points to convince those reading this that we live in very troubled times, and that the future tends to look worse, not better, than the present. It’s hard living in such a time, and understanding that our future promises the harsh realities of decline rather than the prosperous upswing of ascent can create a certain grouchiness among society’s participants. I read a lot, track elements of our decline, and worry at times about our future; a deep mental burrowing into such topics creates strain and stress that can build until it manifests into useless, self-defeating, and at times downright destructive behavior.
Staying grounded and, in particular, staying rooted in and conscious of the realities of the non-human world helps even me out, calms me, heartens me, and brings me back to joy and pleasure. It mitigates the strain of decline and places the slow collapse of industrial civilization into perspective. Human civilizations do this, after all, and non-human populations do the same. We live and we die. We ascend and descend. We grow, prosper, contract, and collapse. It all is natural. It all is rooted in the unending ecological cycles of our world.
Walking helps me remember this. Sometimes it does so explicitly, but the vast majority of the time it simply is through the movement of my body, the sight and sounds of the crows and songbirds, a stray squirrel or dog or child, the wind or the sun or the rain, exuberant and sore muscles: the feedback from and asserting of the natural world around me. It grounds me in these times of trouble. It brings me pleasure and satisfaction to mitigate the frustration of seeing the world fragment around me.
I intend to write more about this in the introduction to the upcoming Summer 2017 issue of Into the Ruins, but in the meantime, I want to hear from you readers. What grounds you? In this time of decline, what helps keep you measured and sane and provides you respite from the many troubles bearing down on us (not to mention already arriving)? What puts your mind in order when it risks spiraling off down too-dark paths?
As usual, I’m hoping for some thoughts that are printable as letters to the editor, though I welcome all comments regardless of if you want them considered for publication. You can respond as a comment to this post or directly to me via email. If you don’t want your comments to be considered for publication as a letter to the editor, please say so. And if you email, please include your location in the form of city and state; you can do so in the comments, as well, or I’ll work to get in touch with you for that information if I want to publish your comments in the magazine.
And a quick note: For those of you whose subscription ended after the fourth or fifth issues and who have yet to renew, you can always do so and get caught back up or simply be on deck for the upcoming publication of the sixth issue. Don’t miss out! Renew today.