We are here on the planet only once, and might as well get a feel for the place.

Annie Dillard

Ann Juergens and I serve on the board of the Schubert Club, a classical concert presenting organization in Saint Paul. At our last meeting, before social distancing when it was still safe to share a glass of wine and small talk in close quarters, Ann shared with me how she walks every day and everywhere, too. Ann is a model for how we can all become #blissfulhikers even during a Pandemic.

From my front porch I watch people I’ve never seen before walking past my home. On the last day of March it is 55 degrees, and they walk down the middle of this residential street, on the sidewalks or on the grass, with dogs or with one other person, or, if in a group of 3 or 4, they walk with social distance between them. Dozens and dozens of people, they walk briskly with ear buds and babies and beverages or slowly with limp, walker or cane.

The pandemic and its shelter-at-home mandates are pushing people to walk as never before in memory. When the four walls of our domestic cells become too much, we no longer hop into the car and head to another place. At least we’ve been instructed not to do that unless for an essential errand.  So every day after some hours of work or schooling, when my St. Paul neighbors and I need to get out of our homes, we rely on our itchy feet.  

And walk we do.

The pandemic and its shelter-at-home mandates are pushing people to walk as never before in memory. 

Will our society have a revelation about the spiritual benefits of walking when this ends in weeks or months? How will we avoid it? 

For the last almost 21 years, I’ve walked every morning with a neighbor partner or, this last year, two. At dawn. For an hour. Weather does not stop us. This habit began and then spread to my travels, so that since at least 2005, vacations with spouse have involved long hikes about half the time. 

In December, we were in Singapore and planned to walk to the harbor and museums and colorful neighborhoods. We had learned that Singaporeans were proud of their civic infrastructure with all wires underground, no noisy scooters, wonderful public transportation, and clean streets. Their public gardens are beautiful and well kept. 

Yet when we asked a hotel concierge and also a tourist bureau person for the best way to walk, we were told in nearly identical language, “Oh, you don’t want to walk, the subway goes right by there!” Or, “our taxis are not expensive, that is how everyone goes.” 

Walking to a destination was indeed a challenge, as many buildings have been built with the assumption that people will drive or take the bus or subway. Sidewalks are often missing and long swaths of high rises afford no way to pass through to the next street. 

Yet walk we did. And when we’d return to our hotel for the great food that Singapore is also known for, the clerks would profess astonishment that we had actually gotten to the Orchid Garden on foot. 

Perhaps being older and obviously American fueled that disbelief. But I’ll bet it was fed also by the conviction that modernizing a society requires that it get off its feet and into some kind of vehicle, whether publicly or privately run.

So we move forward, each of us and the nation, it seems, on foot with both fear and a bit of frolic.

This pandemic is taking us back to the Middle Ages or before, when we go mostly by foot, buy only necessary things, and eat meals that we have cooked at home with our family (if we are one of those with a home and a kitchen).

So we move forward, each of us and the nation, it seems, on foot. With both fear and frolic as companions.


  1. I loved this piece.

    We need to be outdoors, even as it’s narrowed to our neighborhoods and gardens. I’m still driving to nearby neighborhoods to walk (in addition to our own wonderful walking neighborhood), as it gives me diversity that I crave, with access to more natural areas limited now.

    It’s primarily about my mental health. If all I did is stay home inside my (very nice) house, well, it’s not a good thing. Of course, I’m immensely privileged to be able to be at home, surrounded by my favorite things.

    • I’m right with you, Lisa! I am so blessed to have a home and it’s narrow and tall, so Richard and I have separate working floors. We call it the ‘office building’ now! But we go out for a long ramble every late afternoon and now just discover the little things. Like Ann said, this unprecedented time may change habits for the better.

  2. Karen+Neal

    Yes! Loved this essay! Like Ann, it doesn’t matter where I am, I get up and walk first thing in the morning. (Well, maybe the second or third thing . . . .) I have such a more intimate memory of every place I’ve been cuz I’ve scoured neighborhoods, up close and personal.. . . .like Kearney NE, Bandon, OR, Istanbul, Taipei, etc.

  3. James Baker

    Beautifully said! I think back to my years living and working as a musician in Mexico, spread over three different locations during the time I was there. Walking was always the preferred means of getting from point A to point B. I’m also reminded of the writings of Colin Fletcher, who lived to walk and inspired many others to do so. His walks were more often distant hikes – I suppose Alison knows that aspect of walking better than most. When I walked the Camino de Santiago, in Spain, a few years ago, I was fascinated and inspired by the many stories I heard from fellow walkers, but none more interesting than the short conversation with the fellow who by his very appearance invited my curiosity. He lived to walk, and had been walking in nomadic fashion for years.

    • alison young

      it’s so easy and natural and SO much gets worked out. walking rules! I look forward to my ‘camino’ and will hit you up for beta when the time comes! 🐥👣🎒

  4. Alison….I hope we are not inadvertently spreading the virus in our cities…it is such an unknown bug…be safe….Zola

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