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Walking Through the Landscape of Conversation
A walk shared in good conversation with a good friend is good for the body and also the soul.

In 2009 I shall take more walks. This is not for the good of my body, although stronger muscles and lungs will certainly be a side benefit.

Nor is it so that I can see more of nature, although, this, too, will be true. No, in 2009 I shall take more walks so I can enjoy more conversations.

As 2008 tucked itself in bed, I lulled it to sleep with memories of place, which led me to think about people, and then, the landscape of our conversations. As should be the case with all bedtime stories, I chose the happy themes, although, to be honest, I can't recall too many bitter conversations from 2008, and none that took place while I was walking.

I have never loved walking the way some of my friends do. My friend Jane would rather go for a good long walk than do just about anything else. She'll walk in wind and rain, on snowy days and sunny ones. She'll walk alone, although she mostly prefers company. Me, I'm picky and am generally not inclined to walk unless the sun is shining or the stars are out. Wind unnerves me.

In Kazakhstan, where I've been spending July for the past couple of summers, walking is a national pastime. Perhaps the culture is rubbing off on me and I'm learning to love walking because I do so much of it when I'm in the great city of Almaty, where public transport usually slows down one's progress rather than speeding it up. Walking is opportune in Kazakhstan.

But it's also when some of the best conversations have happened with the students who accompany me there from Canada and with the students from Kazakhstan who study English with us. In Kazakhstan, our conversations sometimes stumble along because of the language barriers, but every now and then they sprint towards the mountains that ring the city.

During these international walks, my friends and I have talked broadly of our families and of our countries, and then whittled our words down to ideas of love, fears of the future, to the things that make us happy and those that bring tears.

I've found that one can talk about sadness with fewer tears when one is walking. I'm not sure why this is; perhaps it has to do with the physical exertion exacted by a walk. It might also have to do with the attention required when one walks out of doors. Tree roots, sidewalk cracks, scraps of litter, small animals – these can all get in the way of a good walk. Whatever it is that dispenses with tears, there is no less empathy, between friends who walk together, in fact, there might be more.

Walking allows for long, comfortable pauses in conversation. This is not always the case when you're talking across a table. There, silence can become burdensome. But on a walk, the silence is simply carried away by the sounds of birds, the sight of a red maple tree, the antics of children playing on swings.

I went for a glorious two-hour walk with my niece Heather on Thanksgiving Sunday. The sun seemed to think if was August instead of October and so we set out in shirtsleeves, not even bothering with sweaters. We walked through the streets of her town, then crossed a couple of footbridges and followed a river through the woods. As the landscape changed, so did our conversation.

We talked about her work and mine, about vacations and books. We asked each other questions and listened to the answers. We chattered and we were silent. By the time we reached home, we were both glad of the exertion and of the insights our conversation had provided.

Often my walks of the past year have been short jaunts around my neighbourhood with my friend Ruth. But even in the space of 20 minutes we find the path to significant conversation. She's helped me sort out a too busy schedule. I've listened as she's wound her way out of the pressing demands of family and work.

One of my best walks was a solitary one, taken along a woods road near Bouctouche. Come to think of it though, I wasn't exactly alone, for as I listened to my own thoughts rambling around in my head, I had the distinct impression God was listening, too. So we had a conversation and I came home blessed.

This new year has hardly shaken itself awake and so who knows how much energy it will have for walking. But I intend to find out. I intend to take more walks in 2009, not because I should, but because I want to.

Lynda MacGibbon is a writer based in Riverview New Brunswick and the NB/PEI Director for Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. She can be reached at

Originally published in Moncton Times & Transcipt, Moncton, NB, January 2, 2009, and simultaneously on




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