‘Ambit’ is a term I picked up this year that clicked with me in a pleasing manner. It refers to the scope or boundary of something, and in a more archaic sense, it specifically meant an external boundary. I think of my ambit as the area that I consider “walking distance.” It’s where I amble. I begin to walk out a new ambit every time I move, and it expands each day, until I’ve walked up and down nearly every street within 3 miles, seen every house and garden, and finally started to orient myself to my surroundings. Another way to think of an ambit is as “stomping grounds,” although I don’t stomp as often as I might skip through a chalked hopscotch outline.
My husband’s ambit is different from mine in the same way that our lexicons are different. His personal mental dictionary is full of engineering terms and mathematical formulae, while mine includes more writing systems and foreign phrases. His ambit is built around his work commute, while mine is typically built around the public library, grocery store, and perhaps a local teahouse. He likes to make a game out of optimizing his route, finding the path with the fewest traffic lights, working out alternate pathways if a signal changes unfavorably. He’s like Pac-Man.
Sometimes I take my dog for walks. His preferred speed is about 30 mph, so I tend to go faster when I’m with him. What we notice together is quite different. He’s highly aware of smells that I can’t detect, and he regards every single other living creature we pass, regardless of species. He sniffs flowers. I have to watch him as we pass any trash on the ground, because one day he picked up a stale bun (only to spit it out a moment later). We used to run in the hills of a regional park together most days, and he learned the various routes. He pulls off the trail and sits when a bicycle comes our way. He’s chill around horses now. He is always ready to GO, day or night, rain or shine, high wind or calm. I take him at night because I know he would bite anyone who tried anything on me. Mostly, though, I take him because he has so much fun. He adds to my experience. One day, a kid at a bus stop watched us walk by. He grinned and said, “When I grow up, I’m going to have a dog just like that.”
Spike Walks are a different ambit from my solo expeditions. He tops out around 6 miles. On Sunday, we took him on a distance day that worked out to about 9 ½, with a stop at a dog park at the midpoint. He took the lead and trucked along, ears up, without asking for a break. After we got home, he was so tired he barely got out of his bed for 24 hours. My top neighborhood distance is 17 miles, much too far for a little guy whose legs are only about a foot long.
I started walking most days at the age of 6, when I walked a mile to school and a mile back every day. It felt like a million miles. I would stop to pet every cat at every house that had one. I was late a lot. One morning, I saw a rose petal fall, and it really impressed me that I looked in the right direction at just the right moment. I vividly recall the first time I saw the moon in the morning sky. Walking got into me. It’s really the only way to keep track of everything that’s going on, the important things, anyway. The weather. The phase of the moon. The rotation of the constellations. Neighbors’ gardens. Coins (I have a jar with about $40 of currency I’ve picked up since 2005, mostly pennies, a nickel last night). Interesting sidewalk graffiti. A tree with striations that look like a Dalek. How can anyone sit around night after night and miss all this?
Curiosity, awe, and gratitude fuel my life. I’m lucky that way. Going for walks with me is an exercise in patience, as much as in hamstrings, because I’m constantly stopping to take pictures of random things, such as a divot in the sidewalk that looks like a human ear. I probably have more blurry, backlit, unidentifiable pictures of birds than I do of family members. I do all the illustrations on my blog, sometimes because it seems like a good idea, mostly because I need an outlet for all the fascinating things I see when I walk around my ambit.
In first grade, I did two miles a day, and that continued through sixth grade. In seventh grade, the school was a mile and a half away, so my daily distance increased to three miles. It occurred to me one day to calculate the mileage I put on my shoes, and I had to do it twice because the number seemed much too high to be credible. Fifteen miles a week, 60 miles a month?! I was 12 and that little seed of mileage tracking sprouted.
The day I started running, I couldn’t make it around the block. One third of a mile and I couldn’t do it. I went home and lay on the floor until the black spots in my vision went away. I thought, “Well, I guess I know what I’m doing tomorrow,” and I went back out and found a 1/3 mile route without a hill and forced myself to keep going. A few weeks later, I ran the first mile of my life. Four years later, I ran my first marathon. My husband helped me map out my running routes in those early days, adding a tenth of a mile every few days, and he and Spike ran with me the first several months. Sometimes my teen stepdaughter would go with us. It was easy for them. Spike does it all barefoot, and the tiny increments of distance helped him toughen up his footpads until he could handle a routine 4-6 miles of varied terrain. It wasn’t until my first 8-mile race that I started reaching distances I had to do alone. I had my solo ambit, my dog ambit, and my family ambit.
Then we decided to go to Iceland. In the course of our travel research, I realized that lodging was very expensive, while campgrounds were easily accessible and came with showers and kitchen areas. We could extend our trip to three weeks if we camped. The cost of the new backpacking gear would be fully amortized by the savings from not staying in hotels, even if we never used it again. The trip planning suddenly got a lot more interesting. We did our first multi-day through hike. Now I’ve expanded my ambit to include backpacking adventures, and I can carry the tent and all the food and clothing I need for four days without a resupply. There are few places on Earth that couldn’t potentially find themselves under my feet now.
I’ve walked in the wilderness, and I’ve walked in farm country with horses and cows leaning over the fence to check me out. I’ve walked the suburbs. I’ve walked in dense urban downtowns, from the seediest to the scene-iest. New York, Boston, Las Vegas, Victoria, Vancouver, Aukland, Reykjavik, Cancun, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle. I’ve walked in bleak industrial deserts, botanical gardens, picket-fence neighborhoods, trails so narrow they really needed a machete. I’ve carried shopping bags and I’ve worn my 45-pound pack. Whether I’ve lived in a downtown high rise apartment or down several miles of dirt road, I’ve always had an ambit. It’s the best way to see the world, one step at a time.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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