I’m a huge fan of walking. By “walk,” I don’t mean the fetishistic activity that involves leg weights, an odometer, and a satellite system.

I’m talking about throwing on your sneakers, walking out the door of wherever you happen to be, and taking an hour, two-hour stroll for the sheer, exuberant wonder of the enterprise.

Deserts, seashores, and prairies are good, but so are back alleys, warehouse districts, and urban blight. The edges, as Pope Francis points out, are where things get interesting. The edges are where you have space to dream, where people will say hi. Or not.

I once wheeled into a Motel 6 in Flagstaff, Arizona, for example, took off on foot, and passed through a half-mile of gas stations, clover-leafs, and underpasses. But then I came upon a dirt forest road, completely deserted, where I picked a bouquet of wildflowers, communed with several trees, and watched the sunset before tramping back–enjoying the underpasses, clover-leafs, and gas stations as well–to my humble room.

Suffice it to say that Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places (1998) is my kind of book. Imagine my surprise, though, to discover that while I thought I’d just been engaging in an under-the-radar, poor-person’s activity, the author, John R. Stilgoe , teaches classes at Harvard!

He’s definitely on to something, though. Here’s an excerpt:

“Get out now. Not just outside, but beyond the trap of the programmed electronic age so gently closing around so many people at the end of our century. Go outside, move deliberately, then relax, slow down, look around. Do not jog. Do not run…

Abandon, even momentarily, the sleek modern technology that consumes so much time and money now, and seek out the resting place of a technology almost forgotten. Go outside and walk a bit, long enough to forget programming, long enough to take in and record new surroundings…

Outside lies programmed awareness that at times becomes directed serendipity. Outside lies magic.”

As tax deadline looms—and we self-employed folk in particular blanch—Stilgoe’s message is especially timely. Because getting outside, among its many other attributes, is free!

One place I’ve always loved to walk is downtown L.A. As a lawyer in the early ‘90’s, I frequently washed up at the Superior Courthouse on Hill and 1st and the nearby law library.

I spent many hours of mingled existential anguish and interior joy in what is now Grand Park, sitting on a deserted bench and gazing at the fountain down the hill from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

I wept, prayed, buried my head in my hands, talked to homeless people, and drank endless venti Starbucks by that fountain. The seed of the decision to quit my job as a lawyer in order to write was planted by that fountain.

That fountain is now tricked out like a Ferris Wheel at night—spectacular enough, though I’m not sure I didn’t like it better before. The point is that I have a history with the fountain.

The point is that we don’t get a history with people or things unless we get up close to them. Christ always got close to people. He noticed the trees, the flowers, the mountains, the wind. He traveled on foot.

So if you have the tax time blues, why not spend a day exploring our beautiful downtown? You can park for two free hours on the Hill Street extension (take a gradual right off Cesar Chavez just past Grand), or all day in the streets above Chinatown.

Walk to the Central Library on Olive and 5th. Peruse the stacks of books and racks of CDs. Check out the always interesting photography or art exhibit. Sit in the courtyard.

Walk up the hill to the Colburn School, a gold mine of free events: student recitals, faculty chamber music ensembles, dance lectures.

Sit by the reflecting pool in back of MOCA and give thanks.

Wander down to Little Tokyo and splurge on a bowl of ramen.

Visit Grand Central Market.

Find your way (you may want to drive the two miles) to the Bread Lounge at 700 South Santa Fe. Buy a $2.10 hunk of Ciabatta with Kalamata Olives (so Eucharistic!) and walk over the LA River on the 7th Street Bridge.

Say howdy to the lone folks you’ll come upon who have set up camp for the day in the occasional alcoves.

Stop in the middle.

Look out over the railyards and the river and the whole crazy sprawl of our unlikely, glorious city. Survey what God hath made. Tell yourself, heart bursting: I live here. I am part of this.

You’ll be footsore, and a little hungry still, and not a penny richer.

But remind yourself as you begin the trudge back that the mark of a follower of Christ is never whether we own houses, or lands, or fat IRAs.

The mark of a follower of Christ is the breadth of our imagination.

It’s our capacity for beauty.

It’s our willingness to suffer, for love.



  1. Heather, I live in a very different culture than you do, but many of your expressed sentiments here are similar to my own. I live in a sleepy northern Indiana town, very close to endless acres of farmland. The population of my town is about 1,000. Every evening when I take my walk, I notice what the majority of the populous seems to miss – the blossoms of the dogwood and cherry trees, the evensong of the cardinals and robins, the unfurling flowers. I consider how tragic it is that the world is so consumed with technology, and I admit it can be a trap for me, as well. But these moments of unbridled spontaneity always elevate my soul to God, and I end up both humbled and grateful for the simple profundity found in nature. Thank you for sharing what it's like in L.A. I probably would join you by the fountain if I lived there.

  2. Anonymous says: Reply

    good to read this and Jeannie's too !
    i like walking out in the wild…brings me close to God.

  3. Please listen to this lovely gospel songs at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h408VIuz-5s and kindly share with everyone. GOD BLESS YOU.

  4. Dear Heather, thank you for this 🙂 I especially liked what you wrote about getting up close to things – I think it helps dispel the fear that can come through "not knowing". In February of 2008 I was in LA and it was my last night abroad after two and a half months travelling through North America and Eastern Europe. I was staying by myself at a friend's in Lawndale and I set off on foot to try to find a pizza and some Ben & Jerry's (my last-night-in-the-USA craving, apparently). I had walked so, so far and it was a gritty and wonderful way to see the streets. And then I asked some people (a family) in a car where on earth I could find a shopping centre … and they offered to drive me the couple of blocks. And I'd walked so far that I said yes. And it was a great few minutes, close-up, face to face, with some lovely Los Angeles locals … and then a long but contented walk back to my friend's place. Your piece just reminded me of this one lovely evening (one lovely evening among many – as a walker I have so many other wonderful memories of getting out and getting up close to things – it's the best). Thank you!


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