When i was younger, if you had asked me what i wanted to be when i grew up, i would have told you that i wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder. I started reading the Little House books in elementary school and fell completely in love with the vivid descriptions of delicious homemade food, the wild adventures in the woods and on the prairies, the strong-willed and independent heroine, and the pioneer lifestyle.
At the time, we were living in the old house. I was enchanted by the seemingly boundless fields surrounding us. I liked civilization well enough, but being intensely introverted, i felt more comfortable in a place away from other people. I liked knowing that i could run until i was exhausted and still not see another person. I liked to look around me and see nothing but level fields, with trees far off in the distance. When Pa and Laura would stand together and gaze at the horizon, i could see the illimitable prairie in my mind's eye, and i too longed to explore it. I wanted to start walking, and keep going until i reached something new, something untouched by man.
I love to travel. I've been lucky enough to travel quite a bit in my life. I love even the boring parts, like four-hour layovers, and the inconvenient parts, like carrying my suitcases a mile to the train station. I love to fly, i love to drive, i love to take buses and trains, i love to sail and cruise.
Growing up in a small town, i quickly became accustomed to the idea that i would have to go places if i wanted to see things. There wasn't much to do where i lived; even going to the grocery store required a ten-minute car trip. The mall was forty minutes away, as was the nearest Walmart. And i didn't mind that. I lived far from the things of man, and to me, that meant peace and purity. The air was clean, the grass was fresh, and even the manure in the fields smelled almost sweet.
But then i discovered cities.
I'd been on field trips to DC, Baltimore, and Annapolis. I'd been shopping in Dover. I'd traveled to Chicago, Paris and Cologne. But those were always trips with a purpose. We saw the Holocaust museum in DC, as well as the Air and Space museum. We went to the mall in Dover to do our Christmas shopping. We delivered furniture to my cousin in Chicago. We climbed cathedral towers all over Europe.
When i was sixteen, my mother and i went to New York with my cousin and her mother. My cousin and i were both turning sixteen, and instead of a party, we took a weekend trip. Although i'd been a tourist in Europe, it was a trip of learning and culture. This trip was all about fun. We went to the city not because it was a place to learn about new cultures, or to see architecture, or because travel is broadening. We went to the city because cities are fun.
I fell in love with New York. I knew that Laura would have been horrified and disappointed, but i didn't care. New York City was like nothing i'd ever seen before, nothing i'd ever imagined. Movies and TV couldn't prepare me for the rush, the energy of being there.
I live in a city now, and i love it, but it's still not quite home. I miss clean horizons: views where all you can see, in every direction, is nature. No telephone poles, no cars or buildings, no people. Just water, or trees, or fields. Sometimes my need to see a clean horizon is so intense that i begin to feel suffocated. You know when you've been sitting at a desk all day and you start to feel twitchy? Like you just need to get up and walk around for a few minutes? That's how i feel nearly every day. But it's not just my body that longs for movement. It's my soul, too.
I walk a lot. I often walk four miles to my church, and i walk a mile each way to work and back nearly every day. I walk to the grocery store and back (another mile each way). I started walking because i don't have a car. I'm pretty practical, and i don't like to ask for help, so when i need to be somewhere, i just go. I don't freak out about how far it is or how long it will take. I get my ipod and some directions and start walking.
But walking is not just a way to get from point A to point B. It's also a way to keep my wanderlust in check. When my soul starts to get twitchy from being still and cramped for too long, i take it to find a clean horizon where it can breathe. When i start to feel claustrophobic from the people all around me, i go somewhere far from the things of man. Walking is the only thing that keeps me from selling everything and backpacking across Europe, or hitchhiking across the country. Sometimes i dream about leaving everything behind and becoming a nomad, seeing the whole world on my own terms. I want my only limits to be how far i can walk before i need to sleep (under the stars, of course).
In my head, i know that i can't just take off. And i know i wouldn't really like it after a while. I have friends, and work, and responsibilities here. And the reason i have those ties is because i like them. I like my cat. I like my books. I like my bed. I pay bills because it's worth it to me to ensure that i can keep my books and cat and bed. After about a week of being a homeless traveler, i'd be ready to return to civilization. But if i sold everything and left, there would be no going back.
So i walk.