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

Monday, 10 January 2011

Walking, Art And Nature (10)

Camino, Spain

I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least - and it is commonly more than that - sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements. THOREAU Walking

The political philosopher and educationalist Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) believed that human beings were inherently good, and that they were only corrupted by the evils of society. He gradually lived an ever simpler life, becoming closer and closer to nature, studying botany, and enjoying the solitary walks he recounted in his ten, classic meditations Reveries Of The Solitary Walker.

Walking, art and nature - these three things are so bound up in Rousseau, and, since his time, have been inextricably linked.  

Camino, Spain

Walking, art and nature. We think of Thoreau's ecstasies in Walden and in his Journals; the mystical outpourings of Richard Jefferies in The Story Of My Heart; William Wordsworth's 'emotion recollected in tranquillity'; the labourer-poet John Clare's walks among the dispossessed pastures of English agricultural history; Gary Syder's Beat and Buddhist mountain treks; Richard Mabey's gentle, literary eco-strolls through the Chilterns and Norfolk; Robert Macfarlane's explorations on foot of Britain's wild places; John Constable walking and painting in Dedham Vale; JMW Turner walking and painting in Europe.    

Camino, Spain

As well as walking in nature being an inspiration for art and literature, walking itself can be an art form in its own right. Richard Long, whom I've written about before, gives walking a totemic resonance through natural artworks created on the walk, or even through the signature of the actual walk itself: its mark, footprint and track across the landscape.
Camino, Spain

Sadly (for me at least!) I've reached the end of my ten-part journey through walking country. I hope some of it has been inspirational, or at least informative. Most of all I hope that's it's motivated you to go walking, or, if you're walkers already (which I know many of you are), to go walking even more. It's a land without class, without prejudice, without materialism, without competition, without complication, without compromise, without celebrity culture, without bonds. Rousseau famously wrote at the beginning of The Social Contract: Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains. Why don't you throw off those chains, and start walking?

Caparra, Via de la Plata, Spain

Here's the Roman arch at Caparra in the Spanish region of Extremadura. I walked under it nearly a year ago on my pilgrimage along the Via de la Plata. Why don't you join me as I step beneath it again, right now? Let's walk together towards those distant hills, that blue horizon. You never know what we might find... 

Caparra, Via de la Plata, Spain


Anonymous said...

Fantastic series Robert, thanks. Plenty to ponder as I walk and to enrich my walking.


George said...

I enjoyed this series immensely, Robert. It has been both inspirational and informative. Onward we go, foot after foot, discovery after discovery.

I am in the process of booking the Hadrian Wall's Path for sometime in the first two weeks of August. Once my dates are finalized, I will send the information to you. As I indicated before, it would be great to have you join me for a few days of walking if your schedule permits.

Phoenix C. said...

Walking, Art and Nature - yes!

I like Thoreau's use of the word 'sauntering' because I like to do that - to walk slowly, meander, and stop frequently for long gazes and sketches. The walk may not be many external miles, but lots of inner acreage! And food for many subsequent hours of thought, inspiration and artwork.

Thanks for this journey!

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, all.

'Sauntering' is a great word, isn't it? Thoreau uses it a lot.

I look forward to hearing from you about Hadrian's Wall, George. There's no rush to give me dates as I'm fairly flexible. I can usually fit in a nice walk!

Caroline Gill said...

Thank you, Robert, for many interesting thoughts and leads. I love reading 'wild' and 'wilderness' accounts. My own walking is severely restricted by mobility limitations, but it was Robert Macfarlane in 'Wild Places' who encouraged us to seek the wilderness around us - and with renewed focus, that can be an equally exhilarating challenge. Incidentally, you might enjoy some of Professor David Morley's thoughts and links here: it is a blog post I have returned to on occasions.

P.S. Thank you to Phoenix C. for reminding us of that 'inner acreage'.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for your comment, Caroline, and I will check out that blog.

Alive said...

Motivated indeed

Rachel Fox said...

It was more skating than walking this morning... still out we went!

Ruth said...

It's remarkable how many artists have taken inspiration from their walks in nature. I've taken so much from this series, Robert. One of the things I love about it is how I feel inspired to get out into it, partly because I want to connect with the walkers of all time. As you say, it is democratic, it is something people have always done, have always been able to do, for eons. To feel connected that way with my fellow humans, timeless and spaceless, yet in the same air, under the same sky, it just makes me feel connected.

Thank you for what you did here. I would never have imagined ten parts, and how you would fill them with so many details and much information, all of which could go off in many, many solitary pathways!

So when's your next?

Lorenzo — Alchemist's Pillow said...

A wonderful series, Robert. One I will return to again and again.

am said...

Yep. You did inspire to go out walking yesterday, and I'm finally reading Rebecca Solnit's book on the history of walking.

Extraordinary photos. I can feel myself walking in them. Thanks so much!

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks Alive, Rachel, Ruth and Lorenzo.

'Connection', Ruth. Brings at once to mind the Rilke sonnet you've just posted.

I really enjoyed putting this series together, and I'm so glad others liked it to.

The subject of walking is infinite; it covers the whole world.

The Solitary Walker said...

I think Solnit's book is brilliant, am. Meandering, flawed, idiosyncratic - but brilliant. Love her book about Ireland - 'A Book Of Migrations' - too.

emilene said...

Robert - just wanted to share this with you. I was chatting to Gail from Scotland on a brand new chat page that a fellow South African blogger started today. I mentioned that I'm planning to walk to Santiago in 2012 and am blogging about it already when she suggested I read your wonderful blog. How amazed she was when I told her I am in fact reading your blog already - you certainly have a worldwide following my friend!

I look forward to reading your interesting posts in 2011 - one of my great finds of 2010!

The Solitary Walker said...

Hi emilene - wow, that's just great! Thanks so much for your enthusiasm. (Btw, I've just made a link to your Santiago blog in my sidebar.)