13-3
(March 13th. Familiar path)

Time for some observations on my 2009 walking project. Since the days have happily become lighter, I have been clocking up around 40 foot-miles per week. This has had some interesting effects. 1) I have calves of oak 2) I no longer make time to go swimming. 3) I have ceased to wear shoes with any kind of heel. This last makes me a little sad, as I dearly love shoes with an elegant heel, but I have found my attitude to them has drastically shifted. I now look at my available pairs and ask: can I walk in you at 4.5 miles per hour? If the answer is no, then they are no good to me. But it was still with some regret that I purchased yet another pair of comfortably cushioned Clarks ‘airs’ yesterday. I saw a certain something flicker in the shop assistant’s eye. Yes, I do walk quite a lot. But perhaps I’m also getting on a bit.

6-3
(March 6th. Fish supper)

Tom and I often talk about our radically different attitudes to walking and running. He finds it remarkable that I enjoy traversing the same paths over and over again. For him, today’s path will never be the same as yesterday’s. Variety is, of course, an integral aspect of his running training, but for him, there is also a pleasure in finding new or different trajectories. Now, it is not that I don’t like to explore. But I do love to run and walk along familiar paths. For the familiar path has a mental as well as a physical geography which I particularly enjoy. To me, these walks are not repetitive, but accretive: each one contains the memory or trace of those that went before. And those traces are not just about location, but about the remembrance of encounter: it looked like this when; today I feel like this; how very different this day is to that day. There is also the human weirdness of these familiar walks, in which daily path-crossings swiftly become relationships with coercive aspects–that is, with rules: today I said good morning to this person, I must speak to them again tomorrow, and every subsequent day. For me, there is always a niggly something, reminiscent of Nabokov’s Pnin in these exchanges. But I have also discovered that they are curiously important to me, and that I must embrace their vague discomfort.

17-2
(Feburary 17th. Lost cat)

For me, my daily walk is not the same walk. It is a different iteration of the same walk. The joy of traversing the familiar is similar to the one I feel when reading the journals of Dorothy Wordsworth or Gilbert White: in both, there is the pleasure of observing the wonder and ordinariness of a closely-known world, with all its transformations. Such transformations can be subtle. . .

18-2
(February 18th. Bruntsfield Links.)

. . . but quite amazing at the same time. And there is always something good about viewing the known from a different angle.

16-2
(February 16th. Feet).

. . .or just finding it mildly amusing.

24-2
(February 24th. Both sterile and jolly)

17 thoughts on “familiar paths

  1. Yes, away with elevated elegance for the sake of vanity, and make elegant a more NearToTheEarth of flats and low cushion soles. I too have wondered why I can’t seem to feel comfortable in my 3 decade love for clogs, even the rubber soled ones now make me topple at times and my feet hurt. So, I must find a whole new love for cute natural MaryJanes and such. And like you, I am a walker, and like you, I am fond of the same paths, same sights, it is my meditation if there is any !

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  2. L’Alba D’Oro was my chippie. My dad lives in the Colonies. Such a strange thing, this internet. That I can be sitting here in Upstate New York and next minute be walking along the Water of Leith in my mind.

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  3. have you read Rebecca Solnit? i think you would really enjoy her writing. the one I’ve read so far is “a field guide to getting lost” but my dad also highly recommends “wanderlust: a history of walking”.

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  4. One advantage of walking over a well known route is that it frees your mind to wander, and by the end of the walk, you have solved a problem without really thinking about it!

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  5. Four and a half miles an hour is an impressive pace. No wonder your calves are made of oak.

    I suspect that when I’m thinking about new places to visit or routes to take, I look for a link to the present or something familiar- but maybe that’s because I’m getting old too.

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  6. check out Chet Raymo hallmark on you tube as he has walked the same path to work through the woods for 40 years. He is a professor at Stonehill College. He takes you on a three minute tour of his world….
    a wonderful way to celebrate the variations of sameness.

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  7. I feel the same about walking the familiar. I live in a small city in the Pacific Northwest of the USA (Eugene, Or) and we have wonderful paths for walking, bicycling, skating, or whatever non-motorized transpo you prefer. I find myself being drawn to taking the same route, sometimes because it’s the best way from point A to point B, sometimes because I want to see how the ducks in the creek are doing today, and do they have any ducklings yet? Or to see the brief yet stunning bloom of the crab apple tree over on 23rd ave.
    Thanks for the reminder of the familiar.

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  8. I just found your blog via Spirit Cloth, and have enjoyed browsing through. I am going to visit Edinburgh the end of the summer, so I am really looking forward to The Definitive Craft Tour of Edinburgh!

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  9. I like your observations on walking. And taking the same paths over and over again, and recognize thoughts and ambiences from the last time, and how it allows one to observe the ordinary. It’s a very different thing from taking new paths every time. I also liked your pictures, especially the lost cat one:)

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  10. Wow that is a lot of walking…..Edinburgh is such a great city for it though…..wise to have comfy footwear!…..really loving these photos too….now I can take a virtual walk in those much missed streets and lanes!

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  11. I agree completely with what you mean about the same walk not being the same walk. I take nearly the same path every day, and it’s always both different and familiar. E.g. I look out at the sea and it’s a different color, texture, but always ‘my’ sea.

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  12. Very nice. There’s something about a secluded walk (I’ve not found this to be as much the case in urban settings) that makes me feel as though it’s mine. As I walk and take in the changing trees and greenery, it’s like I’m getting to know them, and they’re becoming my trees, my flowers. When I encounter someone else along my path, my first reaction is “Hey, these are my trees, how dare you encroach!” By the second meeting, though, we’re on smiling and nodding terms, and the feeling of being trespassed upon gives way to a feeling of sharing something secret. There’s often something neat about sharing something with a stranger, isn’t there? :-)

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