As professional people observers, writers are always looking for ways to show character, identify individuals and sustain the integrity in their scenes. By describing the way people walk we can make our scenes more real, and more interesting.
I have studied the way people walk ever since I was the only kid on earth. In hospitals, train stations, and on the open range I will evaluate peoples gait, how high they step, which way their toes point on the way down, how their feet are used in riding over each step, the length of their stride, muscular movement of the hips and shoulders, and their response to obstacles.
All of us writers know to describe a sailors land side walk as a rolling gait. We know that farmers of the past century walked with their feet wider apart than anyone else because of the furrows they walked in. But, writers of today need to go deeper than that:
Runners are stronger in the calves; they PULL themselves forward with the leading leg.
You will sometimes see them come to a full stop occasionally to identify a scent. If the odor has vanished they will back up, one step at a time, testing the air until at last they detect the source.
For example, I was in a closed building on the Mountain Ute reservation which was displaying the works of Ute weavers. In the blanket area I suddenly stopped, backed up a step, and sniffed at each of three blankets rolled on display there until I had zeroed in on the one blanket in that room which was made by a Navajo.
When I glanced back up to go my way I noticed a knowing smile was on the faces of all four Ute custodians there. I could feel their eyes following me as I walked to the door.
Now, lets imagine five Euromericans coming to a clearing where SOMETHING is sensed to be out of place. They will stop in discordant frequency with their eyes on their leader as if looking for directions. When THEY spread out it will be in groups.. Two to the left, Two to the right.
Furthermore, they will go to points of observation determined by distance and density of undergrowth from the leader. If the first group is 50 feet away from the leader, the second group will be 50 feet away from the first group.
If it is a matter of tracks which has disturbed them, the Euromerican group is more apt to squat down and study individual track tracks, searching for clues to size and nature of the maker of those tracks.
If the animal is looking to the left or to the right Native Americans are more apt to go see WHY it was doing that than to immediately follow the first set of tracks. Once they know what concerned the animal they can trail the first set of tracks almost in their imagination.
How? Well, lets say a coyote made the first set of tracks and by discovering what held his interest we know it was a rabbit. The native American will know where the rabbit came from and where it is going; hence being able to turn a few chapters ahead and know where the next exciting installment of the story will unfold.
In the movies and books you will see Native Americans leaving home and searching for game. Oh, the diligence they use to not make a sound, how fascinating the way their eyes dart from side to side, looking for game as if it were going to surprise them by being out there. Ah, Hollywood! Scenes like that remind me of the time I taught some Hopi friends the right way to make pottery. The truth is, mincing around like that is a dang good way to get bit by a startled snake you dont see in time not to mention the fact your poor Native American wont find a thing out there to eat when hes walking around like that.
A rabbit that can hear a twig snap from half a mile away is going to be fooled by a pussyfooting human? Get real. Stalking only works on other, dull-sensed, human beings or animals frolicking in the wind. In real life the Native American KNOWS where the particular rabbit lives, eats, and frolics and he goes there BEFORE the rabbit will arrive and AFTER the birds have decided he isnt a threat to them and have settled back down. One shot and the Native American has supper in the bag.
Where then does this sneaking vision come from? Probably from watching them move through brush, cactus and trees. Follow a Native American through the countryside for a hundred miles and his legs or shoulders will only brush against the vegetation once, and that because you asked where he was going next at an inopportune time.
But, why does he avoid contact with the vegetation? Well, thats because THATS where the ticks, chiggers, and other such ilk lie in wait for their next hosts to brush by. Once they get used to OFF® being available for a dollar a gallon Native Americans wont be so cautious about touching the vegetation either.
The human foot is often used as an exploratory tool. For example, we took one gang of toughs from New Yorik City into the wilderness on a nature hike. As the city civilization turf was left behind they could be seen drawing closer together. When the hike into the dark forest began their taunting bravado disappeared altogether and their glances were constantly scanning every bush around them for hidden menace.
Then we came to the top of a small hill and gazed down upon a crystalline lake. One kid, braver than the others, inched his way towards it. At the very edge he stopped, stared at the water for a moment, then put the toe of one shoe into the water and dragged it deeper and deeper along the bank.
What on earth are you doing? I asked.
Indignantly he responded, Im looking for the curb.
In a flash of understanding I remembered my first trip on foot into a large city. I was gazing all around me until suddenly my foot almost came down on some slatted bars across my path.
I hesitantly touched the bars with my foot to see if they were real.
Then I studied them from where I was, then went around them to study them from the other side. Still puzzled I studied them from two other sides, and then studied them some more.
Charlie Post, Buckeye Arizona's police chief, came over to see why I was acting so suspiciously Tink, what on earth are you doing? He demanded.
I pointed my chin at the slatted bars and asked, Charlie, what kind of a cow is that guard supposed to stop from crossing here?
Hey, I'm not so dumb; it took Johnny Weissmuller (portraying that noble Einstein in a loincloth) 28 years to get his legs into the swing of things.
Writers are always looking for ways to show character, identify individuals
and sustain integrity in their scenes. By describing the way people walk we
can make our scenes more real, and more interesting. What a little limp did
for Dennis Weaver can make your characters famous too.
Lin Stone is the author of several books and numerous articles. Click here to study a huge sample.[1nav.htm]