I strolled my neighborhood in unseasonably temperate weather, perfect for a walk — the last few warm hours before a predicted winter storm.
I heard leaf blowers, but never saw them. I saw people raking the brown, drying remnants of autumn, and running them over with mulching mowers. I saw a family taking photos of their toddlers playing in a leaf pile. At one house, a determined man used a front-loading Bobcat to push the masses of leaves from his lawn into one big stack near the edge.
Maybe I should have been have been doing yard work instead of playing tourist to all of the neighbors doing theirs. I still have undone weeding, left over from the summer. On the other hand, the mess of my yard might not be visible under the snow by this time tomorrow.
The bodies of the leaves are gone, but their spirits have not yet crossed over:
A red-tail hawk glided to the ground, not twenty feet from me. I’d never seen the wingspan of one from so close. It wasn’t a swooping prey snatch. The bird stopped and sat, looking intently at the ground, channeling its inner robin.
I stopped in my tracks. Nobody else nearby to startle it. But the slow draw of a phone from my coat pocket was enough to send it flying up to a tree limb. I tracked it and took a photo, but couldn’t zoom in enough to get a sharp image.
So it was memory already, the details no longer available, except what welled in me when I saw those substantial, functional, wings of power spread so near. The feeling remains vivid.
The visual details fade. Here’s what I have:
Photo and words both so inadequate to convey the experience.
Note: Posting a day late, but didn’t change the title.
I walk a fair amount. I usually commute to work on foot. I also walk recreationally. It occurred to me to share what I encountered. I know I’m not winning any awards with my photos. I’m as amateur as they come. But here’s life as I see it.
On today’s walk, carpets of leaves:
My own elongated shadow:
A large deer in someone’s yard. Some kids off-camera called to him, “Here Bucky. Bucky, Bucky.” Until he turned to face them. Then one of them yelled, “Run, before he stabs us with his horns!” Spoiler: there was no horn stabbing.
Look behind the bench.
What you looking at there behind that bench?
I perambulated 1.75 miles, just around the neighborhood.
I’ve wanted a pedometer ever since I discovered such a thing existed. I’ve always been in love with walking. I’m not simply caught up in a current trend. For some reason I want people to know this, to know walking was my medicine for many years before theFitBit was even a glint in the eye of a product designer.
When I was a teenager with no money and no car, living in an often stressful situation, my escape was a stroll to the public library, a little over a mile from my house. The library was a haven, but the walk there was also an essential therapy element for me.
Back in my early adult years, before children, I engaged in a lot of physical activity. I bicycled every day, including a stint where I pedaled to work and back, five miles each way. I hung out with a group of footbag (hacky sack) players and had the luxury to spend a few hours every week kicking. I even competed in tournaments. Oh, the calories I burned. But given my choice of a vacation activity, I’d tend to choose some place with lots of hiking trails. Then, too, I’ve generally been more than willing to walk for transportation given the time to do so.
Once I had kids, opportunities for my own recreational activities became scarcer and exercise something I had to strategize to work into my daily life. Walking was the activity that fit most seamlessly. Put the child in a stroller — oh wait, firstborn screamed when pushed in a stroller. Reconnoiter, buy a baby sling, tuck in the infant, and take off. Much better. When the weather was bad, sometimes I’d go to the shopping mall and experience a reframing of my regard for mall walkers, as I perambulated up and down halls for twenty or thirty minutes. I liked to maintain a self-concept that included the word “tough.” This included a willingness to trek outside through any kind of weather. Mall walking didn’t fit. With the advent of motherhood, my self-concept had to lean more heavily toward adaptable.
A couple of years ago, I finally got a pedometer. And so did everyone else. I had my own personal goals, molded to my life circumstances: kids at home, job, responsibilities for my mom (though I’m happy to do it, it’s often like having a second job), an extremely needy old house. For the first while I could go cheerfully about my walking business with only a vague awareness that others were tracking their steps as well. Then people started talking about their steps. And getting competitive about their steps. And some of them got judgy about other folks’ daily totals, maintaining a haughtiness over how much higher their own test scores pedometer tallies were.
I had this lovely thing, this activity that had helped me cope in my worst times, a cherished prize that served as a beautiful centerpiece for my life and was an integral part of my identity. And everyone was RUINING it. Turning it into a tawdry game of one upsmanship. Also, some of their reported counts seemed a little out there to me. Someone who has a yard no larger than mine somehow would get 25% more steps than I did while mowing. Hmmmm.
I became suspicious about variations in devices. I admit I have a cheap-ass pedometer. It counts only steps and miles, but that’s all I need. If I take a walk around the neighborhood, it gives me a fairly accurate distance. But it doesn’t always pick up the random two or three steps here or there. If I stop at a shelf in the grocery store, for example, and then take four paces down the aisle, where I once again linger making price comparisons, it won’t record any steps. I pretty much have to take ten or more steps before it believes I’ve made enough of a commitment to movement for it to count. Eventually, one of my friends mentioned her FitBit recorded 400 steps for her while she was riding in a car. Ha! Vindication for my theory. It seemed a little like clothing sizes to me. The more expensive the brand, the more favorable the number. Pay them enough dough and they’ll stroke your ego.
