The Secret to Good Health: A Good Walk


The view north from Emigrants Point to the Marin Headlands; photo by LCR


Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton


I was curled into bed on a cold San Francisco morning, reading The New York Times on my phone when I scrolled down and found Jane Brody’s article: “The Secret to Good Health May Be a Walk in the Park.” In this piece, she interviews Adrian Benepe, senior vice president for the Urban Land Institute and former New York City Parks commissioner. They then set out on a very engaging discussion of why people benefit from even short walks (10 minutes) in a park. I put my phone down and stared at the Monterey Cypress tree outside my window. It’s an old tree — many of them are here in the Presidio, having been planted via an Army and Federal government scheme to forest these dunes in the early 20th century.

Then I am up, making my bed (yes, I concur that all good days start with a made bed) and pulling on jeans and the simple barn boots and old fleece I wear for my morning walks.

(As I head out the door and up the hill to road and then trail, I see all sorts of exercisers in stretchy tights and flash jackets. Don’t know when we decided a walk required stretchy bits and coordinating hats on the body. But. Who cares what you wear. Just walk.)

When I first moved into the Presidio, I was so captivated by these trees and this place the story of the Presidio that I started taking daily walks and writing down what I saw and heard. Many days, these were just a few, scant sentences. I imagined this might be a longer work – an essay? – and over the four and a half years I worked intently on writing and shaping this material, I found it wanted to be longer. The trees had a story to tell and it needed to be a book. So. Here we are.

I sometimes hear from other urban dwellers in San Francisco that they find walking to be out of their reach — no time, no general inclination — and I always think what a pity it is to start and end each day without the solace of one’s own feet walking steadily, even for very short periods, in the company of trees. This is particularly perplexing when you learn that almost 100 percent of us in SF live within a 10-minute walk of a park.

At any rate, the sun is beginning to stretch its long arms my way from the east.  Come to me, it says, and let me wrap you in my light. Time to join the raptors and coyotes on the dawn patrol, good company indeed. Here is where I walk.