Born to Walk

I love to walk. There’s almost no day that goes by that I don’t walk, almost no weather I won’t walk in, almost no condition that keeps me from going out. When there’s a blizzard, I bundle up and put on my big snow boots. When it’s hot and humid, I slow my pace and go late at night. When I’m not feeling well, I still go out for shorter, slower walks. When I had three kids under the age of five, I piled them all into the stroller and took them out everyday.

So when I saw that Emily Taylor Smith was walking the perimeter of my beautiful province, I burned with envy. This was in 2010 when my kids were still too young to consider doing such a thing. Then, last year, I saw her book was coming out and I had to have it. To inspire me, to transform that fire of envy into something that might prod me to do it myself someday.

Around the Province in 88 Days by Emily Taylor Smith

In the the summer of 2010, Emily Taylor Smith headed out to walk the 3000 km perimeter of Nova Scotia. From May to August, she walked everyday (with three days off), raising money for the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Brigadoon Children’s Camp Society. Her trip gave her the chance to see the province “more intimately than ever before”–the small towns, the rocky shores–but what made the trip special were the people she encountered along the way.

It seems to me these Nova Scotians stay, or return, or set up here because they feel tied to this land that has become a part of who they are, land that offers them a way of life for their families which they value. There is a richness in their day-to-day experience that those who are only passing through cannot fully appreciate. And this land–wild, beautiful Nova Scotia–shapes them into strong and caring men and women, with deep ties to their community and its well-being.

Before getting into the trip itself, Emily shares her thoughts and experiences on why she walks, where she got the idea to walk the province, and what she did to train and get ready for her trip. Then there is a short chapter briefly covering each day of her journey. She talks about the places she goes, the weather, how she’s feeling that day, and most importantly the people she runs into.

Being familiar with many of the places she walked through – and interested in hearing about the places I’m not familiar with – and even knowing of a few of the people she met, I was held hostage to the page the whole way through. How non-locals feel about it, I don’t know. But I am already planning my own trip.

I think spending quiet time with the trees and the ocean and the air does things to us which can’t be entirely explained. I think meeting the many people who shared their lives, their homes, and their hearts with me was healing.


Almost Feral by Gemma Hickey

After reading Around the Province in 88 Days, I wanted more walking. Coincidentally, Breakwater Books had just sent me a copy of Almost Feral by Gemma Hickey – about her 2015 938 km walk across the province of Newfoundland to raise awareness and funds for survivors of institutional abuse.

Islanders celebrate and identify strongly with our physical landscape and our history, but in doing so we risk becoming oblivious to our past mistakes and resistance to change.

Who is Gemma Hickey, I wondered. Before I even picked up the book, I did a google search to discover that they are an amazing person. In addition to spending years advocating for LGBTQ2+ rights, Gemma Hickey is also the founder of The Pathways Foundation, an organization for victims of clergy abuse. Their bravery and determination over the years to make positive change is an inspiration to so many.

The secrecy in my life was crippling. My father was hiding his alcohol addiction. I was hiding my sexuality. And now I was hiding the fact that I was abused. And all of this concealment and deception could be traced back to the Catholic Church and the culture of secrecy, which created at atmosphere of  dependency and shame.

Almost Feral consists of personal essays that entwine Hickey’s daily walks with memories and experiences they’ve had over the years with bullying, depression, faith, family, and identity. I was especially interested in their struggle with reconciling their faith in the church with their experience with clergy abuse as well as the church’s stance on the LGBTQ2+ community. Walking their beloved province and ruminating on their life led to an important personal discovery.

… the emotions I experienced and the memories that surfaced as I walked felt more like Newfoundland weather–impulsive, erratic, and sometimes volatile.

The topics of depression and abuse make this book sound heavier than it is. Many of Gemma’s stories are told with humour and all of them with heart. I couldn’t help but smile when I read about the time Gemma stole money from the collection plate at church because they wanted to buy a doll for a friend who couldn’t afford it. And the story of their grandmother who put Joey Smallwood’s portrait right up there with Jesus and the Virgin Mary. It felt like getting to know a new friend.

Sometimes two roads diverge, and you choose neither, because you have to make your own honest path.

Almost Feral was the winner of two Atlantic Book Awards this year:

Royalties from Almost Feral will be donated to the Pathways Foundation.


Born to Walk by Dan Rubinstein

And because I still hadn’t had enough about walking, I finally picked up Born to Walk, a book I’ve had on my shelf since it came out five years ago.

I’m a little over half way through. I was into it during the lockdown when I was trying to read some of my own books, but when the library opened I got completely distracted and haven’t gotten back to it yet.

This book is about the transformative properties of walking. About fissures  that anyone can explore. It is the outcome of an experiment both personal and journalistic, an attempt to understand my addiction, to see how much repair might be within range.” Rubinstein’s book is broken up into subjects as they relate to walking; body, mind, society, economy, politics, creativity, spirit, family.

In Body, Rubinstein writes about his experience walking with Dr. Stanley Vollant during one of Vollant’s 6000 km treks across the North, begun in 2010 to “to promote the teachings of First Nations and to encourage Indigenous young people to pursue their dreams.”

It’s more than exercise. It is life. –Margaret MacNeill

In Mind, Rubinstein travels to Glasgow, Scotland to explore how walking can have a positive effect on your mental health.

Preventing depression increasingly appears to be a question of movement… the kind of movement that humans evolved to perform and that is eliminated from everyday life by machines, hired labour, and automobiles. –Sarah Goodyear

In Society, we find Rubinstein in Philadelphia spending his time walking through the city with police officers. How does more walking improve our society?

