Walking the rails

Walking the Oaks Park Railway line.

It occurred to me this morning that I have written a lot about the places I’ve walked, but little about walking itself.

This thought occurred while I was walking on the railroad tracks below Sellwood Park. It’s a private railway line that runs between Oaks Bottom Nature Preserve and the Willamette River. Around Christmastime, a cute little steam train runs up and down, carrying mostly children and their adult companions. The train makes a wonderful nostalgic tooting sound we can hear from our neighborhood, which is situated on a plateau above Oaks Bottom Nature Preserve and the railway line.

I started walking the railway tracks last winter. I would get up and balance on one rail, and then, when I inevitably fell, I’d move to the other rail and walk that until I fell again. Then I’d switch back.

Read more: Walking the rails

When I started out, it was pretty difficult. Even then I realized that for some reason, when I walk on the left-side track, it’s a lot easier for me to cover distance without falling. So these days, I try to walk the right-side track more of the time. , and more persistently. When I get tired of falling, I go back to the left-side rail for some relief. I’m sure it will improve over time.

Of course, each rail has a slight camber, tilting down towards the inside of the rail. I’m sure the camber isn’t perfectly regular or even equal on both sides. I’m also sure that the difference between walking one side and the other has something to do with my body’s natural asymmetries.

When I get the flow and can walk for a while without falling, it feels wonderful; a kind of soaring elation rises up inside me. Filled with joy and confidence, I try a different challenge: Instead of looking at the rail about six feet ahead of me, I train my eyes further up the rail, perhaps 15 feet ahead. Then when that’s working well, I take my eyes off the rail entirely and look at the scene ahead of me, changing as I walk forward.

Walking the rails is good for proprioception and improving balance, and it’s good for my brain in other ways too. Research has shown 1 that working on balance can improve both memory and spatial cognition. Now that I’m in my 67th year, balance, memory and other cognitive skills are important to me – I want to enjoy a long and healthy life. But honestly, the real reason I continue walking the rails is that it’s just plain fun.  


Rogge, AK., Röder, B., Zech, A. et al. Balance training improves memory and spatial cognition in healthy adults. Sci Rep 7, 5661 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-06071-9

Coronavirus diaries: It’s so quiet

The clean water of the Willamette River reflects the clear blue, clean skies that are one of the effects of the coronavirus shutdown.

Have you noticed the quiet? I certainly have. Every morning, as the pale-peach tinge of dawn displaces the slate-blue night lying between dark silhouetted tree tops, I lie in bed and listen to birds calling. There are so many of them, and their calls are so varied, each distinct from the next.

I can’t remember many places with such bird-filled dawns. Papershali, Uttarakhand, where we lived too far from the road to hear any traffic. Vancouver Island, just a few minutes’ walk from the shoreline of Haro Strait. The Olympic National Forest, the summer my sister and I went backpacking together. There may be other places I’m not remembering just now, but one thing I do know: It’s rare to wake up to the complete absence of sound from cars, trucks or trains.

Continue reading

Coronavirus diaries: Yes, I’m baking

Look at this texture!

Like everyone else, I’ve been baking since we stopped being able to travel, meet with friends, go to coffee shops, go to bookstores or do much of anything else outside the home (other than taking long walks). I just invented a new muffin recipe (based on one I found online) that I think is absolutely delicious, so I’m sharing it here. It contains no eggs, because I can’t eat eggs, so I hope anyone else who avoids eggs will find and enjoy it. I’ll also provide some notes on how to make the recipe completely vegan.

Continue reading

Coronavirus diaries: staying connected while socially distancing

I should start by saying the term “social distancing,” seems all wrong to me. A friend said the other day on Facebook that we really should call it “physical distancing,” because that’s what it needs to be: the keeping of a safe physical distance between us to avoid catching, or transmitting, the coronavirus.

But we shouldn’t be socially distant – not at all. In fact, we should make greater efforts to be socially close right now: smile at one other, say it’s a lovely day, stop for a friendly chat. You can do all of that at a distance of six, even eight feet – and it’s nourishing to exchange energy with our fellow humans.

Continue reading

Eclipse 2017

IMG_4024This is the first eclipse I’ve seen since 1980. I’d just arrived in Delhi, and the family I was staying with refused to let me go out of the house. “You’ll get sick,” they said.

Today’s eclipse was a party. People started gathering in Tom McCall Waterfront Park quite early; as Alan and I walked over the Hawthorne Bridge into downtown, we could see clusters of people settled down with bright blankets, paper coffee cups and white pastry bags in hand.

Continue reading