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These boots

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Rising gas prices compel me. Traffic jams compel me. President Bush's talk of tapping into the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil compels me.

Flipping through TV channels one night, I hear the tail end of a report on PBS. A commentator, referring to scientific theories of chaos, posits the idea that it takes only a significant minority of human beings changing their lifestyle to make a positive impact on the global environment. Now that really compels me.

So I walk to work. I walk to school in the afternoons to pick up my children, and I walk to the local sandwich shop for tea or coffee or an occasional meal. I admit it's easy for me to do this because I live in the center of Hillsborough where there is no sprawl. And yet, I had developed a habit of hopping into my car for every little errand.

Walking amazes me. On the way to work in the morning, my heartbeat picks up and the fatigue in my body and mind begins to fade. A new fence is being constructed at the historic Burwell School. I look down into the large postholes and see the hard, red clay. The posts will sit well in there. Pink roses spill over a stone wall in the next block and I sniff to see if there is a fragrance.

Walking with my children on the way home from school, my older son takes my hand and tells me about his day. My younger son lags behind, kicking a stone all the way home. The three of us stop and suck the juice out of honeysuckles growing at the edge of someone's yard. We wave to a neighbor. We hear a woodpecker. We see a cloud shaped like a rabbit.

Walking affects my pocketbook too--and not only in reduced gas bills. When I'm not driving, I'm more apt to think, do I really need whatever it is I think I need from the store? I look at the car, idle in the driveway. For the moment, it's not part of the clog of Churton Street or the interstates. I can wait for whatever it is I need.

One recent afternoon, I'm walking home from town with one of my sons and we wander into the Hillsborough Historical Museum. We look at the old relics, but my son is so prone to touch things that I hurry him upstairs to see the watercolor exhibit by Herb Slapo.

Looking at the paintings, my son says, "I like 'No Docking' best." I ask why. All I see in the soothing watercolor is two empty rowboats tied to a pier. My son points to the words "No docking" painted on the pier. "They disobeyed," he says, laughing. Then, he notices a picture of clouds in lavender, pinks and grays. "I see the castle," he exclaims.

I realize that until I started walking, I would never have given the exhibit a passing glance. But I'm learning what it means to be able to stare at the clouds. Walking is becoming a natural part of my day. And I'm compelled to do it now as much for myself and my children as for the global environment.

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