A Walk in the Woods

***From a 2009 post that has become the basis for a new essay on walking and the wilderness***
A long weekend and the beginning of summer do a lot to remind us to go outside, breath the fresh air, listen to the birds, stretch our legs, and experience wildness. I think it’s important, amid the beer, fireworks, weenie roasts, and recreational vehicles that mark the American camping experience, to make sure that we do just that, stretch our legs and experience wildness. It’s not often anymore that the majority of us find ourselves away from the crush of noise, information, and development that comes with “civilized society”, and I think our distance from the wild plays a key role in our health and well-being, and our decision making as a people. Distancing ourselves from the wild is part of why we are able to devalue the environment, and that devaluation reveals itself in our politics, policies, and way of life. It allows us to waste resources, diminish habitat, allow entire species to go extinct, and engineer our bodies and our food.

I feel at my most engaged in the environment when walking through it. A walk in the wilderness does more to ease my mind, body, and soul than almost anything else. And it reminds me, in a tangible and profound way, that I am connected to this place, this world, this land, that it sustains me. Thoreau, in his 1862 essay, Walking, had this to say about the value of a walk in the woods, “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 pretence of going à la sainteterre” — to the holy land… 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.”

We can make no progress in the improvement of our daily lives, in the fostering of health, community, sustainability, or peace, until we acknowledge and embrace our connection to the wilderness. Take a first step, take a walk.

To read the full text of Thoreau’s Walking: