It is said the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
For Surrey resident Marianna Paulson, her steps have earned her some rather unique bragging rights.
Up until last spring, Paulson was a regular at North Delta’s Sungod pool. But when COVID-19 hit in March, bringing with it a plethora of restrictions including the closure of recreation centres, she needed to find another way to stay active.
“My friend who lives in Ladner said that they were walking all of Ladner during the restrictions. She suggested that I walk North Delta, and I though, ‘Oh, that’s a good project to do.’”
Since then, Paulson has walked every residential street in North Delta, moved on to White Rock, and is now a few weeks into tackling Tsawwassen.
“It’s become a bit of an addiction, but it’s also a huge sense of accomplishment and something to talk about about when there’s not a whole lot to talk about right now,” she said. “It’s fun actually because you get to go to areas you don’t normally see, especially when you’re in the car.”
|Marianna Paulson’s completed “Operation North Delta” map. (Marianna Paulson photo)|
Paulson began “Operation North Delta” by drawing a grid on a piece of paper using Google Maps and from there planning out routes to walk, starting with the neighbourhoods adjacent to her home. She walked most days, usually for an hour to and hour and half, and after every excursion documented where she went, how far she walked and what she saw in a notebook.
Over her months-long journey, Paulson discovered many parks — both large and small, hidden walkways, art instalments, little libraries and beautiful gardens in every corner of the community. She met other people out for a walk, folks working on their yards, and even a band rehearsing in a garage, and wrote about it on her website, auntiestress.com.
“What was remarkable, especially at the beginning, was that a lot of the homes, the kids had projects to do — the kids would write on their garage doors or put messages of hope in the windows or something on the sidewalk. So that was always something that was encouraging,” she said.
Paulson, who lists her age as “over 55,” was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when she was 19. In 2006, she underwent four surgeries — “I’m bionic, I’ve got artificial hips and some other hardware in other parts of my body” — prompting her to leave her job as an ESL teacher.
“At that point … I decided I need to do something else because my body wasn’t co-operating.”
|North Delta-based Folk ‘n’ Rock practicing in the garage. (Marianna Paulson photo)|
Since then, Paulson (aka “Auntie Stress”) has embarked on a career teaching anti-stress techniques and strategies, helping others to treat the cause of their stress rather than just the symptoms.
“I think for me, exercise has always been a part of my life, but especially with rheumatoid arthritis and restricted mobility, I find that keeping moving is … also really good for mental health. I think too often people find that it’s a spiral down into ‘I can’t do anything’ and it just gets bigger and bigger, whereas I’m always of the notion that you have to start somewhere,” Paulson said.
“Even if you’re limited in mobility, you can walk to the mailbox or walk to the end of the block and then kind of build from there. But if you do nothing, nothing changes. It’s just really important for mental health, especially now with so many people struggling.
“It sounds kind of lame in some ways because it’s like, ‘oh, look at the way they did that yard’ or ‘that’s an interesting design they have on their house,’ but it’s getting you outside of yourself and the inward navel-gazing. All those little things combine to give you a different outlook and a different perspective”
She said one of the things she treasures most about her walks is the opportunity to talk to different people.
“I mean, it may not be much, but sometimes you have a little conversation and it’s just enough to cheer you up.”
|Tropical scenes painted on rocks in a garden that Marianna Paulson found on one of her walks around North Delta. (Marianna Paulson photo)|
“One man I met [in North Delta], he was working on his garden and we got to chatting, and he said that he had a heart attack and that caused him to re-evaluate his life. I was thinking, you know, that was quite a moving story because often we need something big in order to make us move in a different direction.”
Paulson finished her exploration of North Delta on Labour Day, moved on to White Rock later that month, and finished her Semiahmoo adventure on Dec. 30.
“I didn’t want to give myself a deadline when I wanted to finish [walking North Delta], but White Rock I wanted to finish by the new year because  was so crappy that I needed something to celebrate about,” she said.
“I thought North Delta had some serious hills, but White Rock, oh my gosh!”
Paulson advises those looking to embark on a journey of their own to start small, listening to their body, keep an open mind and look at it as an adventure.
“Take each day as it comes rather than thinking, ‘Oh my God, it’s such a big area. How am I ever going to do that?’ Because that kind of puts a road block in your project right from the beginning,” she said.
“Choose an area, and maybe you don’t complete that area that day, but you can always go back. It’s kind of one step at a time.”
“A new neighbourhood is always interesting,” she said. “So often we get into our same old pattern, you walk the same way and it’s kind of repetitive. But a change, as my mother-in-law always says, is a good as a rest.”