“Nothing’s gonna touch you in these golden years.”
I was in high school when David Bowie’s song “Golden Years” hit the airwaves. He was too young, I was too young, so I didn’t really think of the ‘golden years‘ as retirement time. To me, he was singing about a time in life when everything was just right. Therefore, my golden years are very much influenced by my “golden age”.
My golden age will always be somewhere around two years old because that is my first memory of walking outdoors.
Throughout my life, I have consistently walked. I learned from a young age, the world was always open to walking. For entertainment, exploration, escape, knowledge, beauty, or truth, there was at all times some sort of path to discovery. Unearthing the earth outside of books, I came to the realization I was just a tiny speck in a blink of time on this grand old planet.
Walking has always given me great independence and freedom, no matter what age I was. Through my walks, I’ve developed an aesthetic appreciation for my sight, simply because no camera could possibly capture all the beauty I’ve seen with my eyes or reproduce all of the emotion it’s evoked in my being. Walking has inspired me to read books about the history of places and people, while encouraging me to write and share my experiences. I can depend on walking to take care of my body, while it deepens my soul.
The first time I walked outside my house, I was a two year old living on Lexington street in Chicago. Someone once told me they had to keep the doors locked afterwards, because I always wanted to go outside. My Mom said I loved to walk up and down the block waving to the neighbors sitting on their porch stoops.
By the time I was four, we moved to the middle class “Town of Cicero,” Illinois (just to the south and west of Chicago). This is where I grew up and I walked everywhere. It seemed so much safer back then. My Grandmother walked, my Aunt walked and I walked… 5 miles to the Cermak Plaza (and back) to shop on a Saturday, just to see if I could. I did it more than once. I walked to my friend’s houses and to McDonalds, to school and back, to my Grandmother’s house for a visit, never once thinking about asking someone for a ride. You just didn’t. Each family was lucky if they had one car, that’s right, one car.
I had no car in college and neither did my friends. We walked everywhere – on campus, off campus to parties, to town, to bars. Our world was out in the middle of cornfields, and sometimes we walked through those. It’s just what we did.
Then I started my teaching career, got a car and I didn’t need to walk so much, but somewhere in all of my activities and sports I fell in love with hiking.
So I hiked. Yearly vacations to glaciers in Alaska and mountains in Colorado, I hiked trails around the forest preserves and nature paths in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Summer trips to Yellowstone, the Badlands, the Grand Canyon, Muir woods and other national parks in the US, kept me on trails so beautiful I wanted to cry.
Walking through canyons, deserts and mesas in Arizona, New Mexico and the Southwest gave me an new found appreciation for the spirituality of living. Along the beaches and coasts of Florida, Boston, California, Ireland, Alaska and Lake Michigan I felt the infinite presence of something greater than myself. Getting myself on top of mountains in the Rockies, Tetons and British Columbia made me think about God. Walking helped me create a different kind of religion for myself. My church – the outdoors, my god – nature. My one true commandment – tread lightly.
And I’m not done yet. Like forest Gump ran and ran and ran, I’m gonna walk and hike until the one day I stop.
Since retiring from teaching in September of 2013, I’ve walked 500 something miles in and around my Chicago neighborhood. My dream is to continue to find more places to hike and walk and write about how they affect my life. I want to see this Earth as if it is a new planet and I am seeing it for the first time – with my two year old eyes.
I consider walking a gift, a reverie, a time capsule I escape to. My imagination soars when I walk. My mind finds an ageless peace. I never know how old I am when I am walking.
“Nothing’s gonna touch me…” and I am two, until the walk is over.