A flow of pedestrians… can help unify a city or town. When you are in a car, or online, the anonymity can breed anti-social or amoral behaviour… On foot, you are immersed in a multi-sensory, interactive environment, not sequestered behind one-way glass. You see and are seen, hear and are heard… pedestrians have more opportunity to engage and empathize with the people they pass by and live among.

What can walking do for our economy? Or politics? I look forward to finding out!

Whether for transportation or recreation, walking bestows the gift of time. Done by choice, untethered from the market and wireless contraptions, it can be an act of defiance. At its most pure, walking connects us to the people and places where we are right now. Also, to ourselves.

I wonder if my kids would walk more if they read this book…

Do you like to walk? Would you like to share any impressive walking stories, or books you’ve read?


Further Reading:

A nod to RC Shaw’s Louisbourg or Bust, which, if I hadn’t already read and reviewed would fit nicely into this post. Even though it involves a bike. I like those, too.

And Waking Up in My Own Backyard by Sandra Phinney is especially relevant right now… when many of us are staying close to home.

Re-discover this Sesame Street classic!

28 thoughts on “Born to Walk

  1. A Life in Books says:

    I particularly like the sound of Born to Walk. I don’t feel properly in the world if I haven’t taken a walk. It’s the reason I refused to use the word lockdown during the worst of our first surge. Not sure how I’d have coped without that daily tramp, rain or shine.

  2. Lory says:

    I love walking! But I’ve not usually done it for more than a day or two. I admire those people who go on treks like the one around Nova Scotia, but I’m not sure I’d have the stamina.

  3. louloureads says:

    I love the idea of the walk round Nova Scotia. I’ve been going for a walk almost every weekday before work since the start of the pandemic – initially because it was basically the only thing we were allowed to do, and now because I just love it. Even though I live in a city, I’ve discovered lots of woods and footpaths and brooks near my house, and I’ve loved walking the same few areas every day over the course of many months and seeing how the landscape changes.

  4. wadholloway says:

    I walk as little as possible. I swim, I ride my bike, but walking is a pain. Every two hours or so I stop and walk the perimeter of my truck (75m total) because otherwise my knee joints would seize up totally, but that’s it. I can’t think of an Australian ‘walk’ book, except the early explorers, but can highly recommend Robyn Davidson’s Tracks in which she learns to manage camels and then walks and rides halfway across the continent, all desert, from Alice Springs to the Western Australian coast.

    • Naomi says:

      I love to swim, too, but it’s not nearly as convenient. Biking is fun but I hate the hills – I’d rather get off my bike and *walk* up the hills! 🙂

      Tracks is a great recommendation! A walking trip with camels is something I’ve never read about before!

  5. ilovedays says:

    Loved this – really a different kind of book, and inspiring for this time. Reminds me of the book Walking Across America by Peter Jenkins that was a bestseller in 1979. And have you read the novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce? It’s a novel in the same vein.

    • Naomi says:

      I loved Harold Fry! I think mostly for the walking.

      I once read a book about a man who cycled across America: Life Is a Wheel. Hmm… Not sure if I read part of it or the whole thing. And I read about running across America in Flanagan’s Run (which I loved!).

  6. Rebecca Foster says:

    What a great themed post! (I’ve been thinking about starting a “Three on a Theme” blog series … not that I’ve completed my first “Four in a Row” yet!) At the start of lockdown we made a point of walking every day, up to 3 miles, but as the months passed we fell out of the habit. This autumn we need to take advantage of good weather whenever we have it and get out on countryside walks on the weekends. Of the books you review here, Almost Feral draws me the most. I’d second the recommendation of Rebecca Solnit’s book, Wanderlust. I’ve also enjoyed a number of books about hiking long-distance trails: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson and Wild by Cheryl Strayed are two great ones, and in the UK there have been several about walking the South West Coast Path. The most famous of those is The Salt Path by Raynor Winn, which is also about homelessness.

    • Naomi says:

      Oh, I remember your review of The Salt Path, but didn’t realize it was a journey on foot. Our library even has it!

      I think you’d like Almost Feral because of the faith element in it (among other things).

      I’ve read both A Walk in the Woods and Wild – I find it hard finding other books about hiking/walking that are as good. So it’s nice to have recommendations!

      Autumn is my favourite time of year for walking – a perfect time to get back into it!

  7. annelogan17 says:

    I love walking and hiking, and there’s lots of beautiful trails in Alberta to explore so i’m quite lucky, although I’m jealous of the beautiful scenery you enjoy in Nova Scotia too! Please go on that trip you are planning, and of course blog about it 🙂

    • Naomi says:

      I will try!! 🙂

      I’ve heard that there are so many great trails and outdoor activities out west – and I’m jealous of your scenery, too! I tell my kids never to move out there, because I’m too afraid they’ll never come back! Haha!

  8. buriedinprint says:

    That last one has been on my reading Radar for ages too. Are you still enjoying it? I remember, when the publisher released it, that the staff had a friendly (I think?!) contest to see who could walk more over a period of time (a month, maybe?). That’s something we did with the kids too, when they were younger, in the summers, to see how many steps they could amass. Ironically, the younger was even more into it than the older one, because it kind of levelled the playing field (or, playing sidewalk?) because steps are steps, and longer legs don’t have a built-in advantage (well, unless you’re counting distance, I guess). They did distance with their bikes (and their dad–I’m more of a walker than a rider on city trails). I’m a daily walker too–it keeps a plethora of health concerns at bay. And I like to keep a good clip, unless it’s super hot. 🙂

    • Naomi says:

      It sounds like we would be well matched as walking partners, then. 🙂
      I’m not surprised to hear that story about the staff having a contest – Born to Walk makes you want to walk more! There are so many good reasons to do it – you just have to make the time. (Which is probably the most challenging part for most people.)

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