Upright and Outside, Moving


Thomas Gardner, Poverty Creek Journal

Wandering Two: staying upright (RUN! may 30, 2017)

“And since we will be
horizontal ourselves
for so long,
let us now honor
the gods of the vertical” (Paston, Vertical)

Sunday morning—23 degrees, both ponds frozen and glassy. Six miles. About an inch of ice on the trail—frozen snow-melt, frozen slush—but I managed to stay upright….What Wittgenstein wanted from philosophy in the second half of his career was a way to stay upright. ‘We have got onto slippery ice where there is no friction,’ he warned, turning his gaze away from perfection and trying to make out how people actually move and think and make connections…It’s the dailiness of these runs I like

Gardner, 54

One goal of my running? Staying upright. Active. Moving. Grounded. Connected. In conversation with the world, with my body, with my breathing, with dreaming and wondering and real possibilities, rooted in the realities of my limits. Resisting restlessness.

Time moves differently out here.

A bit like half sleep, when you’re awake, in a way, but aware of dreams passing in a kind of un-retraceable wandering. When I sleepwalked in Wisconsin, just before our daughter Ann was born, I’d often find myself at an upstairs window, staring across the street at the foundry, a few blocks away, floating above our neighbors’ roofs. I’d hear rail cars coupling and see steam rising, men above the roofs in a blue light, almost dancing as they worked. Laura would find me there, the turning colors passing through me, and although I tried to say what I was seeing, nothing I said make sense. Huge piles of know below, the house a fortress behind heaped-up walls, the two of us staring out into the dark, content to let our language go. no real way to put any of this into numbers, miles after mile just streaming though me.

Poverty Creek Journal/ Thomas Gardner / Feb 2, 2012

I’ve been feeling my way all week toward some still-unstated problem, running without a watch, not tracking my thoughts, trying to let the run distill itself down to breath, or rhythm, or attention — as single maple leaf suspended in a web, five feet over the trail. It’s hard to do. Thoughts rise and rattle, spread their wings, legs trailing them over the pond.

Poverty Creek Journal/ Thomas Gardner / Aug 16, 2012

…something deeper came alive. How to describe the feeling? It was as if one sort of fiber had been exhausted and another had come awake, something there all along. I felt the difference—moving more from the hips, hitting the ground with a slight jar. Simone Weil talks this way about attention. Think of it as a spiritual discipline, she says. Find a subject just out of reach, for which you have no aptitude. Allow yourself to come up empty. Now wait, “not seeking anything, but ready to receive.”

Poverty Creek Journal/ Thomas Gardner / Sept 21, 2012

This is just a run, not an entrance into some other world, and yet, down its length, before taking on the full weight of morning, the entire hollow is flowing with light.

Poverty Creek Journal/ Thomas Gardner / Dec 13, 2012

Joyce Carol Oates

In running the mind flies with the body; the mysterious efflorescence of language seems to pulse in the brain, in rhythm with our feet and the swinging of our arms. Ideally, the runner who’s a writer is running through the land- and cityscapes of her fiction, like a ghost in a real setting.

To Invigorate Literary Mind, Start Moving Literary Feet / Joyce Carol Oates

The structural problems I set for myself in writing, in a long, snarled, frustrating and sometimes despairing morning of work, for instance, I can usually unsnarl by running in the afternoon.

To Invigorate Literary Mind, Start Moving Literary Feet / Joyce Carol Oates

George Sheehan

…each day I take to the roads as a beginner, a child, a poet. Seeking the innocence of the beginner, the wonder of the child and the vision of the poet. Hoping for a new appreciation of the landscape, a new perspective of my inner world, some new insights on life, a new response to existence and myself.

Running / George Sheehan, 1978

I must listen and discover forgotten knowledge. Must respond to everything around me and inside me as well.

Poets do this naturally. A really good poet, wrote James Dickey, is like an engine with the governor off….

The best most of us can do is to be a poet an hour a day. Take the hour when we run or tennis or golf or garden; take that hour away from being a serious adult and become serious beginners.

Running / George Sheehan, 1978


Ada Limón

One of the things the walk did for me was to decenter the self. At a certain point the mind opens and you start to watch, you get to witness, you get to listen, you get to receive the world instead of putting yourself into the world. I think I am someone who is inherently selfish, and I can turn anything into something about me. I think most people can. The more I walk, the more I can dissolve. The process of dissolving and being receptive to the world is where the poetry comes from. Sometimes it takes a lot of miles for that to happen.

