Photo by Gowri Chandra

Walking Alone at Night: A Love Letter

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Being under the stars makes me feel like the sky’s the limit — for my life and for the world, which is going through so much right now.”

Lost Angeles is a column about getting lost — and found — on solo expeditions in the city.

A few years ago, the question was posed on Twitter: “Women, imagine that for 24 hours, there were no men in the world. No men are being harmed in the creation of this hypothetical. They will all return. They are safe and happy wherever they are during this hypothetical time period. What would or could you do that day?”

Among the hundreds of replies, some wrote that they’d hitchhike or backpack without fear of assault. Others said they’d go to work and not be subject to mansplaining. And many women replied that they’d just like to walk alone at night.

I saw this tweet when it was going around and think about it a lot. Because walking alone at night is one of my most favorite things. Lately, I’ve been doing it at the Silver Lake Reservoir after work. Exhausted and craving solitude, I love not having to make eye contact with anyone (except doggos). I end up walking extremely slowly, lost in my thoughts. Likely, I look high.

Sometimes I treat myself to a mocha and clutch its warmth in the dark, rehashing the same old questions: Should I move to New York? What am I doing with my life? Mostly questions, few answers.

The Silver Lake Reservoir at twilight. Photo by Gowri Chandra.

On weeknights, the park is quiet. The Saturday morning couples, ruddy-faced from morning sex, are mostly gone. The high-pitched toddlers are swathed in bed. It’s just me in the dark, the occasional jogger shuffling past. Coastal sagebrush; a slice of moon.

I have a love/hate relationship with walking. I hate it for the same reason I love it: Because it brings up All The Thoughts. Just like journaling, running, yoga and other pastimes that illuminate the human psyche, walking holds an inescapable mirror to myself.

I walk around the lake and I am served up uncomfortable truths. I can’t keep eating meat. I don’t love my apartment. I need a change — I just don’t know what. Some of these truths are persistent. Others, fickle. I try to talk myself out of them, waiting to see if they boomerang back. Some I don’t know what to do with, so I turn them over and over in my head, until they’re as smooth as river rocks.

After dark: The Silver Lake hills at a distance. Photo by Gowri Chandra.

A lot has been written about the merits of walking. I’m reluctant, however, to posit something so human — so literally pedestrian — as utilitarian. There’s enough of that in our Fitbit-obsessed world.

Still, its boons are well-documented. Julia Cameron, the prolific journalist, screenwriter and beloved author of “The Artist’s Way” (and ex-wife of director Martin Scorcese), has called walking the most powerful creative tool she knows. In her creative workbook “The Vein of Gold,” she urges inspiration-seekers to walk for 20 minutes daily, at least an hour weekly.

“Although it has fallen into disuse in our hurried times, it may be the most powerful spiritual practice known to man,” she writes. “Several years ago, I went through a spiritual passage during which I ‘saw’ that the earth was a living being which stored all of our collective experiences, every footfall and whisper, every passion, hope, heartbreak … To learn of these things, we had only to listen carefully enough to the earth.”

If this sounds like New Age bullshit to you, let it. The great thing about walking is that it’s biologically basic. It demands no belief before dispensing its benefits. You can be swiping right while you do it, or streaming NPR. Being inherently sacred, it works regardless of props or backdrops. I like walking outside though. Being under the stars makes me feel like the sky’s the limit — for my life and for the world, which is going through so much right now.

Sometimes I’ll wake up on a weekend and drive up to Malibu and wander the craggy shores of Point Dume. The Huntington Gardens make an equally transportive escape. And if you really need to think, driving up the 2 Freeway and stopping anywhere in the Angeles National Forest — even if it’s literally on the side of the road, to touch some snow — is a spell.

I don’t always get answers on these walks, but sometimes I do. A hunch here, an a-ha there. But mostly, I just get more peace about holding the question.

Los Angeleno