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Archive for the ‘Walking’ Category

March Walk

I am not referring to the “outdoors” for millions of Americans, that world which is surrounded by cement, concrete, metal, steel, brick and mortar or any other of man’s useful building materials.  Despite the usefulness of these necessities for community living, we can become so acclimated and overwhelmed by them that we are in danger of forgetting there is another “outdoors”—that which God created not simply to provide resources for the above-listed essentials, but specifically to nurture our bodies and souls.

Speaking from personal experience, I must not only bring God’s created world of outdoors in, I must keep it in to remain balanced and whole.  Thus our home is filled with natural treasures:  a variety of sea shells, coral, hunks of quartz and petrified wood, stones and polished agate, jars and bowls filled with chestnuts, fresh flowers blooming in their season, houseplants, and beauty like the above-pictured gleanings of last summer’s dried bounty harvested yesterday—in the prairie just a three minute walk from home.

We bring the outdoors in when we visit wild places, hike or ski through them, or even just view the natural countryside from a car window if that is all we can do.  Exposures to natural and wild beauty can imprint our hearts and minds for a lifetime—renewing and refreshing over the years.  Even though I can only remember from years ago a vacation at the rocky Maine seacoast, or living with the majesty of the Colorado mountains a few miles from my back yard, I am surfeited by theses experiences recalled.

With a vivid and lively imagine we can bring the outdoors in via books that take us anywhere in the world we desire to go!  I am a person most blessed because I have vicariously traveled the world through books.  When I read I am THERE—wherever I have decided to go—and my soul is richer for the trip!

Over 160 years ago, an American whom I love wrote these timeless words:  “Our village life would stagnate if it were not for the unexplored forests and meadows which surround it.”  Throughout the many decades since Henry David Thoreau penned WALDEN and many other writings, Americans have enjoyed God’s gift of nature so wisely preserved by federal, state, and local governments.  But Thoreau also celebrated and wrote about natural creation which can be found at home, wherever there are gardens, birds, and life!*

I often muse over the era in which Thoreau lived and wrote: the mid 19th century.  Technology back then consisted of trains and factories.  In Thoreau’s lifetime one got around by:  train; horse–or horse drawn conveyance, boat, or foot.  Although the telegraph had been invented, most personal and everyday communications were still largely conducted via the spoken or written word.  Thoreau wrote about the human need to periodically remove oneself from human technology and society.

Thoreau loved to walk, engrossed in every natural sight and sound along the way.  What would the perceptive philosopher think about our world today?  Could he ever have envisioned a culture where countless people walk along a lovely park path, heads down and preoccupied with texting or otherwise puttering with their phones?  Or tuning out the birdsong with earphones and streamed music?

Whether or not Henry David Thoreau could have envisioned such advances, he very clearly understood the human drive to discover the potential of and harness resources for man’s use—with all the more urgent necessity to bring the outdoors in, for the good of our souls!

Margaret l. Been — March 23, 2018

*Thoreau’s writings are not just “reads”; they are “re-reads” over and over and over!  One always discovers something new and fresh with the re-reading.  For Christmas one year, my Joe gave me the complete huge 2-volume set of Thoreau’s diaries.

It is fairly well-known that this “beloved Yankee” died at age 45 in early May, 1862, of tuberculosis.  The diary entries (from 1837 to 1861—two volumes approximately 1750 pages each in small font) center on the natural environment with occasional references to books or articles read by Thoreau, or people in his community and individuals he has met in his travels.  The journals include writings dated until a year before Thoreau’s death, and nowhere in reading have I found anything about Thoreau’s illness or personal distress. 

The final entries in 1861 indicate that Thoreau is no longer out and about.  Friends, one of whom is Horace Mann, bring him natural specimens and gleanings from their nature walks, and Thoreau writes from his past observations when out in nature.  In these final entries we see evidence of the outdoors brought into the immediacy of his home:  descriptions of birds viewed from a window; prevailing weather (always a natural phenomena observable from anywhere above ground); and (most poignant of all I think), delightful descriptions of a batch of kittens born during Thoreau’s final days of writing.

