Henry David Thoreau’s Walking

August 24, 2013 — 1 Comment
A fir tree on my second walk at the Quabban Reservoir in Massachusetts

A fir tree on my second walk at the Quabban Reservoir in Massachusetts

Henry David Thoreau’s first published essay, Walking , is well worth reading. If you have a Kindle App, you can download it here for free here.  I never really “got”  the idea of walking until I read the Walking essay. In an attempt to unplug from the noise of tech, I decided to take one day a week, turn off all my gadgets and try walking. This book and that new habit has  been life-changing for me. I always found nature walking boring until I read Thoreau’s piece. Here is the opening excerpt.

I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil—to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society. I wish to make an extreme statement, if so I may make an emphatic one, for there are enough champions of civilization: the minister and the school committee and every one of you will take care of that. I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks—who had a genius, so to speak, for SAUNTERING, which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte Terre,” to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea. But I prefer the first, which, indeed, is the most probable derivation. For every walk is a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go forth and reconquer this Holy Land from the hands of the Infidels.

I recently went walking in Concord, Massachusetts. I was impressed with some of the humble acts of Thoreau against the staggering majesty of nature. Here is his grave at the Sleepy Hollow Cemetary designed my a transcendentalist. Here you see his stone is no wider than his pencil.

Henry David Thoreau's Grave stone at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord Massachusetts

Henry David Thoreau’s Grave stone at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord Massachusetts

And here is the famous reproduction of his  modest, Walden cabin. Leaned against the cabin is my walking stick, or “staff” which my nephew gave me for my birthday. A character I am working on, a 1400 year old man, has such a staff.

By the way, Thoreau was not completely removed from the world during his Walden year. He did visit is parents in Concord where he did his laundry. Sounds like a  number of college students we know.

Thoreau's Famous Little House at Walden Pond, Concord Massachusetts - Reproduction

Thoreau’s Famous Little House at Walden Pond, Concord Massachusetts – Reproduction

It might just be time for you, as well, to turn on your “do not disturb” mode on your smartphone and have a walk. There are great parks and National Parks everywhere…

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