hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

July 19, 2012

Poor Tom's Almanac: Walking and talking make a good walk

Tom Vartabedian

Nothing stimulates me more than a good walk, especially when my grandchildren hit town.

In the midst of all the chaos and bedlam 5-and-unders can present, I encourage them to leave the house for a walk before they wreck it completely.

I usually take the boys, except when their 3-year-old sister wishes to tag along. "Me, too" she says. I have trouble keeping up with them.

One minute, they're hiding behind trees. The next, they're hop-scotching over rocks along the road. Much as I want to say I'm taking them for a walk, the reverse holds true. They're taking me for THEIR walk.

The same could be said for dog-walkers. People who walk their dog have it all backwards. The dogs wind up walking their owners — or so it seems. If it wasn't for dogs, some people would never go for a walk.

So off we go, the grand kids and I. Water bottles? Check. Sunscreen? Check. Hats? Check. Sneakers tied? Check. Chewing gum? Check. Snacks?

"Hold it a minute," I tell them. "This isn't a marathon. Snacks will be the treat when we return."

I use the walk time constructively. We'll play games along the route, like counting the American flags flying from people's homes. An abandoned soda can along the path introduces us to the problems of littering.

A chipmunk dashes by, followed by a squirrel. Birds chirp. A dog barks. These are the subtle sounds of outdoor life we grow to appreciate during our walk. Better still is the conversation I might entertain with the youngsters.

We'll talk about their T-ball accomplishments, school, play activities, books and movies they have seen. It's dialogue that can only be appreciated during our stroll —moments in time meant to be preserved and recalled.

We were vacationing in Florida and had just finished a hearty meal when my cousin turned to me and said, "Let's go for a walk. It's the best way to work off those calories."

My cousin is a walking maniac. No matter what the hour or how inclement the weather, his day isn't complete without a spin along the beach. It takes every muscle in my body to keep up with him. Other people talk a good game of tennis or golf; he talks a good game of walking and breaks it up by routinely taking 4-mile hikes and turning them into marathons.

I let him set his own brisk pace and settle into mine. Follow the leader.

I see fitness fanatics as a breed unto themselves and resist their commandments: Don't take a car when you can walk. Ignore the elevator. Climb those stairs. Spend your lunch hour pounding those feet against the asphalt. Then go back to work and eat yogurt.

Another time, I went out with an associate just to be polite. We tramped along for a mile while he told me about climbing Mount Washington.

"After a while, it's no different than a walk around the block," he assured me. "Only longer. All you do is extend both legs before you and pace yourself accordingly.''

I'd rather meditate. One of the reasons is that my thought process is no match for my feet. When I'm locked into my own reverie, I'm apt to stumble off a curbstone.

I look at mail carriers and am hard-pressed to find any on the obese side. Back and forth they go, rain or shine, getting their job done effectively.

I'm also big into earphones, which my wife takes personally when the two of us go for a walk. Truth of the matter is, I find Puccini and Bach easier to walk to than a conversation about filing income tax returns or getting the housework done.

Walkers are a friendly breed if you haven't noticed. They'll greet you with a "hello" or a "good morning" as our paths cross. A simple nod of the head is often sufficient.

I do have a couple favorite walks. Marginal Way in Ogunquit, Maine, is a picturesque path along the ocean and the best mile trek this side of anywhere. The cliff walk in Newport, R.I., is a longer stretch of trail, offering views of the ocean and those famous mansions.

Walking the treadmill each morning is a poor substitute to the outdoors, especially if you're next to a chatterbox. But the three to four miles gets my day started on the right foot, especially in foul weather.

Thoughts of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine often entered my mind, but unfortunately age has intervened now. My agenda calls for a lesser distance with far fewer obstacles.

But right now, that's all talk and no walk.

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Photographer and writer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.