Let's hear it for walking. Not with a teardrop nylon day-tripper pouch along the Appalachian Trail. Not race walking.
Just plain walking, the kind that takes you around the block.
Runners have hogged all the publicity for too long. We've had to rejoice with them over their highs and sympathize with their shin splints. We've been swamped with their accoutrements. Runners can get jogging bras, bitsy Velcro coin purses to stick to their shoe laces, pace meters, and shoes costly enough to merit paying 18 percent or more interest.
Walkers and their gentle sport are something else. There are some walkers who are health addicts. They wax glowingly of walks always preceded by "brisk," as if this were the only kind worth doing. They speak in terms of multiple miles, with anything shorter unfit for mention.
But these are minority walkers. Most of us, I observe, are more likely to amble than walk briskly, especially on the upgrade. We get along on a minimum of effort, fanfare and paraphernalia.
Outfits are the same as those worn to watch the evening news. Any pair of humble, comfortable shoes is adequate. In my own case, old-style sneakers (still available through a Sears catalogue for about $9) are the ticket for our nightly 3/4 of a mile around the block. My husband's preference is a pair of worn-over moccasin-type shoes, origin forgotten.
We have made one concession to equipment since our nightly regimen started in June. We carry walking sticks.
Unfortunate as it is, there are those uninformed about walking sticks. One is a neighbor who had the temerity to shout, "What's with the canes?" Canes, my arch. Canes are necessary and valuable for disabilities, but they are in a different world from walking sticks. Thus far, at least, in my book.
Walking sticks add panache to an otherwise pedestrian experience. Quite obviously, someone with a walking stick is a serious walker, not just someone on the way to the mailbox. His/her spirit is lifting -- though possibly not soaring -- and the accompanying cardiovascular system is softly jogging if perhaps not racing. At any rate, it's better than sitting in a chair.
At one time we owned three prize walking sticks inherited from a stylish grandfather. One was black with a gold head, slender and elegant. Another was a substantial blackthorn stick, probably from Ireland. The third was of handsomely carved wood, encircled by a snake that had its tail caught by an armadillo.
Regrettably, we were not doing the block at the time we had those sticks. All were lifted during our last move East and it was several months before we missed them.
The filched walking sticks were remnants of a tradition that probably goes back to homo erectus. You can bet that he had some kind of a stick -- a custom cudgel maybe -- in his hand when he got upright to look over the tall grass around him.
Shepherds of biblical days had their staffs to comfort them. Voltaire kept 80 walking sticks, and Louis XIV steadied himself -- as he teetered on high heels -- with a walking stick. Napoleon had a music box attached to a walking stick.
My husband's and my sticks, though lacking a romantic past, have some character of their own. His, of unfinished white mulberry wood, was the gift of an old, angled Japanese woman who used a similar one to go from her house to the nearby rural factory where her family hand-made "rice" paper from the macerated bark of the mulberry.
My stick is an antique, with two slight curves and nubs where thorns or prickers grew. The best prevailing theory is that it is a length of blackthorn despite its tawny color.
Sticks in hand, our small dog leashed, we take our nightly excursion. The street is where we must walk. Our neighborhood was built over 20 years ago, a time when sidewalks were sidestepped by county planners.
The nearest thing to excitement is an oncoming car approaching the bend too fast. We are forced to draw ourselves to safety behind a car parked at curbside. We lean on our sticks until the rushing car has passed.
As we start walking again, our sticks help establish a rhythm as they touch down every few steps. When conversation lags, we go back to studying our surroundings.
We note the little things, like parking stickers on the cars. With yearbook enthusiasm, we have rated landmarks along the route -- most kempt yard, clearest TV from our somewhat telescopic view, rustiest car, greatest trim colors, most striking wall hanging. We are alert to new roofs and decks, the appearance and disappearance of "For Sale" and "For Rent" signs.
A meeting with an acquaintance or other walkers is an excuse to stop momentarily. Our sticks support us as we pass a few words.
Our ritual constitutional has become a habit, even during a drizzle. We will see when the winds of winter whistle and cold begins to bite if even a good habit is hard to break.