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A Case for Strolling
John G. Witherspoon
February 23, 1959
A doctor's orders leads to a thoughtful panegyric of the healthful pleasure of walking
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February 23, 1959

A Case For Strolling

A doctor's orders leads to a thoughtful panegyric of the healthful pleasure of walking

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Not long ago my grandson and I shared a stimulating experience: we both learned to walk. For young Tad those first few tottering steps were a cause of wonder and excitement; a big sensational world in reach to be probed, savored and thoroughly tested for shape, size, texture, color—every possible dimension. Together we explored city and country, and Tad's increasing stature has been matched by my returning vigor. But more than that, for me the walks meant a rediscovery that legs can do more than move a body within a circumscribed orbit whose outer perimeters are the dining room table, the front seat of the family car and the sliding door to the office elevator.

"The cardiograph is encouraging," my physician smiled at me. "Learn to live with your heart condition and you should enjoy a long and normal life. But I want you to develop the habit of resting after lunch and walking in the fresh air every day."

"Me walk?" I doubt that he even heard me.

"A quiet stroll around the block to begin with; then increase it a bit. I'd like to see you walking three or four miles a day before long."

It wasn't easy the first day to put shoulders back and resolutely stride past the door of my garage, but a commotion in a stand of trees caught my attention and held it.

Small, frenzied red-topped birds were flinging themselves in all directions. The cause of their alarm was a terrifying feather bomb equipped with beak, claws and unswerving purpose. The olive-colored missile selected his quarry precisely. Deftly he skimmed the base of a snowdrift and flew up and away with his wriggling victim—not one of the red-topped birds but a hapless field mouse.

This sharp drama within a stone's throw of my front lawn! Have the birds always been neighbors of mine? Have I been shut away from them by that wheeled and motored cage of metal and glass that now stands in my garage? Perhaps, after all, these daily walks will be fun.

Now that I have been walking for several months the word fun seems inadequate. I am rediscovering the joy experienced many years ago when my father took me on long hikes by the seashore and up the mountains that fringed the lovely city of my childhood. I can recall one evening when my father and I sat on a log near the top of our favorite mountain watching the street lights turn on in the city below. "Son," he said, "to have been born into this great part of the country, you had to be just plain lucky! Do you know that for every 5 million little boys arriving in the world, only one is born here?" Father loved every facet of his mountain-girt seaport and as we walked together taught me to take delight in all we encountered.


Before my sixth birthday I knew every wharf in our harbor and had a lively knowledge of the ships that made our city a port of call. Great white liners embarking for China and Japan, fussy, shrill-voiced ferry boats shuttling across the bay, busy red-funneled coastal steamers arriving with men from the lumber camps, odorous packers bumping and grinding into the fish docks, trim yachts, the property of wealthy timber operators, approaching their moorings with grace and precision. I knew the seaport smells of fish, kelp, salt spray, and occasionally the aroma of hot coffee rising from a ship's galley.

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