Walking slowly

Create to Connect

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In the past, I could be described as uptight and overbearing. Every minute of the day was scheduled away, and I consistently overworked myself.

However, in the last five years, I’ve been reorienting myself toward leisure and rest. A slowed-down pace of living has taught me to savor life and notice its everyday beauty.

A friend’s mother once offered me advice: Stop walking around frantically so much, but walk up and down the steps more. This was about how I spread myself thinly across many activities and didn’t value depth in experience.

It’s not about doing more but experiencing more through less. 

Outside of creative activities, I am a huge outdoor enthusiast, opting to spend as much of my free time outside as possible. My favorite activity is backpacking, which can take you off trail to pristine wilderness little visited. 

Like I previously thought the marker of success of reading was in the number of books read, I thought backpacking was about accumulating mileage and climbing ever-higher peaks.

On a summer backpacking trip in 2019 to Grouse Ridge, my crew and I walked only 2 to 4 miles a day, ending with a 10-mile journey at the end of our multi-day trip. 

While many of the detours and rest breaks were facilitated by small workshops on wilderness skills, I learned that a slow trip can feel just as meaningful and rewarding. It’s not always about going faster. Slowing down meant I heard the swaying grass, noticed the colorful beetle and had ample breath to converse with my crew.

Since backpacking is a logistically tedious activity, I can’t do it as often as I want. Instead, I opt to walk. Walking gets you places and allows you to take detours whenever you want.

I live in North Berkeley, a beautiful and tranquil neighborhood. Hidden in between the hilly homes are public pathways, lush walkaways that offer a retreat from harried life.

Before Berkeley neighborhoods were divided into lots, paths were created for pedestrians, linking residents to parks and schools and serving as shortcuts to streetcars. Now, there is a network of more than 120 paths in Berkeley for residents to enjoy.

Walking around North Berkeley, you find yourself surprised over and over again. A few fairy houses lurk by tree hollows with delicately crafted furniture. Additionally, we’re blessed with an incredible network of little free libraries: neighborhood book-sharing cabinets, which allow for fun book crawls. Other things that keep my walks interesting include the abundance of parks and the feeling of conquering hilly terrain. 

One of my favorite walks to take is to visit the Berkeley Rose Garden during sunset. It’s a short, 20-minute uphill walk from my house and is always rewarding. As I slowly ascend in elevation, I catch glimpses of the glimmering oceans through house patios, along with a faint Golden Gate Bridge in the background.

Near the Rose Garden, I look at the sunset in the reflection of a window and remark at how nice it would be to have a treehouse to sit in.

I find myself ending my climb on a favorite bench nestled at the Rose Garden viewpoint. I lay back, slightly cradled by a bush, and listen to my surroundings. Couples enjoy cheeseboard pizza; families lie around; occasionally, someone plays the tongue drum. 

My inspiration for my creative projects comes from being an engaged observer of life and using everyday observations as my source material. Sitting around, I come up with new ideas for short stories, paintings or comics.

I sit back and watch the sun disappear behind a cluster of clouds. Watching sunsets is exhilarating as the sun paints the sky with different colors each day.

On the way back, I’m rewarded with a crystal clear view of the Campanile. I think about how much I love the campus and its architecture. Walking really is an activity that enchants all my senses: sights, scent, touch, sounds.

Once, on a walk back from the farmers market, I met a “fruit hunter.” They are on a mission to document all of the different varieties of fruits in the neighborhood. I excitedly provide intel about the figs I came across and the grapes dangling near my neighboring apartments. Walking brings me closer to my community as we remark about the small things in life that delight us. 

During the pandemic, my favorite activity has been calling a friend and going on a walk. I realized that there’s sufficient intimacy in vocal conversations, and video often wasn’t necessary.

I love walking and looking at the variety of landscapes in neighborhoods. From manicured lawns to slightly rogue gardens, the flowers pepper my view with joy. I’m amazed by snowbells that look like dainty lamps or enjoy inhaling the fragrant star jasmine. Even the blossoming yellow wood sorrel, which took over gardens as a weed, was especially striking under the sun.

Walking not only gets you to beautiful destinations but is an activity that’s enjoyable during the process. Through taking walks, I give my mind space to rest, wander, meander, frolic and observe the abundant landscapes of my neighborhood. Walking facilitates discovery and satiates my curiosity for life.  The best ideas for my creative pursuits have often come to me spur-of-the-moment midwalk.

Now that I’m done writing this column, I’m going to go on another walk. 

Shuge Luo writes the Wednesday column on creativity and belonging. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.