Tag Archives: holidays

Warm Walking Months

May 30, 2014

It’s summer already, at least by some definitions. The solstice is a few weeks out yet, but in between Memorial Day and Labor Day, things get lazy, time slows. It’s happening. Hot days and cool nights, the sound of crickets volleying outside the windowscreens, luring us out for a night walk, a morning walk, even a scorching midday walk that reminds the skin what a tan is.

By less apparent measures, we’re now in between the two National Walking Months, as the UK’s version taking place in May wraps up. This will hopefully leave us with several good walking months instead of a quick retreat to the air conditioning as June barges in, melting the ice cubes in our water bottles. The US isn’t due for a National Walking Month until October, a kind of pleasingly improbable time to hold such an event.

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To start off the month, the BBC ran an article charmingly titled “The Slow Death of Purposeless Walking.” Seeing as this is hardly news, one might suppose it dies slowly every year around this time, or at least molts. Leaving alone the usual bevy of sad statistics, the writer instead turns to favorite literary greats whose cultural fortunes may have been made on walking. Dickens, Thoreau, Woolf, Wordsworth; name-dropping Nietzsche and Nabokov.

“But you don’t have to be an author to see the value of walking,” he wrote. “A particular kind of walking. Not the distance between porch and corner shop. But a more aimless pursuit.” Regular walking isn’t good enough? Next they’ll be telling us we have to go forest bathe or something. The article itself seemed to lose aim at this point, and seemingly not looking where it was going, veered into a tangent on walking while texting. The writer consulted veteran walking spokespeople Rebecca Solnit and Geoff Nicholson for their advice on paying attention while moving around, leaving the reader with a handful of rules:

Boil down the books on walking and you’re left with some key tips:

Walk further and with no fixed route
Stop texting and mapping
Don’t soundtrack your walks
Go alone
Find walkable places
Walk mindfully

Go alone? Well, sometimes, but depending on where you live in Detroit, don’t test this one out too extensively at home. Advice better suited for the UK’s lovely coastal and cross-country trail systems. As one British walker and blogger snarked, “Don’t laugh. Oh OK, laugh. What is this ‘walk mindfully’ shit? New age Gladwellian self-improvement crap, I’d bet.” He continued, “Best thing about walking is anyone can do it, at any time, in any place, and find things they never expected even where they live. It doesn’t need ‘selling’ in that way. It doesn’t desperately need an ‘angle’.” What if it does? If people were getting around on foot enough, advocacy organizations wouldn’t be hosting walking months, and I wouldn’t be writing this.

How will the US’s committee for walking month brand their special formulation of foot-body coordination this fall? We can hope it might be without excoriating the “daftest temptation” of lunching “al desko” (as opposed to al fresco — but isn’t walking while you eat the antithesis of doing either action mindfully?). Same goes for the FEZ, or “food exclusion zones,” where one must walk outside a certain area before being rewarded with the ability to purchase some lunch. (Incidentally, Living Streets uses “muffins burned” as a metric for walking success, having torched 10,151 of them during Walk to Work Week alone, about 5.5 million calories worth; this is the number of muffins above basal metabolic rate that it takes to power a human 2.27 times around the Equator). The FEZ is a great idea to encourage exploration, but perhaps Americans fare better with less dogmatic advice. Just being told to walk more, however you want to do it, is more than enough for some people.

Living Streets, the group that puts together the UK’s National Walking Month, has a couple of tip sheets (pdf), which include American favorites such as power walking, counting calories, and saving money — but also learning the history of buildings and names of trees along your route, carrying an “emergency” picnic blanket, extinguishing negative thoughts, and having your “jotter at the ready” in case you encounter any especially creative thoughts.

So, however you decide to regard these appeals to movement, happy warm walking months. In addition to the British-bequeathed literary celebration Bloomsday on the 16th, June is full of pedestrian affairs. It’s Great Outdoors Month, with National Trails Day on the 7th, and National Get Outdoors Day brought to you by Off! brand inspect repellent on the 14th. If by then you’re too tired by all the outdoor and hopefully ambulatory fun to make it back into your house, the month ends with a Disney-sponsored Great American Backyard Campout on the 28th, which you can do mindfully if you like, but perhaps best not alone.

Have any tips for thriving over these kinds of holidays? Making your walk whatever you need it to be seems soundest, from a jubiliant game of thing-finding to a funeral procession. The British might also tell you to make sure to take along plenty of sun cream.

Walking — it’s for the birds!

March 4, 2014

When the tide of conventional holidays slogging by fails to inspire, or when they’ve passed unacknowledged, it’s reassuring to have something else going on, something better. Late on Valentine’s? Don’t care for dead roses and gobs of cheap chocolate? Be all the more romantic celebrating Dragobete, while perhaps affecting a bright spot of good in the world.

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Dragobete, a Romanian Valentine’s holiday taking place since ancient times antedating Romania itself, is celebrated on February 24, marking the beginning of spring. It’s “the day the birds are betrothed,” when they begin to seek mates and construct their nests. Humans are more or less expected to do the same.

