How to make your walk a ‘microadventure’
By Jancee Dunn
I’ve loved doing the fieldwork for our series on walking. This time, we are livening up our walk by turning it into a microadventure, imbued with a sense of curiosity and exploration.
I tapped a few experts for inspiration and learned you don’t need to go far for a little novelty. It’s all in the approach.
Take a ‘scent walk’
Tejal Rao, the California restaurant critic at The New York Times, built a “personal smell museum” of Los Angeles, where she lives.
As she made her way through the city, she jotted down the aromas in a notebook. Her discoveries included the scent of frying onions from her neighbor’s kitchen and the “sticky, piney aroma of sage bushes and rosemary.”
I decided to take a “scent walk” with my best friend, Julie, who lives in Morningside Heights in New York City. As we walked with her Boston terrier, we detected notes of butter and vanilla wafting from a bakery, mulch from a community garden and a sewage scent from a puddle. (That last one was unpleasant for us, but Julie reminded me that “it’s like Chanel No. 5” for her dog.)
Look for wildlife
Every environment has a variety of living creatures, said Sgt. Rob Mastrianni, a park ranger in New York City’s Manhattan borough, who recommended taking a walk with the express goal of spotting wildlife. He suggested turning over logs to see bugs and salamanders, and also remembering to look up. New York City, for example, is home to bald eagles, “but people won’t realize there’s an eagle circling above them,” he said. You can use an app like the Merlin Bird ID to identify the birds you see.
Pattie Gonia, a drag queen and environmentalist who leads hikes as part of her mission to get marginalized people outdoors, pointed out that squirrels were surefire entertainment. “They’re always in a war with each other,” she said. “It’s endless melodrama, like a tree version of the Kardashians.”
Embrace the weather
If there’s a safe way to take a walk in the rain, wind or fog, “lean into the elements,” said Rob Walker, the author of “The Art of Noticing,” a book about finding opportunities to be amazed in everyday life. Revel in the dramatically shifting landscapes — the drama of wind whipping through the trees, or the way that rain can make greenery look more vivid.
“I don’t want to encourage anyone to go kick a football around in a hurricane,” Walker said. “But we could all probably get, like, 10% braver about the weather.”
Explore the unknown nearby
There are quite likely things you’ve never noticed within a few miles of your home, Walker said. I followed his advice and discovered a park that I had never visited. I’ve also found that cemeteries — a blend of nature, architecture and history — are a guaranteed microadventure. I’ve wandered among the headstones and speculated on whether the names Ebenezer or Euphronia will ever become popular again.
Many communities, Walker added, have an “informal neighborhood historian who loves to go on about the back story of this house or the secret history of that park.” Use them as a resource, he said. I have a chatty neighbor who always stops me to talk about local lore (or gossip). So I proposed a walk, and he led me to a house that was part of the Underground Railroad.
If you live in a city, try organizing a food tour on foot, Pattie Gonia said. Grab a friend, walk for a while, stop and split a bite, and then walk some more. Who’s going to say no to a taco walk?