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  • Writer's pictureTracey Lee

The Art of Ambling


A recent trip to Melbourne made me think about the merits of walking without a destination in mind. It seemed that in the city centre everyone had a purpose, a place to be and an ever-shrinking time frame to accomplish the journey. The city was alive with those who knew where they were going and seemingly attempting to set some world record pace in getting there.'

Even the tourists and shoppers were setting a cracking pace in getting somewhere. Very few were wandering and no-one appeared lost, although many had out their phones and were consulting the destination guru, Google.

In the madness of my youth I had jumped on trains in Europe hoping to arrive in one city only to discover that I’d boarded one going in a different direction. I’m not sure now that it mattered that I ended up in Zaragoza not Seville or Frankfurt and not Hamburg. I was young and the adventure was more important than the itinerary. I think I’d have a heart attack if my children took such a cavalier approach to international travel these days. And the thought of arriving in a city without a Trip Advisor recommended hotel booking is unthinkable! But then it was a kind of ‘lost’ that resulted in little harm and significant gain. But these days there’s little chance of wandering off track.

As a part of our increased urgency the act of strolling has vanished. It seems to have been hijacked by power-walkers and those who simply record their experiences on phones and Instagram or Facebook. Strolling is now apparently a crime against humanity and an unfathomable waste of time that doesn’t burn enough calories! But during my last trip to Rome I marvelled at the artful strolling that was conducted primarily by the stylish middle-aged women who simply linked arms, walked in perfect synchronicity and at a dignified pace that suggested dance rather than ambulation. Theirs was not a walk for anything other than to move, to see, to talk.

Even here in our lovely coastal town people pound up and down the roads and beaches with deft heel strikes and arm pumping. It’s all about the exercise and not about the freedom. Few seem to find pleasure in the discovery of something unintended. We are all too busy having our apps measure how many steps we’ve done and overtaking the slow pokes who incessantly stop to look at something fascinating at their feet or out at sea. (That’s usually me!)

Back in the city the march goes on.  Ear phones drowning out the noise of being, little eye contact to avoid any messy acknowledgement of our fellow citizens and considerable sounds of exasperation when the errant ambler doesn’t understand the rules of competitive walking.

As a writer when I walk it is part of research, it’s a sort of meditation as well as exercise. There is a sensory component to walking that might be missed if destination and speed are the only focus. In the saunter, the promenade, the stroll there is time for thought and conversation; and emersion in environment. In the rush it is possible we might just miss something very important. The sights, sounds and scents of life going on around us: the wonder and enormity of life.

Take a mindful walk this week. Measure it in the level of calm it brings, the degree of freedom it affords and number of senses it awakens.

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