Friday, October 19, 2012

10,000 steps

I don't remember where I heard that ten thousand steps daily is something we need to strive for if we are to get adequate exercise.  Maybe Dr. Oz or somebody similar made the comment during the tag end of some Oprah show back when I was catching ten minutes of Oprah before NBC segued into the 5 p.m. news.  In any case, it stuck in my mind and I've made some half-hearted stabs at it:  bought a pedometer but neglected to make sure I set the a.m./p.m. button right, so it was always clicking off at noon and resetting to zero.  I'd get 3 or 4 thousand steps under my tennies and then back to zero.  I didn't have the resolve to change the setting and stuck the pedo in a drawer till the battery died.

But once I moved to the coast and had plenty of time for lengthy walking, I dug the pedometer out, reset it with a fresh battery, and have been totting up ten thousand and more steps daily.

I'm sure there's a sermon in there somewhere, with analogies galore about multiple steps in multiple processes to multiple solutions and resolutions.  But I'm not looking for sermon fodder right now.  Instead, I've been thinking about geography as I step off those miles in 2.5 foot strides.  And, in case you're wondering, 10,000 steps times 2.5 divided by 5280 is almost 5 miles, 4.734 miles to be more precise.

Geography and its attendant natural features have shaped my life; it may have shaped yours too, if you lived in places marked by hills and valleys, tiny ditches and broad fields.  My life stories all seem to include some geographic attribute, some characteristic supplied by nature, not human-made.

Some of these stories are worth noting, I think.  I can see traces of those shapings in my daily life right now.  I recall walking with my mother down steep Steele street between SE 39th and 37th and noticing a rivulet of rainwater trickling down the gutter.  It was rainbow-stained with oil, working its way around the gravel and leaves in its downward path.  I have a memory of moving little sticks and pine needles into its path to see what would happen.  My mother let me experiment without hurrying me on.  And even today I find myself watching currents, seeing how they eddy-up at bends in the stream, how logs and debris in the path divert or dam up the flow.  Currents, from tiny rivulets to irrigation ditches, to huge rivers like the Colorado and the Columbia, and now to peaceful Neacoxie creek out my back door, are, to some extent, predictable.  Currents in my life give shape as well, as they encounter blockages, downward and upward slopes, and wear away the excesses I've accumulated.

As I walk my daily three mile loop through town and out through the dunes to the beach, I notice differences in sand.  The dry summer produced soft, squeaky sand that is hard to trudge through with long strides; I'd head for the shoreline closest to the water, where the sand was hard and damp, easier to walk on.  But inevitably I'd have to slog upslope through soft sand that shifted underfoot, causing my steps to slide back slightly and making the whole beach walk less pleasant and more tiring.  I hated that part of the walk but was resigned to it because the rest of the walk was wonderful----until I discovered something.

In Outward Bound, decades ago, we learned something called the "rest step", which made going up steep slopes much easier.  It was simply pausing infinitesimally with all the weight on the lead foot while the following foot "rested" briefly.  Trying this on the soft sand dunes, I discovered that small steps accomplished the same thing, that my foot didn't slide around when I kept all my weight on it.  (I think this is better understood kinesthetically, rather than by reading about it.)  Hills, no matter what they're made of, are more manageable when approached mindfully, whether you're going up or down.
Other geographic features that have shaped me:  volcanoes sticking straight up out of the land; creeks disappearing into impenetrable forest; loud, big ocean waves; tidepools with unimaginable life; deep, rocky canyons; waterfalls descending from mysterious sources; timberline paths; pathless forests.

I find that I am more and more shaped by the land I have inhabited and which I walk daily.  Ten thousand steps on crumpled pavement, on wet sand, on needle-covered sidewalks, on forest trails, and on the surfaces of my home.

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