As Wikipedia has it, “If the weather allows, girls and boys pick snowdrops or other early spring plants for the person they are courting. Maidens used to collect the snow that lay on the ground in many villages and then melt it, using the water in magic potions throughout the rest of the year. Those who take part in Dragobete customs are supposed to be protected from illness, especially fevers, for the rest of the year.” There’s also a bit about singing together after gathering the vernal flowers, but as much as singing relates to the well-being of birds, the karaoke can wait for another occasion.

It’s well before the vernal equinox, and hardly a thing springlike outside, but all the more reason to collectively attempt to banish the midwinter and its blues. (It seems that ancient Romanians didn’t expect spring to show up after Dragobete, either — another spring-bringing holiday associated with fertility, Mărțișor, is scheduled just a week later on March 1). On the Sunday we finally got around to belatedly showing the birds what our best wishes were made of, it was rainy and 46 degrees in Bucharest, Romania — certainly a higher proportion of spring to winter than the bitter 11 degrees we endured here.

We sensibly started with some warming tea. Kukicha, or twig tea, nested in one pot, and the green lushness of stinging nettles steeped fragrantly in another. Perched on the table next to bowls of trail mix fixings was birdseed toast accompanied by homemade mulberry preserves, mulberries being an apparent favorite of birds around here. Brownies made with buckwheat and sour cherry, the fruit harvested on walks around town, would have probably been enjoyed by birds as well. Mulberries seem like a greater hit with birds than the cherries, but the bias may come from the telltale seasonal splotches of bird poop inked dark by berries.

Leftovers, food bloggers, leftovers.

Leftovers, food bloggers, leftovers.

Tea is just ceremony; the most important part of the Dragobete celebration is offering the birds some avian housewarmers to ease early nesting dilemmas. We rounded up our bags of hair clippings from the winter’s haircuts, or the morning’s hairbrushing, in the case of one superb brushwad encased in a small paper bag, and some of us bravely snipped offerings on the spot, including one person who literally went under the knife to harvest a lock. We set off at dusk in the general direction of “more fields,” which are less numerous nearby given recent fruitless destruction of bird habitats.

Plastic bag full of hair, wandering up Grand River. Wonder how many of those there are.

Plastic bag full of hair, wandering up Grand River. Wonder how many of those there are.


Once, there was a streetlight. This teacup of hair was briefly illuminated.

Once, there was a streetlight. This teacup of hair was briefly illuminated.

We trudged through the snow for a couple miles, eventually finding some nice fields skirting stands of promising scrubby little trees. The snow was etched with bird tracks unidentifiable to me, hopefully birds that enjoy nesting in our silky split ends. The wind funnelled the hair hither and thither. It was very quiet. We wondered where the birds were sleeping.

This is primarily a picture of wind.

This is primarily a picture of wind.


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Of course we could have just thrown the hair out the window and been done with it, but over the years the holiday has evolved to incorporate a longer and longer walk — and what holiday, especially those celebrating the rhythms of nature, isn’t better for that?

Much thanks to everyone who took part in making spring a more probably reality for our avian neighbors. Next year, bird house construction party? Field guide reading group?

Fake flowers

February 15, 2014

The park was erratically carpeted in rose petals. How quaint. They were clinging to the wet ground and flung up bright against the snowbanks. I hadn’t forgotten it was Valentine’s Day, but I wasn’t expecting to find evidence of the holiday in such abundance.

Someone had chalked a gigantic marriage proposal across the pavement, a mildly charming, low-budget way of posing the question. It was fitting that the ephemeral words marking something of supposed permanence, usually associated with the gift of a diamond, were left to smudge and fade away with an afternoon’s weather. Inspecting the petals more closely, they were all too uniform, each created in the identical likeness of the other, tawdry red polyester or some such silk stand-in. Nothing says ‘I love you’ like a bouquet of fake flowers. The sentiment was probably real; the flowers fake. Perhaps both are weatherproof.

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It’d be great if somebody would buy Detroit more than fake flowers, show some real love. Visitors keep gaily trying to gab my ear off about “Detroit coming back,” but it seems less like an organic blooming than a displacement, someone else’s Detroit looming, overshadowing the existing leaves and buds. The News reports that Showcase Collectibles, the wild little vintage shop at the corner of Cass and Peterboro, topsy-turvy full of every odd thing you can imagine, received their 30-day eviction notice yesterday on their $550-a-month space. Given the new owner’s great (and entirely understandable) haste to begin renovations, we probably won’t be left long walking past a sign like this, a sad reminder of the former Marwil Books just up the street at Cass and Warren.

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In Dan Gilbertland, Capitol Park residents have two weeks remaining in their eviction period. Metro Times pens a poignant farewell, quoting one resident: “We’ve had, like, a pretty vibrant artist community for a while, before we were here,” calling Gilbert’s art district plan “super ironic.” “You really can’t make that up,” he said. “It’s essentially becoming a company town. Like, where we own the company, we own the housing, we secure the streets.” While we’ll be out rambling tomorrow, the building will be hosting an open house/estate sale.

Meanwhile, Wayne State law professor Peter Hammer is calling the Detroit Future City plan a “deathblow” that will “re-organize Detroit out of existence.” He’ll explain further at a talk at Marygrove on February 25.

Sad times! It’s a lot, all at once.