Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017


Had you been in Ridgecrest, California on the afternoon of Saturday, January 21st you might well have seen a small group of people walking south down the narrow sidewalk of China Lake Boulevard, occasionally spilling into the road.  The group was mostly, but by no means all, women, and one of the walkers appeared (I say appeared because you don’t want to be dogmatic about these things) to be a very tall man in a wig and fishnet stockings.  This was, as you’ll have guessed by now, one more anti-Trump demonstration, officially described as the Women's March to Petroglyph Park, followed by a candlelight vigil.  The photo below is by Jessica Weston of the Daily independent.

I didn’t join in because I wasn’t sure of the etiquette of some out of town, sis-gendered male infiltrating a women’s march, but I waved and cheered as they went on their way.  It was a very good-natured march.

In fact I was going to the Murango Museum, which I knew had the Gladys Merrick Garden, and a labyrinth, but I hadn’t been expecting a “planetary walk” a long outdoor path depicting the solar system, the sun represented by a small football-sized yellow sphere, the other planets represented by spheres of appropriate size and positioned at the proper scale distance from the sun. Pluto (which perhaps they still regarded as a planet: info was thin on the ground) was some two hundred yards away along the path.

In fact it was cold and raining in Ridgecrest by the time I got to the museum but who could resist a walk to the end of the solar system?  You walked out there, past earth:

past Saturn:

past all the rest, and when you got to the end (well before you reached the mall with the Marshall and Jo-Ann stores) you looked back across the planets at a now barely visible sun.  

You could also make out some white structures related, I think, to astronomical observation; one of which had been burned since I last visited.

I was deeply impressed by this planetary arrangement. I’d never seen or done a planet walk before, though I now gather there are plenty of them about, and many are much longer than the one I did.  The walk at the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, Vermont, is 1.6 miles long.  The one at the Robert Ferguson Observatory in Sonoma is two and a bit, though the latter has the planets set at intervals along a winding trail.  The joy of the walk in Ridgecrest is that it’s straight and flat (the way you imagine a diagram of the planets to be).

Ridgecrest is on the edge of the Mojave desert, and I often get annoyed by people who describe the desert as a “lunar landscape.”  Nevertheless, I dreamed that night that I was walking on the moon.  I didn’t have an oxygen tank but I could breath without any problem.  There were also trees on the moon, actually bristlecone pines.  This picture is by Ansel Adams (but you probably new that).

I’d only vaguely heard the name until that day, but there was a photographic exhibition about them in the museum – wonderfully gnarled, twisted things, and they are, by most accounts, the oldest living organisms on earth, some of them about five thousand years old. 

I determined that come spring I will make an expedition to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest which is just up the road from Ridgecrest.  (It closes for the winter).  The bristlecones grow between 5,600 feet, which is not a problem, and 11,200 feet, which makes me think an oxygen tank might be a useful bit of equipment for that part of the hike. 

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