I didn’t get to read much of today’s Sunday NYTimes, but I did finish the intriguing essay by Paul Salopek about his Stroll around the world, comparing the walking life with the the automobile culture — “car brain” he calls it.
Salopek’s descriptions of the human interactions and mesmerizing vistas he’s experiencing during his walks made me remember walking on Paama, especially the idyllic stretch of road between Lironessa Village and Tavie Village where I’d grasp Erin’s hand and repeat the refrain of our time in Vanuatu, “We’re Peace Corps Volunteers in the South Pacific.” (I talked about that, along with malaria and acute dystonic reactions and reading the fine print of the medication insert, in my Voices of Medicine story in March 2013.)
I also remembered, fondly, the way our Ni-Vanuatu friends talked with us as they guided us along one of the many footpaths through the forest and up and down the hills and valleys of Paama.
“Where are we going?” I would ask in Bislama.
“Yumi go longwe,” they would answer. We’re going that way.
“Oh, how far is that?”
“Hemia longwe smol nomo, mo hemia no longwe tumas.” It’s only a little far, but not too far.
I think it took a few weeks of that for me to get out of my car brain and realize that our destination was going to be where our destination was, no closer and no further. And so I concentrated on listening to my guides and to observing the hillside gardens, or the different plants and trees along the path — cacao and coconut and mango and pandanus and bamboo and nangai (cannarium nuts) — or the way the South Pacific Ocean spread so far into the distance, or the closer places where battles had been fought or the tabu spots where I should remember not to wander by myself. Even now, as I reminisce about those walks, I can remember the feeling of my body moving on that island, and I feel good.
I’ve been walking more here in North Carolina, too, enjoying the “natural, limbic connections that reach back to the basement of time,” as Salonek writes. I’ve extended my daily walk across the Duke campus and into the Duke Gardens, and taken my children out on the greenway beyond our neighborhood. And one afternoon each week I’ve been meeting a friend to stroll along the country roads for an hour and a half. There’s no expansive blue ocean to gaze upon, but the autumn colors and sunsets have been splendid, and the fresh air and natural pace help me understand that walking is what I’m meant to being doing.