With spring weather around the corner, the children and I are getting excited for our first urban adventure of the year. We’re pedestrians year round, walking almost everywhere we travel to in the city; however, in the cold weather months the walking is more for the purpose of transportation than it is an activity unto itself. In the winter we walk with a destination in mind. In the spring, summer and fall, walking is the destination. Wander, weave, flounder and flow, the streets, alleys and parks around us form a patchwork of sights, sounds, smells and sensations underfoot.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve craved walking: wandering without purpose throughout the city, the countryside, just exploring and waiting for the unexpected to present itself. I suppose I had wanderlust, though I certainly hadn’t heard of the term when I was a young teen who wished to spend her off hours wandering aimlessly, rather than shopping or hanging out at coffee shops. It seems wrong to say “aimlessly” or “without purpose;” certainly the walking restocked my energies and delivered inspiration by way of silhouettes, architecture, graffiti, street performers, weeds growing rampant under a loading dock.
Aside from wanderlust, my environmental preoccupations motivate me to move around in the least harmful way I can. Using my own motor is not only healthy for me, but healthier for the planet. When I met my husband, Matt, he was similarly disenchanted with moving himself through space using anything other than his own body as a motor. He loved to explore and find new spots in the city and its rural outskirts. However, he wanted to move and explore by bicycle. He had no interest in going for an after dinner walk, or leaving an hour early for school so we could take a meandering detour to get to class. We spent many years separately doing our own after dinner ritual. Now after a decade or so I’ve worn him down…or rather he’s learned to love a good wander. He still rides his bicycle at least three times a day though!
We live in the downtown of our city, so there is a lot to discover within walking distance. And by walking distance, I mean we can walk somewhere (at a child’s pace) in 2 to 3 hours or less. Most often, we spend more time getting somewhere than the time we actually spend there, because the walk is just as enjoyable. This ‘breaks’ the common rule that when you drive on a trip somewhere you need to spend at least triple the time there to make the ‘car time’ worth it. Unless, of course, you are a road tripper, and the drive is the destination. But I digress….
One of the first thoughts I had when I learned I was pregnant was that I would have a new excuse to spend hours wandering the city while pushing my baby in the pram — which is a very common way to ‘nap’ your child where we lived at the time. As my children got older I wanted to find a way to nurture a love for wandering, admittedly to serve my own interests, but also because I think there is a lot to learn from wandering. Both learning from the space in which you wander, but also to learning about ourselves. Wandering cultivates a sense of curiosity in and reverence for the mundane, which I think are necessary capacities to develop and nurture, particularly in a fast-paced and over-stimulated world. I could go on and on about all the positive things that wandering teaches us, but I will save some for future posts, since I’ll be posting about our urban adventures over the coming weeks and months. (I need to save some goodies so you’ll come back for more!)
While off with the children for a few weeks during the last two summers, we would alternate days at the pool park, with a picnic to last us the day, and days wandering the city. At first, Ro would ask “when will be there?” She was focused on a particular destination: the river, the bakery, the gallery. But over time, she began to enjoy the walks themselves and became a more keen observer, looking down streets and alleys, finding dirt paths that could be interesting, and taking an interest in leading us toward discovery.
For Sen, being much younger, he still very much lives in the moment, so he enjoyed the wandering and didn’t expect to “get somewhere.” He especially enjoyed our walks when I called them adventures. “What will we discover today, Sen?” I found it really helped, for both children, to give them a few things to look for: a flower they’ve never seen before, a sculpture, a spot for a picnic. It gave them an orientation for the walk and raised their sense of observation. As the summer went on, they no longer needed prompts from me, they would just let loose and see what struck their fancy as they walked along a sidewalk or path. I was very happy to see they had come to love wandering. So much so, that at times I found myself trying to usher them along more quickly, for they wished to stop to greet every snail crossing the sidewalk or count all the different varieties of wild flower on a hill — not to mention the childhood classic: picking up every single stick to bring home. Perhaps I’d gotten a little too much of a good thing going. But seriously, I couldn’t fault the activity of letting children roam, discovering, spending endless hours outdoors, learning the map of their city through the movements of their own body. We have gotten to a point where can be a great distance from home and Ro can always lead us back. And Sen can lead us about half the time. As a parent of urban children, I think it is a great asset for a young child to know how to navigate the city themselves.
All in all, I’m pretty happy that my children enjoy my favourite pastime. But more importantly, I see the great benefits wandering provides them. Chief among these is appreciation for the path as much as the destination, which brings about the potential to reframe everything we do.
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