What Comes from a Walk?
People ask me why I spend winters away from Canada. Of course, there's the weather. I've never liked the cold, so I've avoided brutal winters for most of the past twenty years. But as much as I hate cold weather, I love walking. I'll walk indoors if I must, but it's the outdoors that truly stimulates my senses. I escape northern cold mainly to maintain my preferred lifestyle and regimen of walking 3-5 days a week in comfortable climes.
I walk as fast as I can to elevate my heart rate. I walk proper distances to burn calories. But mainly, I walk to think. There are no headsets. No earbuds. Just an opportunity to look, listen and feel the environment, while I process and reprocess thoughts, ideas, and plans.
Mostly, I focus on writing. But every walk also includes time for philosophic questions, political issues, challenges or opportunities, and relationships. This winter, I've had the good fortune to take long walks in Argentina, Uruguay, Spain, and Portugal.
Each locale had stimulants and distractions – everything from potentially lethal traffic to almost isolated boardwalks where the only sounds were ocean waves lapping against sandy beaches or birds cheerfully calling out from hiding spots in trees. Regardless of the environment, I returned from each outing recharged physically and creatively.
One recent day, I remembered hearing some people claim great writers like Hemmingway or artists like van Gogh become masters, in part, because of their travel experiences. The American lived twenty years in Cuba, and the Dutch painter lived a year in the south of France after two years in Paris. Both produced works that have become classics. During that recent walk, it occurred to me that while I'll probably never be mentioned in the same paragraph as those geniuses, experiences away from Canada have influenced even my own modest works.
You see, each year my wife and I choose different places to make our temporary home. And every year we experience towns and cities that are sources of information, background, and inspiration.
I try to impart bits of knowledge about places I've lived or visited, weaving them into my stories as seamlessly as possible. In "Three Weeks Less a Day," a favorite passage involving Suzanne Simpson probably would not have been as captivating if I hadn't spent considerable time in Japan. My long stays in Ft. Myers, Florida added color to John George Mortimer's company in "The Multima Scheme." And in ‘Unrelenting Peril', I would never have marooned Howard Knight in a town as exquisite and intriguing as Colonia del Sacramento if I hadn't lived there for a few weeks while I was writing the story.
Much of the knowledge I've accumulated about villages, towns, and cities around the world came while walking. Even moving as fast as I can, I see more. I notice details often missed from a car or tour bus. I hear the heartbeat of a town's activities. But most important, at some time during a stay, I invariably feel the place has become a part of me. As you read my stories, I hope you detect and enjoy some the personal attachment I've made to locales around the world from walking their streets and trails.
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