Walking to school in Finland

My nephew Elias walking to his 3rd grade class in my brother’s hometown of Tampere. He says the 15 minute walk to school is the best time to prepare himself for school and the day’s work.

Once upon a memory, my mother held my hand while we walked from our small apartment in Turku to the local market. I can still see the spring dew just starting to blossom on every green surface it could find. I can still hear the whizzing of cars when they sped past us. I can still smell the wild flowers that were sprinkled through the grass. I can still feel the solid concrete of the sidewalk, keeping me safe on my journey. Never once did I question us walking instead of driving to the market. 

Later in my life, I would ask my mother why we saw so many people walk to work, the market, the library, school and more. She simply said in Finland, if you could walk on the sidewalk to your goal, you simply would walk. Nobody questioned that the car would be faster or you could take more home or you would save time or it would be easier. 

My mom reminded me every time we walked to the market, library or my daycare that we are lucky to be able to walk. She told me of places where walking is not an option because the town or city decided sidewalks were not a part of their design. My shocked child brain could not phantom a place not valuing their sidewalks. 

Until  I went to high school in Texas and learned I could not walk the30 minutes to school because there was no sidewalk. No, instead I waited 30 minutes for my yellow bus and waited another 30 minute while it drove around to three other neighborhoods. Yes, many students used that time to chat, eat and mostly sleep. But, I stared out the window, desiring to be outside with nature and fresh air. 

To my joy and surprise when I arrived in Abilene for the first time, I was able to walk to almost everywhere in town. I could walk to the park, the library, the schools, my office, the dollar general and more. Me and my pup could take our time outside and walk till we ran out of energy. I once again could feel the concrete underneath my feet and feel the safety that it brought to my soul. 

So now, when I walk, I think of my first home and how much my new home sounds, looks and feels so similar, so comforting. Thank you to those who make sure that Abilene always has it’s sidewalks. 

AJ Raaska is a reporter for the Abilene Reflector-Chronicle


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