Brian Mittge: It’s the perfect time for a walkabout


What happens when you walk a route that you’ve driven for decades? You see your world in a new and better way. 

I recently set out on such a trek, strolling from Stan Hedwall Park in Chehalis to W.F. West High School. I’m a little embarrassed to say that I’ve never walked this short route before. (In fact, maybe I did back in high school, but I don’t remember it.) 

Smartphone maps say it’s about 1.3 miles each way. From the time I left the picnic shelter at the park until the time I touched the post outside the gym entrance to the high school was 19 minutes and 30 seconds. The sun was bright and the weather was perfect. 

I highly recommend such a walk. If you have an hour or so free, just step out in any direction. You won’t know until you take that first step what all you’ll notice. I guarantee it’ll be a whole different experience than driving. 

I got a kick out of a large pine tree along my route with a sign labeled “free” on it — presumably referring to items placed on an empty table nearby. I’d rather think of the tree itself being up for grabs, like U-pick strawberries. Just bring your own shovel, and make it a big one. 

A slightly harrowing part of the trip was crossing the freeway at the 13th Street overpass. While there are sidewalks, at least technically, it would be inaccurate to call them generously wide. In fact, they’re more like catwalks. As cars and trucks rumble by on one side, the freeway traffic zooms below you. It’s not a place where one wants to linger. 

Someday, if and when that vintage 1950s-style overpass is replaced, I look forward to wide modern sidewalks. The route from the city to the park and out Rice Road is gorgeous and I think would be well-traveled if good sidewalks were available. For now, it’s a constriction that, I think, presents a barrier to Chehalis and its glorious nearby countryside. If you’re not convinced, get out and take a catwalk across it.

Productive students

The mid-point of my back-and-forth journey was the W.F. West Home and Garden Show. Students were showing off a wide variety of products they had made and grown. I picked up some T-shirts with creative designs that were thought up, laid out and screen printed by students. I bought some gorgeous flower starts grown by students in the school’s greenhouses. There were adirondack chairs made by the wood shop. Kids were selling jewelry. And so much more. 

It was really inspiring to see how so many teenagers in our public schools are learning practical skills. No matter what trade they end up pursuing, their practice in growing or building something for sale or use by the people of their community will be a huge benefit for them. 

While the sunshine of my walk was beautiful, seeing the bright light of these students building a brighter future for themselves was even more heartwarming.

Student artwork is on display during Thursday evening's jazz concert at Chehalis Middle School, May 16, 2024.
Student artwork is on display during Thursday evening's jazz concert at Chehalis Middle School, May 16, 2024.

Music and art

Speaking of creation with collaboration in mind, I enjoyed a great partnership this week at my son’s middle school jazz band concert in Chehalis. I have to offer kudos to the Chehalis Middle School art teacher, J. Travis Williams, for having his students create music-themed artwork to advertise and accompany the concert. As the middle and high school bands played, artwork from the middle school students rotated on display above them. 

The art took many forms, from abstract colors to curling keyboards to animals playing instruments. My favorite was the lamb in the top hat and bow tie playing a saxophone. 

Helping students in art or any other class see that they have an opportunity to create something cool as part of a bigger endeavor is a big part of what education, at its best, can do. The best answer to the perennial question students have of “why are we learning this?” is a project showing them how their education has a real-life purpose. 

I look forward to even more practical projects from our students as we teach them to see the potential in themselves to serve others through what they are learning. 

If you step out on a great walk this week, Brian Mittge would like to hear about it. Contact him at