I go on walks quite often. It’s my main form of exercise – especially when I can’t go out dancing, because during a pandemic, that is no longer a thing. Truth be told, I usually try to find a way to make the walk “useful” in some way. Listening to podcasts and calling family are two of the main things I do. The other is… the Pokéwalk! I like walking around my local Pokéstop and gym dense park, playing Pokémon Go, trying to catch them all. Catching Pokémon is useful because it makes me happy, right? Right???

However, all of these things definitely, without a doubt, take me out of the moment. They distract my senses and brain power away from the actual experience of being in the place where I am in the real, physical world. I’ve read some essays over the years about how beneficial walks are to thinking through problems and getting inspiration, or just letting the mind wander and reset. But is it really possible to reap the benefits of the walk while not fully present in it? I’m thinking probably not.

And so I’ve enrolled in a course in RISD’s continuing education program, taught by Sally Bozzuto, that is particularly about, as the title of this blog suggests, walking as creative practice. My hope is that it will help me to get back to part of the reason that I started walking in the first place. I don’t think Thoreau had Pokéwalks in mind when he wrote his essay

Yesterday, I went for the first of a series of walks where I purposefully did not spend the majority of my time doing anything “useful”. Instead, I met up with a friend, and spent the better part of two hours just talking about whatever came to mind. The day before, I did almost the same thing with two other friends…but with far more Pokémon catching and trading involved. I know, I know… I really should’ve gone for a completely solo, focused walk. But it was already Thursday, and this friend was in town for the day I had previously told myself I would be devoting part of to taking my first intentional walk for the class. It had been well over a year since I last saw him, and goshdarnit, I wasn’t going to miss the chance to meet up.

It turns out that walking with this friend was probably one of the best things I could’ve done to help me focus in on all the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings during the walk. Since it was his first time in this park, he was particularly alert to all of the new sensory input. He’s also an artist, and I think he has a very keen sense of observation. From the intense sounds of the wind through the trees (WOW, it was a windy day!), to the feelings of sun and wind (and bugs) on our skin, to where shadows were and were not, there was a lot that we noticed about the world around us as we slowly meandered through the park. We saw the *most* adorable bird first take a happy, splashy bath in a puddle, and then, minutes later and some yards away, we saw that same bird taking a dust bath to dry off. We also noted that there were a lot of tree root areas that looked like the perfect spots for little fairy houses – basically marking portals in magical-seeming spots that have already been made special by nature. But then we realized that nah, marking them in the way we’ve seen people do (with constructed little physical doors) would ruin their very probably real-world purpose of giving shelter to little animals.

Before my friend arrived, since I did have in my mind that I really should be trying to take my mindful walk, I did try to observe some things on my own while waiting as well… The two most notable things before he arrived were the huge mass of delicate-yet-hardy exposed roots of the pine trees to the left edge of the fence in front of Daggett Farm, and the groundhog that was sitting quite still, eating all the leftover animal feed on the ground in the goat pens. I’ve never really gotten to observe a groundhog staying put in one place for that long. Usually if I notice them, they’ve noticed that I’ve noticed, and they quickly scurry away. But this one somehow knew it was protected by multiple layers of fencing, and that I posed no threat. Either that or he was just far too happy gorging himself* on all the feed to be concerned. Interestingly enough, the friends from the day before have recorded a song about…gulp…eating groundhogs. Stay safe inside those fences, my little furry friend.

Anyway, back to walking… The other notable thing to note here is that we purposefully did not just go from Pokéstop to Pokéstop and spin every one, even though my day #2 friend does also play. By making it more about showing my friend around the more beautiful parts of the park, we took a completely different path than the Pokéstop-and-gym-dense one I usually take. It was nice to be focused on seeing all the things in the real world rather than the virtual one.

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*ze? zimself? I don’t know this groundhog’s sex or gender…yet don’t want to take away its soul and just call it “it”, either… you know, like I just did in that sentence.

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