I've resolved to walk more this year for all the obvious reasons: I want to reduce my carbon footprint, my waistline and my fuel budget.
Mostly, though, I want to walk more because I can. As a resident of the town of Oneonta's West End, I am fortunate to live in a community where I could do a significant chunk of my regular errands on foot.
Many of the places I routinely visit are within a mile and a half of home: my mother's house, and my in-laws'; my daughter's elementary school; the two banks I do business with; the place where I mail packages and buy stamps; four restaurants I like; a neighborhood food store where I buy bread, milk, cheese and cold cuts.
The National Soccer Hall of Fame, where my daughter has attended several birthday parties, is half a mile away. In the summer, there's a farm stand a tenth of a mile away. Even my hairdresser is within walking distance now; she recently relocated to a salon less than a mile from my house.
In a rural area, it doesn't get much better than this.
I'm a West Ender from way back. Growing up, I walked a lot _ to elementary school, to swim lessons and to my first job, scooping ice cream at the Dairy Queen.
A lot has changed since my mom shopped at Grand Union and Ames, mostly for the better. Sure, we could use a supermarket and a retail store on this end of town, but instead of focusing on what we lack, I'm appreciating what we've got: wide, new sidewalks on Oneida and Chestnut streets; a graphics designer who has revitalized the old dry-cleaning storage building; a furniture store where the old dress factory used to be; two new delis and the promise of more small businesses, coming soon to the West Gate Plaza.
Sometimes, a neighborhood store offers not just convenience but also variety, quality or service not available at the larger stores. For example, at Christmastime, Daddy Al's food store had candy cane-shaped cookie sprinkles that I didn't see at the supermarket. The small store also sells half-gallons of milk in glass bottles, which I can return for reuse _ helping the environment, and saving me the hassle of crushing and recycling plastic jugs.
The less-tangible benefits are more difficult to quantify: There's the feeling of neighborhood and the sense of belonging to a community that come with being a "regular" at a store that doesn't look or sound or feel the same as everywhere else.
You experience this more deeply when you're not insulated from the world. You notice people more when you pass them on the sidewalk than when you see them through the windshield. When you're not whizzing through the neighborhood, you see flower gardens and snowmen and falling leaves. And when you walk by Pizza Land, you really smell the pizza.
So why don't I walk more?
Obviously, it's not always convenient. There's a nice Laundromat about half a mile from my house, but, when my dryer broke down, I wasn't about to walk there with baskets of soggy clothes. That being said, I have to admit to my own inconvenient truth: I probably have time to walk places more than I actually do.
All too often, I'm in a hurry, not because I really need to be, but because I'm used to functioning that way. We live in a society that's constantly focused on maximizing efficiency. We've been programmed to multi-task and do things fast. So we zip around, with our drive-through lunches, banking precious minutes that will help us fit in half an hour at the gym, walking in place.
There's one more reason I don't walk as often as I should. I have a preschooler who is not always reliable in her estimates of how far she will walk without whining, begging to be carried or simply plopping down and refusing to budge.
I've found that we can cover a lot more ground when she rides her bike. There's just one problem. When she pedals at full throttle, I can't walk fast enough to keep up.
I'm determined not to let that stop me, however. Come spring, I'll be running errands like never before.
Lisa Miller is a freelance writer who lives in Oneonta. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.