Walking

Last week, I finally got around to reading Michael Given’s recent article in Epoiesen titled “Walking from Dunning to the Common of Dunning.” Over the course of a 5 hour walk loosely following the 18th century cattle route through the Scottish countryside, Given records his walk using a GPS, a GoPro camera mounted on his backpack, still photography, and a notebook. His goal was to communicate his experience of being in this particular landscape by documenting the interaction between the sounds, sensations, features, wildlife, climate, and his moving body over the course of his walk. As he had been involved in fieldwork in this landscape for the past decade he also encountered a range of memories associated with his time in the field with students and colleagues. The article is vivid and compelling and also free. Go and check it out here.

I walk a good bit both in Grand Forks and in my summer job as an archaeologist (and I’ve blogged about it here, here, herehere, here, here, and here). Plus for the last four years, I’ve had the companionship of a pair of dogs who prefer to be walked separately and who have many clumps of grass the require sniffing. This year, in particular, I’ve gotten in the habit of going for 5 to 10 mile walks a few time a week punctuated by the occasional run and bike ride. Unlike Given’s walk, these are not purposeful walks from one place to another. I don’t document each walk them carefully or think intensely about the interaction between my body and its landscape. In fact, as often as not, the walks are circuits where I end up at the same place that I started. And on many days, I’m not especially attentive to the experience of my walk or my surroundings. A few times recently, I’ve even listened to music or a baseball game on my walk, effectively shutting out the local landscape entirely. 

Given’s article got me thinking a bit about the difference between habitual walks such as those that I make nearly every day and the carefully documented trek that Given recorded in his article. Obviously, denizens of the Dunning landscape would have made the walk more regularly than the archaeologist. I’d even guess that Given made parts, if not all, of this walk regularly during field work, but these walks were likely less remarkable and carefully documented than the walk described in this article. At the same time, these less remarkable walks undoubtedly informed his encounter with the landscape during his highly documented trek to the Dunning Commons. He makes just such a point by telling us about memories that he had of earlier times along the route during field work or even the lines of site between places made significant through their archaeological work. Like the time-lapse video embedded in his article, this well documented walk collapses the experience of many other walks, encounters, and activities into a single, 5-hour event event. 

Every now and I imagine teaching a class on the Grand Forks Greenway. The class would consider the various histories that intersect in this contemporary urban park. Most of the time, I think about this class during my walks along the Red River (of the North) and along the sunken remains of roads (and amid the foundations depressions of homes) that once defined out the Lincoln Park neighborhood. I don’t know the names of most of the trees – although some elms continue to help mark out the roads and cottonwoods run along the course of the river. I also don’t know the names of the animals, although grey and red squirrels, prairie dogs, foxes, deer, frogs, turtles, the occasional snake, a wide range of birds, and something that might be a beaver have occasionally popped out to say hello.

I’ve walked various paths through the Grand Forks Greenway all year around and traced the edge of “Lake Agassiz” during spring (and the occasional fall) floods when my paths are inundated. I’ve also waded through the snow, slipped across the ice, and walked delicately atop the packed snow of cross-country and snowshoe trails. I’ve even walked along the route of the froze Red River in the mid-winter when the ice is several feet thick. 

I keep thinking about writing an article on the Red River in Grand Forks that draws on these experiences and combines them somehow with perspectives gleaned from environmental history and archaeology. Given’s article offers a nice point of departure as my ideas begin to solidify. If you’re an observant walker, do check it out!   

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