The simplest things in life are free, goes the saying. I don’t whether this is also a saying, but the greatest joy and the greatest beauty can also be found in the simplest things.
Good food, good music, a glass of wine, stimulating conversation. Silence. A sunset, a sunrise, a thunderstorm, a mountain, a forest, the desolation of a desert, a full moon, a starry sky. Walking.
I love walking. It’s so relaxing. You don’t have to concentrate as constantly like when you’re driving, and you don’t get so worked up. Your heart beats faster, your muscles burn ever so slightly and your lungs can do their work properly for a change. And you notice things, places, people you never would from behind your steering wheel or even the passenger seat.
I did a bit of walking yesterday. I took my mom’s car to a neighbouring town for a service. I dropped the car off bright and early and hit the streets. Knowing I have several hours to kill I had a quick breakfast in the company of Terry Pratchett before I made my way through the CBD.
I had lived in this town for the first twelve years of my life. Actually it’s classified as a city, but I know people who’ve seen places like New York, London or Johannesburg will laugh to hear this place described as one, so I’ll stick with town.
Welkom (Afrikaans for welcome – cool name for a town, hey?) is a mining town and two decades ago was SA’s second-biggest gold-producing region after Johannesburg. Today the mines are all but exhausted and I could see it by the state of many of the businesses in the city centre.
I strolled through what was at one point the only proper mall in the Free State province, where as a kid we came for everything from ice cream and movies to buying clothes and visiting the optometrist. The place was deserted with only a few shops occupied. A few years ago the town got a casino and almost everyone who used to be in the mall moved across the street (literally) to the casino complex. Have you ever walked through a mall with eighty percent of the shops dark and empty and even the corridor lights dimmed to conserve power? It felt eerie.
In the park adjacent the mall there were a few people, but the neglect and decay was just as apparent. I walked past the fountains where my folks’ wedding photos were taken. One was completely dried up and the other was half full with rancid water, beer cans and polystyrene fast food containers floating between the ornamental rocks. I thought of all the ice creams and games of tag that we played in this park, how we would come at night at Christmastime to see the lights put up for the season and browse the windows of the shops across from the park with scores of other families.
It was not all nostalgia, though. I also stumbled across a second-hand bookshop I had never noticed before. I had to browse through the entire shop to find To Kill A Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye on the very last shelf I reached, making the exercise more than worthwhile. I also found SA’s latest bestseller, Lauren Beukes’s The Shining Girls, at a fraction of its regular price, so expect some reviews on these before the end of the year.
Making my way back to pick up the car I smiled at the thought that the Pratchett novel I’m reading at the moment, Night Watch, features one of my favourite Discworld characters, Sam Vimes. Vimes also likes walking. He wears old boots with thin soles so he can feel the cobblestones of Ankh-Morpork’s streets under his feet, streets he knows so well he can close his eyes and tell where he is simply from the size and shape of those cobblestones.
When Vimes is walking his beat, all is right with the world. He can forget for a moment that he’s really His Grace Duke of Ankh, Commander of the City Watch, Sir Samuel Vimes. When he’s walking the streets he’s merely Sam Vimes, copper. Paperwork and politics don’t matter, only doing the job that’s in front of him.
Walking is one of the simplest things in life, and something we do much too seldom. I’m lucky to live in a town where I can walk most places I need to be if I have the time. I love hiking as well, up in the mountains. It has all the joy of walking along with the joys of silence, solitude and the magnificence of nature. It’s been way too long since I’ve gone hiking.
What about you? Do you enjoy walking? What other simple pleasures do you need to indulge in more? Why don’t you?