To Witness, To Listen, To Receive the World/ Ada Limón

Walking as opening up thought

I’m heading up the AT to the North Trail, the kind of hike during which my mind goes from translucent to luminous, its usual wash of thought polished to a transparency that lets in the world with a force I adore. After a mile on foot, details come into focus with an oxygenated crispness. Thought can be a block to feeling the intertwining of self and world, the mesh of phenomena and the qualia of self, and hiking unblocks that feeling by muting my mind and allowing it to flood with a kind of proprioceptive ecstasy. My sense of self disappears into smell, color, sound, touch.

En Plein Air Poetics: Notes Towards Writing in the Anthropocene / Brian Teare

Walking as ecopoetics

One of the primary ways I make ecopoetics an active practice is by drafting poems on foot in the field.

Writing while walking makes explicit the intimate relationship between a site and my body, and though writing while walking obviously privileges language as its end-product, it derives that language from relation lived through the physical especially.

En Plein Air Poetics: Notes Towards Writing in the Anthropocene / Brian Teare

Frederic Gros, A Philosophy of Walking

…by walking you are not going to meet yourself. By walking, you escape from the very idea of identity, the temptation to be someone, to have a name and a history.

do not believe any idea that was not born in the open air and of free movements—in which the muscles do not also revel.

Can they dance?

We do not belong to those who have ideas only among books, when stimulated by books. It is our habit to think outdoors—when walking, leaping, climbing, dancing, preferably on lonely mountains or near the sea where even the trails become thoughtful. Our first questions about the value of a book, of a human being, or a musical composition are: Can they walk? Even more, can they dance?” (Gros, 18, org. from Nietzsche, Gay Science).

Can they breathe?

Many others have written their books solely from their reading of other books, so that many books exude the stuffy odour of libraries. By what does one judge a book? By its smell (and even more, as we shall see, by its cadence). 

Other books breathe a livelier air; the bracing air of outdoors, the wind of high mountains, even the icy gust of the high crags buffeting the body; or in the morning, the cool scented air of southern paths through the pines. These books breathe. They are not overladed, saturated, with dead, vain erudition

slow walking

But haste and speed accelerate time, which passes more quickly, and two hours of hurry shorten a day. Every minute is torn apart by being segmented, stuffed to bursting. You can pile a mountain of things into an hour. Days of slow walking are very long: they make you live longer, because you have allowed every hour, every minute, every second to breathe, to deepen, instead of filling them up by straining the joints (37). 

never alone

one never truly walks alone: Everything talks to you, greets you, demands your attention: trees, flowers, the colour of the roads. The sigh of the wind, the buzzing of insects, the babble of streams, the impact of your feet on the ground: a whole rustling murmur that responds to your presence

you are nobody to the hills

You are nobody to the hills or the thick boughs heavy with greenery. You are no longer a role, or a status, not even an individual, but a body, a body that feels sharp stones on the paths, the caress of long grass and the freshness of the wind (84). 

walking as absorption

But walking causes absorption. Walking interminably, taking in through your pores the height of the mountains when you are confronting them at length, breathing in the shape of the hills for hours at a time during a slow descent. The body becomes steeped in the earth it treads (85).

god/ Sara Lynne Puotinen

today I saw god
near the end of my long run
a verb not a noun
the act of being upright
performed by Daily Walker

since starting to run
and to write while running this
walker has been here
faithfully walking moving
being outside near the gorge

today I noticed
and said “good morning” instead
of just running by
an act of pure attention
performed beside the river

from an interview with the poet Sarah Audsley:

Walking my dog three times a day, cross country  skiing in the winter, and hiking in the mountains in the summer, offsets all the daily computer grind. I like to think, too, that it feeds the work. To put it in another way, I’m a better poet if I’ve spent some time outside noticing and moving in the woods. The natural world offers me a sense of belonging. So, of course, this will appear in the poems.

Interview with Sarah Audsley
Lorine Niedecker

For best work
you ought to put forth
some effort
to stand
in north woods
among birch

The Place We Run Through

I also start out southwest most days because this takes me downhill, onto the Ohlone Greenway. It’s not lost on me that this concrete greenway bisecting the East Bay’s cities is named for the people who were forcibly displaced, that I am living and running on unceded land. The Lisjan people, the branch of the Ohlone who lived in what is now the city of Berkeley, had been swept off to Missions to be baptized, and their land redistributed by the Mexican government around the time Thoreau was imagining this mythical Western landscape, synonymous with freedom.

I adjust my hat, set my watch to start GPS, cinch my ponytail tighter, and pull on my sunglasses as I walk, then lope, past the neighbors’ houses—hi Peter, hi Medha, hi Minna. I see a new fence going up, a For Sale sign on a fixer-upper sure to be dubbed a “jewel box” by the realtor, a fairy house at the base of a street tree, a Little Free Library doubling as a food pantry. In six minutes I’m leaning into the turn that delivers me from the sidewalks onto paved trail in the shadow of the BART tracks. And then I settle into my pace.

