The Art of Purposeless Purpose


From the comfort of my dining room table in this discomfiting time, I took a few minutes away from my computer screen and our new home office reality to consider the eloquent musings in the article “For the full life experience, put down all devices and walk” by John Kaag and Susan Froderberg. What a pleasure it was to read. I particularly enjoyed the phrase “The art of walking is all about . . . purposeless purpose.”It seems like a conundrum, yet if there is an unexpected benefit in this time of quarantine, walking surely rises to the top.

I’ve begun walking about my neighborhood for the first time since I moved here 10 years ago, following not just the streets that take me to work or the grocery store, but also the cul-de-sacs and gentler roads that imperceptibly follow Williamson Creek. I’m seeing beautiful live oaks I hadn’t noticed before; gardens and yards tended and wild; red blooms on yuccas and aloes, and the intense yellow-green of new tree leaves. More than that, I’m seeing and greeting people I know and don’t know (from an appropriate distance) also out for a stroll. Somewhat ironically, there’s a greater sense of community than before; a neighbor I don’t know has left pavement chalk at the curb and a request to write or draw on the street—and people are—with expressions of hope, belief, and togetherness.

I also love that the article mentioned the term “flaneur.” I’d understood it in a Parisian sense of strolling about, window-shopping, greeting friends and lollygagging about at bistros. But as the article describes, just walking to walk and to let the world provide an experience is my favorite pastime in Paris—the boats on the river, the tolling of cathedral bells, the stately plane trees and cats curled up in sunny windows. And here at home, more than visiting museums or fine restaurants or having things to do and places to see that have a defined purpose, just moving along at a lazy pace, aware and open to whatever occurs—or, having the world move past, observing, like that cat in the window—is a great pleasure.

Now, back to the dining room table. It’s strewn with spreadsheets, memos, and hand-jotted notes I can’t read (even as the writer!) as I advance Hill Country Conservancy’s work in central Texas. I’m kept company by an overweight Persian cat, circled in on himself and blissfully unaware of our changed world. I have a view to a Japanese maple, which is calming and serene. As I respond to emails and plot out my daily to-do list, I’m inspired by the work Hill Country Conservancy has done and is continuing to do, even under these challenging circumstances, and I know we’ll get through this.

I hope you’re all finding some time and opportunity to “go quiet”. The ceaseless barrage of facts and fear and anxieties needs a counterpoint. Stay safe, stay balanced, and find the new opportunity for reflection and self-awareness in these chaotic times.

Scott J. Parker
Director of Land Conservation

About the Author

Hill Country Conservancy