A trail at Turkey Hill in Hingham. Talk a walk in nature and let yourself slow down.

In his book “Roads: Driving America’s Great Highways,” Larry McMurtry writes of the changes he has witnessed in his lifetime in the realm of transportation. From country roads and horses on his family’s ranch in Texas, to the six lane highways connecting most of our major cities, to the jets and high-speed trains we rely upon to “get there fast,” our modes of travel have advanced significantly in the last century.

What McMurtry finds striking however is how quickly we Americans have become accustomed to this privilege of speed. He cites airports as a primary example. A writer and rare book dealer now in his elder years, McMurtry has traveled far and wide, seeing more than the average share of airports. He comments that, no matter where in the United States he has gone, no matter what time of year, he has always observed the same response to a delayed or cancelled flight: extreme impatience. While at least half of the time, our major airlines adhere to their flight schedules, delays due to such unforeseen forces as bad weather are not uncommon. We seem to have a hard time dealing with this.

We have grown accustomed to traversing the continental United States in five hours – a journey that by car takes three and a half days if you drive straight through, without sleeping. A journey which, little more than a century ago, had to be made on horseback, or even by foot, or in a horse-drawn carriage if you were lucky – and hardy enough to endure three months of rigorous travel. So in today’s airports, if you know that you will be assigned another flight and sent on your way as soon as possible, in the larger scheme of things, what difference does a three hour delay make?

But it does make a difference. Our lives have changed that much. Our reliance on speed has rendered us, by and large, a hurried, impatient culture. Consider the furious reaction you will get from others if you simply endeavor to drive the posted speed limit on the highway. It’s gotten so that 55 is unsafe not for any speed-related reason, but because of the swerving, gesturing, and other belligerent behavior you may elicit from other drivers.

Until recently, my regular work schedule involved 12-hour days, during which I divided my time among two, sometimes three different jobs, with small breaks in between to eat and change my clothes. It wasn’t an ideal situation, but for a time, it made sense. For the past few weeks, my days have been much easier — I’ve been granted the luxury of time. But I’m amazed at how difficult the transition to something less demanding has been. Even with several hours of free time added to each day, I find it a struggle to slow down. Going out for a walk, I find myself moving at a pace just short of a run – I’m not in a hurry to get somewhere, I’m just used to moving that fast. It will take time to settle into a more relaxed frame of mind.

One night back in college, about a month before I graduated, I was feeling overwhelmed by the transition to adulthood and all the choices I saw before me. After letting me rant and rave about this for the better part of an hour, a friend ordered me to put on my hiking boots, and led me out into the warm spring night. There was a mountain nearby, one that I knew well, having climbed it countless times that year in attempts to assuage the frantic fears inside me.

But I’d never been up there after sunset. I knew the trail was rocky and steep in places – I knew there were fallen trees and other obstacles to avoid, so even after my eyes adjusted to the dark, I had to move slowly, feeling each step carefully before setting my foot down. In time we were able to pick up the pace, but it still took us twice as much time than usual to go up and down the mountain.

Returning to campus late in the night, I was much calmer. I knew that if I could take things one step at a time, I would find my way just fine. I had to slow down in order to see that.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the speed at which your days zip past, try taking a walk to slow yourself down. (You don’t have to go at night.) Pick a trail that requires your full attention, so that you’ll have to move slowly. Marshfield’s Nelson Forest (Highland Street) is one place to consider, as are the trails along the Indian Head River in Pembroke (West Elm Street).

by Kezia Bacon Bernstein, Correspondent
February 2002

Kezia Bacon Bernstein’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168.