on walking

UPDATED 7th August, 2010

This page is where I gather bits and pieces about walking, wandering, sauntering, strolling, soodling, meandering, ambling, rambling, perambulating, peregrinating, journeying, roaming, roving, tramping, traipsying, hiking, trekking, and wayfaring . . .  as and when I stumble across them.

New quotes will be added at the top.

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“It is a gentle art; know how to tramp and you know how to live. Manners makyth man, and tramping makyth manners. Know how to meet your fellow-wanderer, how to be passive to the beauty of Nature and how to be active to its wildness and its rigour. Tramping brings one to Reality”.

so Stephen Graham begins his book The Gentle Art of Tramping, 1927

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“A man going on a sarha wanders aimlessly, not restricted by time and place, going where his spirit takes him to nourish his soul and rejuvenate himself. But not any excursion would qualify as a sarha. Going on a sarha implies letting go. It is a drug-free high, Palestinian style…. It was mainly young men who went on these expeditions. They would take a few provisions and go to the open hills, disappear for the whole day, sometimes for weeks and months.”

Raja Shehadeh, Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing landscape, 2007.

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“No city should be too large for a man to walk out of in a morning”.

Cyril Connolly

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“If I could not walk far and fast, I think I should just explode and perish”.

Charles Dickens

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“There is this to be said for walking:  It’s the one mode of human locomotion by which a man proceeds on his own two feet, upright, erect, as a man should be, not squatting on his rear haunches like a frog”.

Edward Abbey, Walking

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A’ishah, the wife of the Prophet, was once asked, after he had died, what the Prophet was like. She replied, “He was like the Qur’an – walking”. She could have said any number of things, but no… “He was like the Qur’an – walking”. Like the Qur’an! Walking! That is an astonishingly profound, and elegant, and, yes, beautiful thing to say. It speaks volumes… about A’ishah, about the Prophet, about the Qur’an, and about walking.

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“But if I can bear the nights, the days are a pleasure. I walk out; I see something, some event that would otherwise have been utterly missed and lost; or something sees me, some enormous power brushes me with its clean wing, and I resound like a beaten bell”

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

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We forget that a journey, strictly speaking, is a day’s travel, and, by extension, the distance travelled in a day. It derives from Old French journée, whose primary meaning was, and still is,  ‘the time between the rising and setting of the sun’, i.e. daytime. So if you walk all day, from sunrise to sunset, you may rightly claim to have journeyed, to have made a real journey. If you walk for half a day, you have only made half a journey, and if, like me, you walk for two or three hours in a day, you have made no journey at all.

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“In my room, the world is beyond my understanding / But when I walk I see that it consists of three or four hills and a cloud”.

Wallace Stevens, ‘Of the Surface of Things’, 1919.

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“And as you sit on the hillside, or lie prone under the trees of the forest, or sprawl wet-legged on the shingly beach of a mountain stream, the great door, that does not look like a door, opens.”

Stephen Graham, The Gentle Art of Tramping.

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“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

John Muir, 1913, in L.M. Wolfe, ed., John Muir, John of the Mountains : The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, 1938

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Thoreau took his walking, or sauntering,  seriously. For him it was a religious experience:

“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.” (Walking, 1861)

and

“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 pretense of going à la Sainte Terre”, to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer”, a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander. 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…. But I prefer the first, which, indeed, is the most probable derivation. For every walk is a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go forth and reconquer this Holy Land from the hands of the Infidels.” (Walking, 1861)

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