The other day, my five-year-old son and I wanted to go to the library after we dropped off our car to my husband. We were in downtown Newberg, OR, a little over a mile from home, and we’d have to walk home if we didn’t want a ride right then. K said he was up for it. Though Newberg is already a pretty good, small community, as far as communities go in the United States these days, this one walk made me realize what an even more connected community might be like if we all walked everywhere. Let me explain.
First of all, as we walked, we saw many people we knew. Second, we noticed things and had conversations we wouldn’t have otherwise. Third, it gave me the opportunity to praise my son for his ability to confidently do something that takes endurance and strength. He was more than capable of walking the mile-plus, even though we had also gone for a walk earlier that day.
As we walked to the library and home, we ran into my mother-in-law, who was doing some yard work for a client. At the library, we chatted with my cousin for a while, and K made some new friends with the other kids there. We read several books, and picked up our main quarry: a Minecraft book, as well as one of the books from the OBOB list for next year. On the way back, we saw a friend and set up a play date for next week, I waved at a student who was walking and chatting with someone else, we walked part of the way with a friend we bumped into who was also walking home from town, and we ran into several neighbors who we haven’t seen much all winter. We chatted and exchanged gardening and chicken-raising tips and woes, K met a kid from down the street who we hadn’t talked to before, and we set up plans for another neighbor kid to come over the next day. We observed many different flowers, and paid attention to the buds emerging from various types of trees and shrubs. We noted the smell of the air on different sections of our walk. We got some books and some exercise and some social connections, and we had time to chat about life and whatever came to mind.
What if we all walked everywhere in town? Imagine the kind of community we would build through randomly bumping into people. Imagine the conversations we’d have with our kids if we did life at walking pace. Imagine what we would observe about our region if we walked by the same plants daily, noticing the incremental changes. Imagine the health of our people if we walked several miles each day, creating and maintaining social connections.
Newberg is a relatively walkable town with pretty good community, but it is still easy to not know one’s neighbors and to remain isolated in one’s own house and car. I realize that going outdoors doesn’t necessarily have to mean going out to the woods, or doing something separate from one’s daily routine. Going outdoors can also mean time spent walking in one’s community at the pace of a child, being willing to stop and chat, and working on the social capital that accrues when one invests time in one’s family and community.