On Walking (Part One)

On Walking (Part One)

These boots are made for walking. Dundalk, Ireland.

These boots are made for walking. Dundalk, Ireland.

What is it that makes it so hard sometimes to determine whither we will walk? I believe that there is a subtile magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright. It is not indifferent to us which way we walk. There is a right way; but we are very liable from heedlessness and stupidity to take the wrong one. We would fain take that walk, never yet taken by us through this actual world, which is perfectly symbolical of the path which we love to travel in the interior and ideal world; and sometimes, no doubt, we find it difficult to choose our direction, because it does not yet exist distinctly in our idea.

—Thoreau, “Walking” *

I’ve always loved walking. It is the way I de-stress, organize my poetical thoughts, enjoy life and the world around me, make discoveries, know myself and others, and re-balance. I become ill if I sit too long.

And yes, there is some “subtle magnetism” that has often directed my steps, into the most extraordinary adventures and conversations, even if just around the corner! It has taken me a number of years to acknowledge it and not think myself too fanciful.

It is not this way for everyone. Some get the same benefits from more extreme exertions, some need to be still for the same outcomes, and still others indulge in totally different activities.

But if you’ve never attempted a daily practice of walking, I’d tentatively recommend you try it for a month and see what happens to your life.

On this morning–the first truly springlike one of this year–I was on my way to buy some mushrooms for dinner. I was listening to and watching all the passing traffic. And I wondered how different an experience it might be to walk to the market if I could hear more of the world than cars, which my body interprets as chronic low-grade stress.

And how might the world be different if other people walked ten or fifteen minutes (or even five!) to the market, instead of hopping into their cars?

Then I let go of this vein of thinking.

About twenty minutes later I was enjoying the return-loop of my wander along the river. I’d noticed new Cleavers and that the Gorse was enough in blossom now to release its captivating coconut scent.

About fifty paces ahead on the path was a rotund older man. Here comes a Little Old Man Conversation**, warned my little voice.

I pass him and he says:

Good morning!

Good morning, I say. And then I start to breathe with relief; I hadn’t really felt like conversation this morning. But then comes:

You’re a fast walker.

No, not always. [I’ve so slowed down in the past five years that I must often ask the Frenchman to temper his rapid pace when we go walking together.]

I walk slow.

That’s a good thing; you can absorb the world that way.

I don’t like walking. I have to lose the weight.

I turned, about fifteen paces away now, and shouted into the wind without breaking stride: You might learn to like walking!


I said, you might learn to like it! Walking.



Well, now. When did walking become a chore? A goal and not an experience?

When did it cease to be a pleasure and a reminder of our vitality, a whisper to be grateful for what is here?

 Do you walk? Do you like it? How does it help you see? Share with us.

Read more of Thoreau’s essay, On Walking.

** I am not disparaging old men and “little” is a term of endearment. I count several as dear friends in my life, and I highly value my frequent and profound conversations with them.

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