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Walking Paperback – September 17, 2013
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About the Author
Henry David Thoreau was born in 1817 in Concord, Massachusetts. He spent time as a school teacher after attending Harvard College but was dismissed for his refusal to administer corporal punishment. In 1845, wanting to write his first book, he moved to Walden Pond and built his cabin on land owned by Ralph Waldo Emerson. It was during his time at Walden that Thoreau was imprisoned briefly for not paying taxes; this experience became the basis for his well-known essay "Civil Disobedience." He died of tuberculosis in 1862 at the age of 44.
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Thoreau has a very vigorous animosity against walking for exercise or efficiency--going from place to place with the least diversion. I am not sure what his deeper reasons for being ornery about it might be, but the attitude can be neatly characterized, and maybe pigeonholed, as a predictable Transcendentalist strategy against living only for physical reasons and not the more crucial, more mindful, transcendental purposes. These Transcedentalist writers of the middle 1800’s, including Emerson and others, were convinced that people were not fully achieving the spiritual, the loftier, aspect of life.
Clearly mindful walking, for Thoreau, can generate, a productive collision of our values, the values that the society inculcates in us. Things like efficiency and purpose and even the search for personal perfection of body with all the attendant concern for how we are perceived physically are devalued. For Thoreau walking was a ritual not a mechanical physical process or a mindless activity.
This long essay--for that is what it is--can be read in a few hours. But it is large in scope. It moves into a larger discussion of the necessity of wildness, the wildness of nature and of the environment and wildness in the internal make-up of human beings.
While WALKING is not as powerfully and tightly styled as Thoreau's greatest essays, it is genuine Thoreau, personally engaging, sometimes quotable, and often startlingly neighborly.
"I rejoice that horses and steers have to be broken before they can be made the slaves of men, and that men themselves have some wild oats still left to sow before they become submissive members of society. "
"There is something servile in the habit of seeking after a law which we may obey. We may study the laws of matter at and for our convenience, but a successful life knows no law. It is an unfortunate discovery certainly, that of a law which binds us where we did not know before that we were bound. Live free, child of the mist--and with respect to knowledge we are all children of the mist. The man who takes the liberty to live is superior to all the laws, by virtue of his relation to the lawmaker. "
"Above all, we cannot afford not to live in the present. He is blessed over all mortals who loses no moment of the passing life in remembering the past. Unless our philosophy hears the cock crow in every barnyard within our horizon, it is belated. That sound commonly reminds us that we are growing rusty and antique in our employments and habits of thoughts. His philosophy comes down to a more recent time than ours. There is something suggested by it that is a newer testament,--the gospel according to this moment. He has not fallen astern; he has got up early and kept up early, and to be where he is is to be in season, in the foremost rank of time. It is an expression of the health and soundness of Nature, a brag for all the world,--healthiness as of a spring burst forth, a new fountain of the Muses, to celebrate this last instant of time. Where he lives no fugitive slave laws are passed. Who has not betrayed his master many times since last he heard that note?"
But he also seems to glorify farming, which is basically the process of taming the wild, he has no attention for what happens with indigenous peoples, and he completely neglects the importance of history. Even when we take into account that this short book was written in a completely different time frame than ours, this makes it come out as unbalanced in my view.
Still, there are some sentences you will probably highlight and note down for further reflection. I know I did.
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Nicolas Hale, Staff Writer, ArtofAdventure.Net