Thoreau’s “On Walking”

I’m reading Henry David Thoreau’s essay On Walking right now. Literally right now between sips of a really excellent cappuccino in a coffee shop that excels in modern barn chic. The baristas look like farm girls. If I said aloud, “Farm boy! Fetch me that pitcher!” from the movie A Princess Bride, somebody would step to it, and say, “We only have cream from grass-fed cows, is that okay?”

Thoreau would be appalled of course. He was discouraged by the harriedness of the early 19th century. Us moderns with our even greater speed, gadgetry, lack of stillness, and collective Nature deficit would make his Walden-writing pen ache.

“For every walk is a sort of crusade,” Thoreau says in On Walking. It’s hard to feel resonance; our only walk today might be from the car door to the coffee shop door, as minutes ago mine was, in the frenzied pursuit of caffeine. How bananas are we? Still. I have started a habit of walking on the cross country trails near my house. It started out as a physician-recommended perimenopausal anxiety reducer, but has become — dare I say it?– Thoreauian.

Walking, I feel “part and parcel with Nature” as Thoreau said. “Nature has a place for the wild clematis as well as for the cabbage,” Thoreau said. And it has a place for me, and you. This is the beauty of Thoreau’s Nature: we come from it, we belong to it despite our clutching for pour-overs and iPads, we are natural as gazelles.

On Walking is changing the way I put one foot in front of the other. A non-fiction essay! Good old Henry David! When people ask me, “What have you been doing all morning?” because they think I’ve been indolent, I say, “Walking,” and I don’t add explanation or excuse because neither do the deer.


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