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Dec 04

Walking

Following my comments, you will find an excerpt from an original essay, “Walking,” by Henry David Thoreau that appeared in The Atlantic in 1862; there is also a link at the end for those who want to read more.

Henry David Thoreau was the proto-environmentalist.

said Bill McKibben. Thoreau was also the one who, perhaps in a moment of self-reflection, said,

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.

Many, if not most, people seem to benefit from time spent wandering in the woods, although Thoreau called us walkers a “select class.” The peace and quiet, the natural beauty, the bird songs, the evidence of creatures passing nearby, the breathtaking vistas; all of these things, and more, inspire a reverence for our place in the greatness of nature.

For those of us who are autistic, though, the call of the wild and the balm of the woods is more than a simple pleasure. It is a welcome, and perhaps even needed, antidote to our quotidian trip through the turbulent world in which we find ourselves. I don’t know if Thoreau was autistic, although many signs point that way. In any case, he has inspired generations of people, autistic and not, with his vision of simplicity and oneness with nature.

Years ago, when I worked long hours in a high-pressure job in the fast-paced world of Wall Street, I found this connection with nature to be an essential ingredient in my every day; the one way to sooth away the stress arising from my job. During working hours, I faced a constant barrage of incoming data, a requirement for social interaction with clients and peers, much travel, high expectations for piercing analysis; all accompanied by the background of city life and its cacophony and chaos.

My escape came in the form of a daily run, first thing in the morning. I averaged six miles a day, and I ran wherever I found myself. When I lived on the East Side of Manhattan, in the early 1980s, I would run with a friend down 2nd Avenue, and then back up 1st Avenue. We ran very early in the morning, before there was any traffic to speak of, so we didn’t have to stop for red lights at most intersections. One frigid winter morning when our breath was not only visible, but cracked and fell to the ground as we exhaled it, my friend turned to me, “Remind me why we are doing this?!” I thought it was for the exercise, but I later realized it was for my mental health.

I moved to the Upper West Side, and that gave me access to Central Park. I had a different running companion, and every morning we ran together around the six-mile loop in the hour before they opened the Park to automobile traffic. When I traveled, I sought out similar venues. In some places, such as Frankfort and Zurich, I stayed with friends or in a hotel on the outskirts of town so that I had access to the countryside. In London, I became fond of St. James Park, Green Park, and of course Hyde Park. Tokyo was much more of a challenge, because the city has very little green space. So I ran around the perimeter wall of the Imperial Palace (several times, to get in my six miles) because it was the only place I could find that allowed an extended path with no traffic lights.

These days, I live in the countryside, but on two or three days a week I will take a walk with friends, or by myself. We are lucky, here in the Berkshires, to have many entities that have preserved and protected large portions of our landscape. Although there is more work to be done to connect many of these properties to create wildlife and walking corridors, at least we seem to have evaded the fate that Thoreau feared:

At present, in this vicinity, the best part of the land is not private property; … and the walker enjoys comparative freedom. But possibly the day will come when it will be partitioned off…

Here, as promised, is the excerpt and link:

June 1862
Walking
by Henry David Thoreau

It requires a direct dispensation from Heaven to become a walker. You must be born into the family of the Walkers. Ambulator nascitur, non fit. Some of my townsmen, it is true, can remember and have described to me some walks which they took ten years ago, in which they were so blessed as to lose themselves for half an hour in the woods; but I know very well that they have confined themselves to the highway ever since, whatever pretensions they may make to belong to this select class …

The walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking exercise, as it is called, as the sick take medicine at stated hours,—as the swinging of dumbbells or chairs; but is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day. If you would get exercise, go in search of the springs of life. Think of a man’s swinging dumbbells for his health, when those springs are bubbling up in far-off pastures unsought by him!

Moreover, you must walk like a camel, which is said to be the only beast which ruminates when walking. When a traveller asked Wordsworth’s servant to show him her master’s study, she answered, “Here is his library, but his study is out of doors” …

I can easily walk ten, fifteen, twenty, any number of miles, commencing at my own door, without going by any house, without crossing a road except where the fox and the mink do: first along by the river, and then the brook, and then the meadow and the wood-side. There are square miles in my vicinity which have no inhabitant. From many a hill I can see civilization and the abodes of man afar. The farmers and their works are scarcely more obvious than woodchucks and their burrows. Man and his affairs, church and state and school, trade and commerce, and manufactures and agriculture, even politics, the most alarming of them all,—I am pleased to see how little space they occupy in the landscape …

At present, in this vicinity, the best part of the land is not private property; the landscape is not owned, and the walker enjoys comparative freedom. But possibly the day will come when it will be partitioned off into so-called pleasure-grounds, in which a few will take a narrow and exclusive pleasure only,—when fences shall be multiplied, and man-traps and other engines invented to confine men to the public road, and walking over the surface of God’s earth shall be construed to mean trespassing on some gentleman’s grounds. To enjoy a thing exclusively is commonly to exclude yourself from the true enjoyment of it. Let us improve our opportunities, then, before the evil days come.

Volume 9, No. 56, pp. 657–674

Read the full article here.

Shantih shantih shanti

1 comment

  1. Annie Southard

    Well said my friend! Thankyou for the good read. Simple and beautiful. Just the way I like it.

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