I am running to breathe deeply, to let my mind fill with nothing, to listen to the steady beat of my footsteps, a rhythm of just going about human business. I’m not accomplishing anything spectacular, but steadily getting things done.

I’m also seeing the place in which I live, Thoreau’s imagined paradise: plastic potato chip bags nestle in the blackberry brambles along the trailside, old condoms like deflated balloons stick to the asphalt. People rise from their tents behind the shelter of retaining walls next to the creek where they’ve bedded for the night; dead rats wash into the middle of the trail with the winter rains.

On these same lanes, bikes pedal along with toddlers on the back, on their way to preschools and jobs, while young men crouch in the bushes with needles, and old women in tattered layers amble along, pushing overburdened shopping carts filled with their worldly possessions.

This is my city, and running is how I see it.

Why I Run/ Rachel Richardson
well-meaning advice on how to be safe

There are many places I’ve been told not to run: the Greenway at night. The Bay Trail where it curves behind the racetrack. Don’t park at the Seabreeze Café because people are casing the parking lot at all times and will break into your car as soon as you take off on the path. Don’t run on Vincente Ave because there’s an aggressive mother deer with a baby nested in a backyard nearby. Don’t run at Lake Merritt—someone found a dead body in the reeds. Don’t run on Marin Avenue—it’s so steep that cars lose control and will hit you. Don’t run on the Bay Trail toward Emeryville unless you want to breathe exhaust from I-80 the whole way. Don’t run on Telegraph Ave unless you want to get accosted for drugs. Don’t run by People’s Park unless you want to risk stepping in human shit. Don’t run alone at Inspiration Point because of the mountain lions, and maybe also rapists. Don’t run on the Ohlone into Richmond because of the RV village at the roadside and their mountains of trash. Don’t run under the underpass to the Albany Bulb because of the tent encampment and their mountains of trash. Why do you want to run by all these mountains of trash? If you run without mace you’re stupid. If you run without a buddy you’re stupid. Run at the track. Run on a treadmill. Carry your phone. Don’t carry anything of value. Don’t run when it’s smoky out. Don’t run at dusk. Don’t run on cracked pavement. Maybe just do an exercise class.

The well-meaning advice-givers of Berkeley—on the NextDoor listserv, my neighbors, my dad—would like me to know where the dangers are, or at least to know that I’ve been warned. If I go there despite their clear words of caution, I might just deserve what I get.


I’ve run in all of these places. I’ve never been attacked while I run, but I’ve been cat-called, I’ve been told to smile, I’ve been preached to, screamed at, chased. I’ve had to plan out my self-defense maneuver when running toward a cluster of men on a narrow road, when turning around to avoid them feels scarier than running straight through. I’ve also encountered a mountain lion, once, and a black bear in the mountains, once, on the road. In those cases, I did turn around and run the other way, trying not to change my nonchalant gait, afraid to turn my head to see if they followed.

Why I Run/ Rachel Richardson

Poetry and Associations

The drifting, associating, linking experience that poetry creates is central to the way it makes meaning.

Poetry by its nature makes meaning by revealing hidden connections.

Associative movement can manifest in metaphor or other figurative language. It can be in the juxtaposition of facts that do not ordinarily belong tougher, but that the poem makes seem inevitably related. Or in a leap in the narrative of a poem. Or something musical, like rhyme or some other sound association….Something that literally or conceptually rhymes or chimes with what has come before (129-130, Why Poetry/ Zapruder).

Vigor, not Rigor
Some Walking and Running Resources


  1. Poverty Creek Journal / Thomas Gardner
  2. A Philosophy of Walking / Frederic Gros
  3. Wanderlust: A History of Walking / Rebecca Solnit
  4. Urban Tumbleweed/ Harryette Mullen (this link is interview/podcast about book)
  5. A Walking Life/ Antonia Malchik + Author’s site, with walking resources


  1. To Invigorate Literary Mind, Start Moving Literary Feet/ Joyce Carol Oates
  2. What We Think About When We Run/ Kathlyn Schulz
  3. What We Write About When We Write About Running / Brigid Delan
  4. Running, Thinking, and Writing/ Amby Burfoot + my blog post about it
  5. Running as Prayer/ Jamie Quatro
  6. My pace provokes my thoughts/ Edward Hirsch
  7. Walking/ Henry David Thoreau
  8. Why Walking Helps Us Think/ Ferris Jabr
  9. Heaven’s Gaits/ Adam Gopnik
  10. An Audio Postcard from New York’s Adirondak Mountains (recording while running)
  11. Why I Run: On Thoreau and the Pleasures of Not Quite Knowing Where You’re Going


  1. Cliché