Zeno’s Travelogue (Part 2)

(Continued from Zeno’s Travelogue – Part 1)

Deliberate walking has, arguably, been around since long before genus homo diverged from its more simian predecessors. Such activity is also not peculiar to primates. Consider the recreational inquisitiveness of a housecat allowed to freely wander the neighborhood or a pet pooch that, claiming the same rights as its feline brethren, rushes through a cracked door. Be it to feed mind, body, or spirit, when mobility and curiosity meet, a-hunting we all will go.

Likewise, deliberate walking takes on many forms. Hiking is the most obvious and probably the most common, with the Appalachian Trail alone attracting 3 to 4 million hikers per year. Pilgrimages, another common form, often have more than their holy destinations in mind, especially when the path taken was first worn by the feet of the saint-in-question. Yet, one need not have so high-minded a reason for traveling by foot. Nor is it necessary to wend ones way through uncommon terrain or streets. With the right mindset, a walk to the corner grocer or the post-office or even just up the block to a friend’s house can be an adventure in discovery.

Modes of observation also have much to do with the qualities of the particular mode of travel and there is a distinct difference between being a passive passenger and a driver. But unless someone has slipped you a Mickey, you are usually the captain of your ship when walking. Likewise, stopping or changing direction while on foot is simple and second-nature compared to the complicated series of actions one must go through to do the same in any sort of vehicle. Then there is the proliferation of traffic signs and markers – not to mention all the other vehicles around you – that lend toward a sort of hyperawareness. Failures of observation can be deadly, with reaction time and control decreasing in proportion to speed. Because of this, the faster you go, the more you information you must filter out. Thus, you may be hyperaware, but only of what is important for safety and direction. All else becomes background in a haze of hyper self-consciousness.

This is not to say that walking does not require observation of this sort, only that it is so slow and comfortable a form of travel that one can be fairly oblivious and still fairly safe. For instance, the walker is likely to realize they are approaching a bad part of town and to react before they even reach it. While driving, however, you may be several blocks in before you decide it would be prudent to turn around and find another route. On a side note, the term “bad part of town” seems odd to me. Considering most crime arises from material and educational poverty, the “bad part of town” ought to be considered the place where wealth is horded and privilege is considered the only answer to need. Hyper self-consciousness tends to accompany upward mobility as well. But back to the topic.

In deliberate walking, one strives toward a hyperawareness of the surroundings and, in doing so, becomes even more conscious of safety. The color and context of the sidewalk becomes as apparent as the height of the crack that might trip you. Every intersection is rendered dangerous, but it is also rendered beautiful by the detail of a building raised when your grandparents were children, the frail vines gripping the plastered legs of the bus-stop bench, the scarlet flash of “Do Not Walk” as you rush to the sanctuary beyond the crosswalk. The location and glare of the sun guide your eyes to the shady side of the street and you are tied the time of the day in a way wholly different to the traffic rushing by not five feet from where you stroll. You can stop to observe the wash of nocturnal birds spewing from an old smokestack, on their way to the insect laden air above the city park, or pause beside an overgrown field and wonder at the name of whatever wildflower is transmitting that distinct smell of cinnamon. You can slow or stop, like Zeno’s Arrow on its paradoxical journey through infinite moments and places, and get the subtle inkling that you truly are part of a world that is effectively limitless in every dimension and quality. All around you are fantastical tales ready to be imparted to your every sense, if you will only open to the telling. And if you plan accordingly, you can do all this and still make it to the church on time.

Walking home the other night, I thought long and hard about this idea, weighing the arguments, considering the directions my discussion of it might take. In doing so, I did not follow my own advice and was scared out of my thoughts (And my boots!) by a schnauzer digging amid the flowers atop the low wall at my side. He snuffed a warning at me and I jumped in answer. Adrenaline became my companion for the rest of my journey, which has its own power to arouse the senses. Thanks to that little moustached dog, my awareness remained long enough to spot the praying mantis perched on the curb several blocks ahead. When I noticed it, the mantis seemed to be contemplating the row of shrubbery lining the parking lot of an adjacent office center. I stopped and knelt to get a look at the fine specimen, its brilliant green rendered gray in the failing light of the distant streetlamps. I made a half-circle around it and its head followed me in response.

There are few insects that give the sense of cognition ­– of some divine presence of subjective being – that you get from a mantis; there was hyperawareness in its bulbous eyes. I rose and continued on my way, wondering for a few paces just what deliberation there had been in the walk or flight that brought the creature to that place and time. Smiling, I went back to observing my surroundings. I suppose the mantis did the same.


About Buck O'Roon

Buck O'Roon [buhk oh-roon] –noun 1. a southerner of skeptical stripe, recognizable by his deeply furrowed brow and increasing lack of patience for institutionalized horse manure 2. curmudgeon-in-training
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