‘The whole mighty vision that had fleeted before his eyes in this world,–the armies of Hyder-Ali and his son with oriental and barbaric pageantry,–the civic grandeur of England, the great deserts of Asia and America,–the vast capitals of Europe,–London with its eternal agitations, the ceaseless ebb and flow of its ‘mighty heart,’–Paris shaken by the fierce torments of revolutionary convulsions, the silence of Lapland, and the solitary forests of Canada …’
- Thomas de Quincey, Walking Stewart
Photo by Geran de Klerk on Unsplash
The path begins on Brister’s Hill, not far from Walden Pond. A one-mile trail along which Henry David Thoreau used to walk. On to the open, grassy meadow, lined with orchards of apple trees. A slower pace and wide, expansive view as the path turns onto a field. Then into Walden Woods; the soil is damp, the trees lush green. Finally, to the Reflection Circle; the ice is thawing over the pond.
A short walk to another world. Thoreau would spend two years here; two years, two months, and two days in a cabin in the woods, living deliberately. Reflecting, reading, writing, walking in the wilderness of Massachusetts, the cities of Concord and Boston just a few kilometers, galaxies away.
He would walk for hours every day, wandering, sauntering, every walk ‘a sort of a crusade;’ the path the same, journey never. The trees changed with the light, season, time of day. The view changed with his eyes, his feelings, thoughts. On that path he found freedom, independence, ‘solitudes, where the problem of existence is simplified.’
‘Alone in distant woods or fields, I come to myself, I once more feel myself grandly related, and that cold and solitude are friends of mine. I suppose that this value, in my case, is equivalent to what others get by churchgoing and prayer. I thus dispose of the superfluous and see things as they are, grand and beautiful.’
Thoreau saw the grand and beautiful in the forest around Walden pond. Centuries later, on that same path, two lovers, you and I, went for a walk.
A short and aimless stroll, in the cold and before dusk. No words, no need. Your hand in mine, through our gloves, touching clumsily. We breathed in, then let go.
Of the day and its superfluous tasks and its inconsequential living. We could see clearly on the path: what mattered. And that there was still some snow.
Thoreau wrote: ‘If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again — if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man — then you are ready for a walk.’
If you have comfortable shoes that do not mind a few splatters of mud, a relatively warm coat with a hood, perhaps a scarf, to shield your ears and neck from the wind. If you have a good companion, man or dog, willing to join you, you are lucky. Either way, go, around the block or round the world; the destination does not matter. Go.
Some, like John ‘Walking’ Stewart, a half-mad eighteenth-century Englishman, will walk across Europe, Turkey, Africa, Arabia, Persia, India, Tibet, for decades. Others will walk in municipal gardens, parks, prison yards, hospital corridors. Monks will pace mindfully up and down the same neatly raked monastery rows. Flâneurs and tourists will stroll the streets of Paris; desperate migrants, cross a continent of state borders.
Pilgrims along the Way of Saint James will hike from France to Compostela, Spain. The bravest girl I know once went on her own crusade along the wild Via Alpina, Italy. And every morning at a quarter to seven, in a quiet suburb of Beirut, I know a man and dog I love are tiptoeing out the front door.
No two walks are the same, and whatever we seek, see, find on them is ours. But wherever we end up, however cold, tired, hungry, we are different, better for having gone.