Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Art of Wandering

Throughout my decades of teaching school, I always had Monday off. In my early years, I used that time to wander about San Francisco, randomly exploring neighborhoods with a book of poetry stuffed in my pocket or my journal. I just walked, without purpose, simply enjoying the new sights and sounds and feels of the neighborhood, occasionally noticing potential future dream houses, nodding at passerbys, feeling the weather. To paraphrase John Jacob Niles hymn, “I wondered as I wandered.” (But unlike those lyrics, I wasn’t wondering why Jesus Christ died for my sins. I never asked him to and if that was his choice, so be it, but that doesn’t make me indebted.) I was immersed in the wonder of being alive and had the good sense to enjoy it doing nothing in particular while moving the body.


Over the years, those Mondays became reflective times to write about my craft on a typewriter, then word processor, then all the incarnations of computers. Articles that I wrote just to collect my thoughts, some of them eventually published, many not. Still after a morning of such things, I’d often take off in the afternoons. But now there seemed more purpose to my scheduled day, lists to check off, errands to run. The old sense of “nowhere to go, and nothing to do” was beginning to fade.


And so, after an online poetry seminar in which the poet suggested going for a walk without your phone, I revived the old art of wandering without purpose. (I do take my phone these days and very occasionally, stop and check messages and such, but am happy to report I am not too enslaved by it yet). I do think my years of travel like this, walks just to walk and explore, hitchhiking here or there, helped strengthen my sense of serendipity, of unseen hands helping interesting things to happen, of the kindness—or at least interesting qualities—of strangers. 


And so on this day, I took off over hill and dale—literally, as the walk included Twin Peaks and Noe Valley— and sure enough, the world responded. It began a block from my house where I discovered a phone booth filled with free books and came upon the treasure of a thick hardcover that I had been curious about, but didn’t want to buy—Jazz, by Ted Giao. With my upcoming Jazz History course, this would be perfect! And alongside it another about the path of the blues from Timbuktu to the Mississippi Delta. And a collection of poems with themes of mindfulness and joy. A promising start! 


On to a hill overlooking the smoky city and a tiny playground on Seward St. where I used to take visitors to see the cool slide. Hadn’t been there in decades and happy to see the slide is still there. Headed toward Douglass Playground, another little park I hadn’t visited in years and began to work on a poem in my head. Grabbed something to write on as I passed a store and sat in the playground to set it down. Also ideas for two blogposts. 


Up from there to Twin Peaks and down to Sutro Forest, where I found a blackberry bush with a perfect, small, ripe blackberry. Did I mention that this was the 100 degree day in San Francisco? So that explosion of purple juice from the single berry felt like a gift from the gods. Down I went to the bricked street of Edgewood Terrace and who should I run into but two students of mine from the SF School? A warm, brief chat and then the final descent to my home, stopping back at the phone booth to pick up my books.


When I arrived at my house, the garage door was open and there were my neighbors sitting around a table they set up in the garage having lunch with another neighbor. It was too hot to be in the back yard and so they improvised this solution. Fun!


Well, that was an interesting walk! With no distractions from my phone, the world offered me books, berries, blogs, old haunts, new poems, chance encounters. Do I recommend wondering and wandering as a practice? 


I do.


PS Okay, I confess. I actually did have my phone with me, but didn’t use it or look at it. Honest! Until the end, where I looked at the little heart ap and discovered I had walked 9.2 miles, taken 20, 257 steps and walked up the equivalent of 48 floors. But hey, who’s counting? 



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