A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Sunday, 29 December 2013

At Home Nowhere And Everywhere

I wish to speak a word 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 a 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 à la Saint 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.

It is true, we are but faint-hearted crusaders, even the walkers, nowadays, who undertake no persevering never-ending enterprises. Our expeditions are but tours and come round again at evening to the old hearth side from which we set out. Half the walk is but retracing our steps. We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return; prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms. 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.


Also recommended is Thoreau's essay A Winter Walk.


The Weaver of Grass said...

Ah Thoreau Robert - have walked around his part of the country in my travels.
I had a lovely book for Christmas which you might enjoy if you have a book token to spend from Christmas. Ronald Blythe's 'A Time by the Sea', in which he writes of various members of a coterie of artists, writers and musicians who settled in and around Aldborough in the fifties and sixties. Blissful reading.

Gail said...

Gret post. The confidence, truth and strength of your writing here really inspired me and took hold. My son saunters, always has. And now that I have more freedom of mobility with my scooter, I too can saunter, so to speak - and we can even hold hands. Nice, huh? Thank you for this writing today.
Love Gail

George said...

Though my little paperback version of "Walking" is without question the smallest volume in my library, it is among my most treasured. I seem to pick it up and read through it at least once a year, and the subsequent readings are as delightful and full of wisdom as the first. I've always loved Thoreau's discussion of the etymology of the word "saunter."

Vagabonde said...

I thought this were your words until I reached the end and saw it was an excerpt from Thoreau on Walking. I walk according to the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh who lives in France. At my daughter’s wedding, which had to be in the historic catholic cathedral in Savannah Georgia in accordance with the wishes of her fiance’s family (who are strict Catholics from the state of Kerala, India – we are not Catholic) I was asked to read something – I guess they hoped I would read some Bible verses. I did not. This is what I read, in the great cathedral, in front of all the Indian attendance:

Walking Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh
Take my hand.
We will walk.
We will only walk.
We will enjoy our walk
without thinking of arriving anywhere.
Walk peacefully.
Walk happily.
Our walk is a peace walk.
Our walk is a happiness walk.
Then we learn
that there is no peace walk;
that peace is the walk;
that there is no happiness walk;
that happiness is the walk.
We walk for ourselves.
We walk for everyone
always hand in hand.
Walk and touch peace every moment.
Walk and touch happiness every moment.
Each step brings a fresh breeze.
Each step makes a flower bloom under our feet.
Kiss the Earth with your feet.
Print on Earth your love and happiness.
Earth will be safe
when we feel in us enough safety.

The Solitary Walker said...

Hi Pat — I think I might really enjoy that book you describe.

It's a wonderful passage, isn't it, Gail? But thank Thoreau! Lovely how your comment about 'holding hands' echoes Vagabonde's comment.

Yes, George, I have a little paperback version of Thoreau's 'Walking' too, teamed with 'A Winter Walk'. I dip into them time and again.

Thanks for this, Vagabonde — I truly loved your wedding story, and the 'Walking Meditation' by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Paul Willis said...

An interesting read and I think as I get older I like to saunter too. Gone are the days when I used to eat the miles - now I like to do less but take in more :)

Happy New Year!

Ruth said...

Wow. To reclaim territory for oneself by walking into places free of oneself and society. I need to contemplate this!

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for your comment, Paul — and Happy New Year to you!

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for your visit, Ruth!