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Young Blood

Walk on by

/ 05:00 AM March 17, 2019

The pedometer on my watch shows I have accomplished walking 13,450 steps — translating to roughly 10 kilometers — after carrying buckets of wood chips at work. It is a hard job, and after six hours of doing it outdoors, in the cold, I can already feel the aching of my weary joints.

I am not complaining though. I am tired to a point where I think I will have a fever, but I feel happy and my mind is as clear as the blue sky we had for the day. I love what we are doing, especially walking — that slow shuffle of feet onward, forward, even when where we’re going is just to the mulch pile.

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I do it outside of work, too — walking, even in the freezing Seattle streets. Sometimes I would aim for a particular destination at the end, but it could also be just aimlessly moving on paths I did not grow up in, and getting lost inside myself.

Back in Manila, when the mood hits me, I do the same. There are times I’d walk alone at 2 a.m., braving dark alleys and snatchers, to go home rather than ride a cab. While I do this to save money, I tend to walk more for the joy of it. I can only breathe easy, though, when I reach my apartment.

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During the weekends, I would go to the mountains and walk as much as 15 hours a day, going as far as 36 km. There are the mountains of the Cordilleras, the Sierra Madre, Tarlac and many others calling; I have hiked them even after hurting my knees.

Why? many people have asked. Maybe because in every walk there are always wonders to be found, if you know how to look for them. They can be in the silence of a falling leaf, a passing cloud or in an interesting conversation heard from strangers.

It can also be the itching of some ancient instinct deep inside our brains. According to a book, our earliest ancestors used to walk 20 km every day searching for food or safe shelter. I might just be following their lead.

I didn’t love walking in the beginning, but it was forced upon me as a child, the way we were forced to eat vegetables at the dinner table. My parents and I would walk around our small town in Sariaya, Quezon — going to the market, visiting a relative’s house, or from the bus stop to home. We walked when it was sunny, ignoring the unbearable heat, and we walked in the rain, too, carrying umbrellas that protected our heads from getting wet but not our bodies. We walked even if it was late at night.

“We have to save money,” my parents told me when I complained that I was too tired. Somehow, those words stayed with me, and I started thinking we were so poor we couldn’t even afford to ride the tricycles that went around our tiny town. I couldn’t get my parents to ride one even if I cried and threw a tantrum. We had to walk, and that was final.

At times I got envious of other families who rode tricycles easily whenever they had to go somewhere and not think about the money they had to spend. I wanted my family to be as well-off as them. But, more simply, I just wanted us to arrive faster at where we were going instead of braving the streets sweaty from all that heat and dust.

“Naglalakad na naman kayo  (You are walking again)!” a neighbor would say with a mischievous laugh, as we went out of the house in the middle of the day. I am now 27 years old, and that neighbor saw us going through this motion for about 20 years.

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Maybe she felt sorry that the three of us in the family would fry under the sun, or that we were too frugal or hard up to spend even P30 for a fare. My parents would wave her off with a smile, and we continued our walking crusade, with me standing in the middle of them.

If only I could tell my neighbor now how, in all of the walks we took, in that slow shuffling of our feet, I always held on to my parents’ arms or their hands. And how we talked sometimes, or just stayed quiet, until the bustle of our town faded into the background. There would only be the three of us then, and together, over the years, we walked under countless fiery sunsets or under a canopy of stars as the cool  amihan  breeze fanned our skins. These, in just the walkable distance of 15 minutes from our house to another point in town.

I wonder if my neighbors who never walked ever noticed the views they could have also enjoyed if they just walked, or wished for the moments they could have spent with their family on those strolls. Did they ever notice that everything outside becomes a blur when riding a tricycle, even the conversations and stories that could have been shared? Did they ever think about the beauty of togetherness that comes to pass while walking?

Back home recently, my mom asked if we should ride the tricycle. “No, we should walk,” I replied.

We’d have saved money from walking, but the real reason was, I just wanted to walk the way we had always used to in our hometown all these years, in between my mom and my dad.

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Pat Labitoria, 27, is a volunteer specialist. She will be returning to the Philippines after completing her one-year program in environmental restoration with Earth Corps, a nonprofit based in Seattle, Washington.

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