Little Walks

Mozart wrote many pieces of music, including symphonies and concertos – what I like to think of as the musical equivalent of marathons and long walks. He also wrote Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, known in English as A Little Night Music, and it’s one of his better known and much loved compositions.

Then there are short stories, and poems like limericks or haiku, writing characterized by its relative brevity. Painters sometimes produce minutures, and chefs produce starters, appetizers, hors d’ourvres, and amuse bouche. Many artists like to produce work that is compact and brief, and yet offer intensity of experience. Small doesn’t have to mean boring.

Little walks are like little pieces of music, little poems, or little plates – walku if you pardon the terrible pun. We recognize the word “little” sometimes to mean “concentrated” – the phrase “a little goes a long way” comes to mind. A little hot sauce to spike your chili, a little anchovy paste to give richness to your caesar salad. That’s what I have in mind – a concentrated walk. Little doesn’t have to mean easy or light, it just means short or brief or small. Big things can come in small packages.

The point is that sometimes you just don’t have the time or the inclination for a big walk. Little walks are sometimes all you can squeeze in during a busy day – that 15 minute stroll around the block at mid-day to get some air and clear your head. Little walks can be like having a catnap, to rejuvenate and recharge.

Perhaps more importantly, sometimes you want a little walk simply because it’s little. Little walks through new surroundings are my favourite way to explore and introduce myself to a place. Just because it’s a little walk doesn’t mean you won’t learn or experience something interesting, even profound. Precisely because they are little, over a short period of time you can focus more, concentrate, really notice what’s around you.

Recently in Bermuda, we took a little walk through Hamilton, perhaps only 20-30 minutes, and yet we stumbled onto some interesting shops, public art, people watching, and a great little restaurant. That kind of little walk is like the appetizer before the main course, a way of tasting what the place has to offer and then diving in, and that’s what we did – the next day we indulged in a much longer walk covering many parts of the island.

Little walks in the evening, the stroll home from a favourite neighbourhood restaurant or the beachside amble on a hot day, can be magical. That feeling of carefree wandering, of relaxation, of openness to sensations like the breeze on your skin, the scent of newly watered grass, or the sights in a shop window – it’s lightness and calm.

Little walks add up too. 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there and soon you’ve gotten an hour in without consciously setting out to “go for a walk”. In fact I think of very short walks as micro walks. I set my exercise tracker to buzz every hour to force myself to get up and get in at least 250 steps, just to make sure I don’t settle into a chair and remain budgeless for hours. A micro walk around the office is a chance to say hello, stop at a desk for a quick check-in chat, and refill the water glass, all in just a few minutes, and yet it’s enough to ensure I’m connected and active.

Walking is an innately human activity. We’re the only species that routinely walks on two legs. We’re biologically optimized for it. That middle-aged tummy is there because in biomechanical terms it’s the optimal place to for a two-legged creature to carry an emergency calorie supply. Little walks are part of my strategy for keeping that tummy from become too tremendous, stringing brief bouts of exercise together for times when I can’t get in a big walk.

Culturally we often prefer bigness – go big or go home, bigger is better, what’s the big idea?. Bigger houses, bigger cars, bigger meals, bigger anything. Why bigger, though? Or at least, why always bigger? Why not little, sometimes. A little lunch, a little music, a little walk.

Here are some of my favourite little walks, in Toronto and elsewhere:

  • From our home to Eglinton subway in the cool, fresh, sunshine of an early summer morning, across the fresh-cut grass of Eglinton Park
  • From my wife’s aunt ‘s home on Castle Street in Donegal town, Ireland, up around the corner towards the Castle and then into town across the Diamond and down along the quay to the Abbey
  • from the Interpretive Centre in Point Pelee National Park to the tip along the nature trails
  • Along the Mall from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace and continuing on through Green Park to Hyde Park Corner
  • Along the water’s edge the length of Hirtles Beach, outside Lunenburg Nova Scotia

I’m sure I can think of more and one of these days I’ll write up a few of these. Till then, go on, you know you want one – just a have little walk.