Walking along the K and P this morning, I was wondering about trail design and shape as that relates to contemplative walking. The K and P, like most rail-bed trails is straight, flat and uninterrupted with curves for most of its 25 mile length. This does not mean its uninteresting, because the views of the ravine creeks and the profile of Pinnacle Hill are outstanding. It does, however, lack the undulating curves we so often associate with the best trails.
This leads to the question of what are the best kind of trail shapes for contemplative walking. What I realized is that there are shapes which facilitate different forms of contemplation. What I found on this rail-bed trail was the excellent support for recitative practice. In my case, I found the steadiness and predictability of this track supported a good 30 minute period of nembutsu chanting, some of which I did sotto voce.
It certainly promotes a very good context for developing pace, rhythm and balance, as well as the lack of distraction that allows for real interior experience. I was able to experience the full bodily experience of my walking, because I did not need to attend to sudden changes in trail texture or shape.
Later, I went looking for what there was in principles of trail design. I found this document from Ontario which I found quite interesting.
This is a 300 plus page document primarily describing various standards for trail construction processes. Things like constructing treads, water management, soil types and so on. It also describes principles of sustainable trails and “universal design”, that is designing for all kinds of users. Interestingly, it cites curving trails as the ideal. This fits well with what Ellard (Places of the Heart) says about human preference for curving lines.
I have posted a related piece on the WALC podcast today as well.