I did some research and found this post from someone who had done her own comparison tests of different fitness trackers. The entire thing is worth a read. However, condensed version: The author, Lindsay Ross, wore many different pedometers at the same time and got wildly varying results. One recorded fewer than 9,000 steps for the day, while another gave her more than 16,000 for the same time period.
The money quote for me came in her conclusion:
“But at the end of the day, I don’t think it really matters as long as each individual pedometer is consistent with itself. The entire goal of wearing a pedometer is to get people to MOVE. So as long as the pedometer I choose to wear consistently tracks my movement from day-to-day, and inspires me to move more, it’s doing its job. Whether that pedometer says 8990 steps or 13566 steps, if I MOVE MORE from day-to-day, it’s technically done its job.”
I’m pretty sure this is a metaphor for all of life, somehow. Don’t compare yourself so much with others; you’re not going to get an accurate gage on that anyway. For some people, getting out of bed is more than they did yesterday. It’s progress. Stick to keeping an eye on your own self, your own goals and achievements.
I intend to focus on enjoying the process. While waiting for the next fad to sweep the dilettantes out of my path.
For the past decade or so, I’ve noticed a spate of books and articles in the vein of “The Year of…” fill in the blank. “The Year of Living Biblically.” “The Year of no Internet.” “The Year of Eating Only Locally Grown Foods.” I keep thinking I could write one called “The Year of Doing Nothing Much Special.”
Ah, but 2014 was the year I celebrated my 50th birthday, and I did set myself a goal for the entire twelve months. It wasn’t a hugely transformative change, nothing like learning to make my own clothing from organic cotton and then wearing only things I produced myself, or moving to a cabin in the woods with no electricity or indoor plumbing. My goal was simply walking a minimum amount every day.
I wanted a number that was meaningful in terms of my age milestone. I wanted to make it attainable and not too overwhelming so that I wouldn’t give up and not do anything at all. With two teens at home, managing things for an elderly parent, plus my day job, my life often resembles a frantic game of Whack-a-Mole. Time is a real issue. And money’s an issue. I can’t commit myself to something if it requires a lot of equipment. But I didn’t want to make it too easy. I wanted to have to make some effort and get enough exercise to benefit my health. I settled on 5,050 steps per day minimum. With my stride length, this works out to about 2 1/4 miles.
I’ve been writing down my numbers in a little journal, like Rain Man with his notebooks, each night before I go to bed. Date, steps, miles. I’m not sure why I need the documentation, but I have it.To be honest, I figured I’d have a at least a few off days where I didn’t quite make it. But I was wrong, peeps! I’ve met my minimum goal every single day for 365 in a row – January 1 through December 31.
Many days were easy. If I didn’t have to drive my son to school, I could walk to work. And once there, I’m often on my feet. I work split shifts two days a week, which means two round-trips on those days. If I’m able to walk both times, I can break the 10,000 mark without much extra effort. On days when I didn’t work and the weather was terrible (I’m talking ice storm terrible), I found myself doing things like walking in place as I stirred food on the stove. As my 16-year-old observed, “You can get a lot done if you don’t mind embarrassing yourself.” The biggest challenge came in early April when I had a terrible cold. But I made myself move. I’d get up off the couch every half hour or so and walk circles in my house while heating a tea kettle. Then I’d collapse and remain in a heap for another half hour while sipping tea.
I have an old friend who does nothing by half measures. One of his obsessions is physical fitness. As a friend, he’s 95% wonderful and 5% completely annoying. The 5% reveals itself when it comes to the topic of out-of-shape people. He used to be a little chubby himself, and you know how nobody is so fanatical as a convert. Several weeks ago, he posted a rant on Facebook about people using pedometers and how 10,000 steps a day was nothing as far as exercise. 10,000 steps should be a baseline and you had to do something else in addition to walking, he said. I started to respond with something along the lines of “Come live my life for a few months and then we’ll talk.” But then I realized this kind of thing is the reason there’s a “hide this post” option.
Yeah, 5,050 steps isn’t a huge number. But’s not nothing, either. It’s not even next to nothing; it lives in a different neighborhood. Yeah, my weight hovers on the line between what the current medical charts call the “normal range” for my height and what they call “overweight.” But I had all of my middle-age tests done and got excellent numbers on my report. Cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure – all great. My doctor actually used the word “optimal” and said she wished her numbers were as good as mine. So I figure whatever a bathroom scale has to say falls into the “hide this” category along with my friend’s fitness rant.
It feels good to have stuck with it. I find value in making myself keep going, even when I don’t feel like it, in order to meet a bigger goal. And no matter how little in the mood I am for walking, once I start I always remember that I love it. I love walking. There’s a however coming, though…
However, for 2015, I’m allowing myself an occasional day off. I’m upping my overall minimum steps goal, but measuring it in weekly increments. I plan to count weeks Monday-Sunday. If I have my steps in by Saturday, I can relax for a day. If I’m behind, Sunday is a good day to catch up. My target for the new year is 45,000 steps per week. If I meet it, I will have walked 1,000 miles by the end of the year.