See also a March 2017 posting on poem "The Old Marlborough Road."
"If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again; if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man; then you are ready for a walk."
|May 2017: U.S. Post Office issues a first class stamp honoring|
the bicentennial of the birth of Henry David Thoreau.
Click on photo to enlarge.
July 12th was the 200th anniversary of the birth of Henry David Thoreau. [Actually, birth-named David Henry Thoreau after his deceased uncle, David Thoreau. Thoreau reversed the order of his names shortly after he graduated
, in 1837. Apparently, growing up, his family had called him Henry rather than David.] The
Thoreau Society recently held its annual gathering of Thoreauvians, to discuss
all things Thoreau, and to celebrate the bicentennial of his birth. Many newly
published books, and the U.S. Post Office issued a stamp. Harvard
“Walking” was the title of one of his essays. His first public reading was at the Concord Lyceum on April 23, 1851. Between 1851 and 1860 Thoreau read from the piece a total of ten times, more than any other of his lectures. “Walking” was published in the June 1862 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, shortly after his death from tuberculosis at age 44. The essay’s length is slightly more than 12,000 words. Various internet sources have the complete essay available on line – some with researchers’ annotations. A few excerpts:
“The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild; and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the world.” Thoreau felt that it was necessary for one’s soul to be able to walk in wildness every day. He was aware, however, that his
Massachusetts terrain was not true wildness,
but rather a post-colonial return of once-farmed land to wild meadow and
forest. Thoreau's three excursions to Maine
had brought him into true wildness ("grim"), so he knew the difference.
Thoreau was not a casual walker. “It is true, we are but faint hearted crusaders, even the walkers, now-a-days, who undertake no persevering, never-ending enterprises. Our expeditions are but tours and come round again at evening to the old hearth side from which we set out. Half the walk is but retracing our steps. We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return; prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only, as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again; if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man; then you are ready for a walk.”
Thoreau’s opinions were not humble opinions: “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… When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics and shop-keepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, so many of them — as if the legs were made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon — I think that they deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago.”
|Wooden dumbbells were a popular type of|
exercise equipment in the 1800s.
Thoreau was aghast at the idea of exercise for its own sake: “But the walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking exercise, as it is called, as the sick take medicine at stated hours — as the swinging of dumb-bells or chairs; but is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day. If you would get exercise go in search of the springs of life. Think of a man’s swinging dumb-bells for his health, when those springs are bubbling up in far off pastures unsought by him.”
Thoreau cherished the meditative rewards of wildness walking: “I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit. In my afternoon walk I would fain forget all my morning occupations, and my obligations to society. But it sometimes happens that I cannot easily shake off the village. The thought of some work will run in my head, and I am not where my body is; I am out of my senses. In my walks I would fain return to my senses. What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?”
A human trial conducted at
concluded that walking surrounded by nature reduced risk of depression more
than walking an equal amount of time in an urban setting. Stanford
A human trial conducted at