A Walker’s Manifesto

This week, I’ve received a better taste of what city life will be like. I realize that when you nominate cities epitomizing the images of what enters your brain upon  hearing the phrase “city life,” Murray, Kentucky probably isn’t a heavy contender. It would probably be a very average county seat town if not for Murray State. Still, when you live outside the city limits of an unincorporated town of around 300 people, a move to Murray is, at least for a time, like shipping off to Chicago, San Francisco, or Rome just in the shock of all the social options available. I’m sure there will be “big city,” things I will long for soon enough that the “sort of decent sized city,” things that Murray offers won’t compare to. But, for now, we bumpkins are amazed by the lights and stores and picture shows.

Though I have lived the majority of my life in rural areas, surrounded by woods, I consider myself half city boy and half country boy. It creates this paradox within me where I’m generally happy wherever I’m at, but where there’s also this longing below the surface for something else. When I’m rural for too long, I get antsy for the architecture, museums, restaurant selection, and social functions that the city offers. When I’m overly urban, I long for wilderness, untamed rivers, wildlife, and the smell of something other than garbage, cooking meat, and carbon monoxide. The last 12 years of country life have primed me for some city dwelling.

I am now within walking distance of more restaurants than the entire amount we would consider driving to in Camden. Towards the end of the week, while Allyson had a girl’s night, I walked down the street to the Burrito Shack and had a grilled veggie quesadilla, while I read The Decameron. After dinner, I walked to campus and watched the movie Hugo for free at Murray State’s Cinema Internationale. Each week they pick a foreign, art house, or auteur type movie and show it free to anyone who wants to watch. I’ve dropped several movies off my Netflix queue, because I’ll get to see them on the big screen this Spring, no cost. And, it would honestly take me longer to drive and park to get there than to walk. So many cool things are in my reach these days.

As part of this time here, I’m making it a priority to walk the city and get to know it. This is partly very practical, because I need to know how to get places better. But, I’m also seeing this as a time of great leisure. When Allyson and I went to Italy, we noticed many more people out walking around each evening. This is a custom in these beautiful towns. You and your significant other or group of friends just go out and mosey. It may be the town square, it may be a row of businesses, or any other place you’d like to walk. But, you get out and see the sites. You watch people, you talk. Even if you’ve known the city for 50 years, there are still things to see and notice. We really admire this lifestyle, so we are hoping to make some version of it happen here in Murray. We try at least several days a week to take a stroll somewhere around town. I’ve found that we have great conversations on these walks. We see a lot of people and places. We ask each other questions about what the other thinks that certain person is thinking or what that person does for a living. We point out houses to each other that we think are particularly charming. Every now and then, we let Digby chase squirrels. I’m sure this time will only become more enjoyable when the weather warms and more people are outdoors.

There’s just something about walking that changes the way you see your surroundings. When you drive, you are very singularly focused on your destination. If you notice something, it is generally something you don’t want to run over or something you need to remember to get the directions right. You are much more focused on keeping the car from flipping (and rightly so) and the radio or gps or temperature control or the person in the car. When I get out of a car and begin to walk a distance that’s farther than just from parking lot to front door, I become engaged in every piece of the trip. I notice places I had never noticed before. I hear the birds sing. I see all the components of the city working all around me. Cars drive by, lights change, people outside and inside. So much is happening. I can look at buildings much longer and really know the terrain I’m walking. I feel so much more in touch with place.

In the middle of the week, I went for a run. I ran to a walking track, and ran past a cornfield and greenhouse. I ran past a few churches, campus housing, and over the walkways of several campus buildings. I ran to Lowes and Wal-Mart, where I picked up hanging hooks, borax, and baking soda. I walked back, taking the main drag (12th Street). I turned on the Poetry Magazine monthly podcast and listened to the poems from this month’s issue as I passed the University’s football field. I walked past fast food places and local businesses. There were banks and gas stations and locally owned boutique stores. I walked down Poplar Street, passing little cottages, all while hearing discussions of contemporary poetry.

I know, this is incredibly nerdy, and it probably doesn’t sound like very many people’s idea of a night well spent. But, when I turned the corner to 15th Street and returned to our little house, I felt, “man, I’m really living. This has been a good night.” So, however you need to jazz it up for yourself, I challenge you to get out there and explore a little. No matter how boring you think your town or city is, get out there and take a walk someday and see if you see it any differently. Don’t worry about how long it will take or what else you could be doing. Just see where your feet will take you. I’m happy to be following mine.

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