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Walking – Henry David Thoreau

Excerpts from an essay that was delivered by Thoreau in lectures
and published after his death in 1862.

The walker in the familiar fields
which stretch around my native town
sometimes finds himself in another land
than is described in their owners’ deeds . . .

I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking . . . 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 a la Sainte  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 . . . 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.

It requires a direct dispensation from Heaven to become a walker.

You must be born into the family of the Walkers. Ambulator nascitur, non fit.

. . . the walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking exercise . . . but is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day.

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.

An absolutely new prospect is a great happiness, and I can still get this any afternoon.

I believe in the forest, and in the meadow, and in the night in which the corn grows.

We require an infusion of hemlock, spruce or arbor vitae in our tea.

A man’s health requires as many acres of meadow to his prospect as his farm does loads of muck.

I believe that there is a subtle 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.

. . . you must walk like a camel, which is said to be the only beast which ruminates when walking.

I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit. . .

What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?

. . . it is of no use to direct our steps to the woods, if they do not carry us thither.

When I go out of the house for a walk, uncertain as yet whither I will bend my steps, and submit myself to my instinct to decide for me, I . . . inevitably settle southwest . . .

The future lies that way to me . . . the western horizon stretches uninterruptedly toward the setting sun . . .

The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild . . .

in Wildness is the preservation of the World.

We had a remarkable sunset one day last November. . . . sunlight fell on the dry grass and on the stems of the trees in the opposite horizon and on the leaves of the shrub oaks on the hillside, while our shadows stretched long over the meadow east-ward, as if we were the only motes in its beams. It was such a light as we could not have imagined a moment before, and the air also was so warm and serene that nothing was wanting to make a paradise of that meadow.
When we reflected that this was not a solitary phenomenon, never to happen again, but that it would happen forever and ever, an infinite number of evenings, and cheer and reassure the latest child that walked there, it was more glorious still.

The sun sets on some retired meadow, where no house is visible, with all the glory and splendor that it lavishes on cities, and perchance as it has never set before – where there is but a solitary marsh hawk to have his wings gilded by it . . .

Every sunset which I witness inspires me with the desire to go to a West as distant and as fair as that into which the sun goes down.

So we saunter toward the Holy Land, till one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever he has done, shall perchance shine into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light, as warm and serene and golden as on a bankside in autumn.