By Peter Burns
Local Motion is an advocacy organization for cyclists, but also supports pedestrians. I am passionate about bike riding, and also about walking. This month I will write about walking, and in November I will return to bike riding. I will continue this pattern for the foreseeable future.
Walking is so central to our existence it is often overlooked. Along with lying down, sitting and standing, it is one of our primary ways of being in the world. Unless we have a disability that makes walking difficult or impossible we don’t think about walking much. Like learning to talk or read, learning to walk is an important milestone in our lives. If we are lucky, the adults in our lives celebrate our first steps. Walking is the beginning of independence. As long as we can walk, we can move around the world.
When I was a child, my family did not own a car. We relied on busses and walking. It was just assumed that I would walk to school and back every day. We did not have a school bus for our elementary school. In my memory, I can still trace my route to school. I left my house, crossed Winchester Street and climbed up a
little hill past a crabapple tree. When I was in the first grade, I stopped at that tree and on the ground, I often found an old, smooth piece of green or blue glass. The glass was from the company store that used to be next to the crabapple tree. I picked up the glass and put it in my pocket, for good luck. I proceeded along the edge of an abandoned sandpit, then through a little woods and across the wide schoolyard to Veazie Street School. The walk took about 20 minutes. Walking enabled me to engage with the particularities of the place where I lived. If I had been driven to school, that would not have been possible.
My family was unusual because we actually took walks together. We went to parks and sometimes all the way into downtown Providence. Often, King, our neighborhood dog, went with us. King wandered around every day, investigating his territory and in that he was like a child. I never consciously took ‘walks’ by myself or with friends. We just walked to get from point A to point B. As a result, we had a very intimate relationship with the neighborhood. 50 years later I can tell you where we dug our underground fort, where I set a brush fire and where we picked blackberries. I don’t want to romanticize my childhood. We were free-range kids, as were most children of my generation, and we were pretty good at keeping ourselves entertained, but we also spent a lot of time being very bored. I think I have a certain resilience because of all the time I spent outside. It was a rough and tumble time. Now many children spend an inordinate amount of time traveling from one activity to another in a vehicle. Living in Winooski it heartens me to see so many kids still walking to school and walking around town. This is especially true of our new Americans.
About the author:
Peter Burns is a long-time bike enthusiast, and one of the original year-round bike riders in Burlington. He writes amazing monthly blogs and teaches a variety of Everyday Biking workshops. In addition to his work at Local Motion, he also works at a group home for people with Psychiatric disabilities, teaches classes for the Vermont Humanities Council, teaches swimming at the Burlington YMCA, and is a regular host of Storytelling VT.