NOTE:  Another and hugely significant reason to love Henry David Thoreau was his dedicated and very vocal advocating for the abolition of slavery.

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Our patio door opens out to a courtyard, facing east and enclosed on three sides.  Beyond the courtyard is a pleasant park with a walking path around its perimeter—leading to a forest, a prairie preserve, and a small trail down to the wild end of a lake.  The park path is about 1/3rd of a mile around.

It’s fun to watch the walkers on the path.  This morning two young moms pushing strollers circumvented the park six times, at an unbelievably rapid clip.  It seemed like they were just there before our eyes, and then there they were again—laughing, chatting, and pushing their fry.  How refreshing!  The trips around the park were good for the children, and good for the moms—both in aspects of sociability and physical health.  As the moms circled the park I recalled those fun times when I walked our children on a fine spring day, and enjoyed the company of other stay at home moms—a resounding majority, in the days when I was raising little ones.

However, as I grew older I began to think of a “walk” in vastly different terms.  An ideal “walk” became, for me, a saunter—a time for observing and immersing myself in the sights and sounds around me—a means of restoring my soul, rather than a social activity.  I often wonder what Wordsworth, who wandered “lonely as a cloud” in England’s Lake District would think of the way many people walk today—at an agenda driven pace, with Ipads or cell phones dominating the attention of the walker. 

Unless I can stroll with a quiet, kindred spirit—such as my husband, a daughter or son, or a soul friend—I prefer to walk alone rather than with other adults.  Children are normally great walking companions.  They scamper and weave, covering far more territory in a few yards of trail than I do, yet they tend to be aware of their surroundings.  Most children are alive to the moment—noticing the cardinal’s “cheer cheer”, watching the clouds race overhead, or pausing to pick up a leaf or rock along the way.  In most every circumstance of life, I’m rejuvenated in the presence of a congenial child, and the circumstance of walking is no exception.

Perhaps the best walking buddies of all are dogs.  For starters, they don’t talk.  Like children, dogs weave in and out, at least my Dylan does.  He exists totally in the present and his senses are finely tuned.  His ears perk to the slightest bark issuing from far away, and he responds with a throaty rumble.  Especially keen is Dylan’s sense of smell.  He makes me realize how passive we humans are when it comes to smelling things; we let olfactory stimulation come to us—be it an odor (as in skunk) or a fragrance (as in lilacs wafting in the breeze).  Although we may intentionally inhale the fragrance of flowers or bonfires (as I frequently do) we often fail to actively seek out smells.

The smells that appeal to my dog would probably not be my favorites.  Sometimes Dylan (not a large dog) is so insistent and tenacious in sniffing out a small bit of earth that it’s all my 90 pounds can do to drag him away by his leash.  Undoubtedly some small critter recently died in that spot, or some live critter marked the territory with its own badge of ownership.  The canine obsession to investigate thoroughly with his nose reminds me of Hercule Poirot, meditating intently until his “leetle grey cells” light up with a solution to a crime.

I know that my life thrust contains a substantial bit of Henry David Thoreau, who wrote:  “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 . . . .”

In his essay, “Walking”, Thoreau celebrates the freedom of sauntering in wild places, where one can shed the cares of the day and rejoice in the wondrous details of unfettered Nature.  For years, I walked like that—in relatively wild and secluded woods, on solitary trails. 

Yet there is still another stage of human experience, when we cannot physically walk as far or as often as we once did—yet we have been blessed with such inner contentment that we can saunter in our imagination—via books, memory,or creative hobbies—and renew the refreshment of wandering or sauntering—in the manner of Wordsworth and Thoreau. 

As my feet once sauntered, and my senses went out seeking sights and sounds, I now happily experience many of them from my patio—or during just one trip around our 1/3rd mile path.  Even yesterday, as I sat sipping peach flavored CRYSTAL LIGHT® on my patio rocker, I traveled in pure ecstacy when an oriole serenaded me from the American elm just a few feet away.  Nearly every day, my paint brushes explore and revisit many of the wild places I’ve known and loved—the woods, the swamps, and the wild meadows. 

Are we walkers or saunterers?  We can be either or both at different stages of life.  It’s all in our point of view!

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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