“I wish to speak a word for nature, for absolute Freedom and Wildness,” is how Henry David Thoreau opened his lecture on walking.
Thoreau walked a lot, and thought a lot about walking. He delivered his seminal lecture on the topic, culled from years of journal entries, at least 10 times. The more he walked the more he thought, and the more he wrote down his thoughts for us to read all these years later. Ralph Waldo Emerson said of his pal, “The length of his walk uniformly made the length of his writing. If shut up in the house, he did not write at all.”
Lucky for us, then, that he walked so much.
I know that need to walk. And when there’s a problem weighing on me, or when the stress of modern life seems crushing or when everything seems wrong with the world, it’s a good time to go for a long walk.
This is not escapism. When we walk — especially out in nature and especially if we give ourselves an hour or more — we clear our brains, reconnect with the world, make ourselves able to think, and to act.
It’s not that we forget problems. But time away from the clanging of the world might give us insight, a new perspective, a needed rest. We might even come up with a path toward a solution, or a call to action.
Thoreau needed his time away from society: “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.”
I don’t expect four hours. But a two-hour walk on a weekend, or a five-hour hike up and down a mountain does wonders. Even my half-hour morning dog walk gives me that quiet time, where instead of worrying about traffic and bills and bigotry, I can watch the sky catch fire as the sun comes over the mountain on the far side of the lake. I can listen to the ducks calling their babies. I can feel the quiver of the dog as I hold her back from chasing a rabbit across a neighbor’s yard.
When I get back home, time runs slower. My brain seems bigger. I have more love to share with my family. I can better see the beauty of this troubled world, beauty that we did not create but that we are privileged to live in.
Open your eyes. Give your brain a rest. Take a walk.
Thoreau said it better when he described the benefits of walking: “I trust that we shall be more imaginative; that our thoughts will be clearer, fresher and more ethereal, as our sky — our understanding more comprehensive and broader, like our plains — our intellect generally on a grander scale, like our thunder and lightning, our rivers and mountains and forests, — and our hearts shall even correspond in breadth and depth and grandeur to our inland seas.”
Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on Sept. 3. Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are hers and not necessarily the newspaper’s.