Yesterday, I reached my goal of hiking 1,000 miles before embarking upon my coast-to-coast trek across England in June. "An accomplishment," some have already said, but that's not how I really feel about the experience. I simply feel blessed -- and grateful, of course, that I have have been given an opportunity to spend a little time dancing with the natural rhythms of the universe, if only for a brief interlude. Every step was a step of joy, an opportunity to see something new and exciting, a chance to listen to my life and get some sense of my place in the larger scheme of things.
In the region of the south where I spent my youth, shop owners would sometimes offer customers lagniappe after a purchase. Lagniappe, as I learned from my parents at an early age, is an unearned or undeserved gift that is offered as a kind of bonus or goodwill measure. Nature, I find, offers lagniappe to walkers. We go out looking for one thing and we return having received so much more. As Rebecca Solnit has written in Wanderlust, her fabulous book on the history of walking:
The random, the unscreened, allows you to find what you don't know you are looking for, and you don't know a place until it surprises you. Walking is one way of maintaining a bulwark against this erosion of the mind, the body, the landscape, and the city, and every walker is a guard on patrol to protect the ineffable.Walking offers myriad benefits and pleasures, including health, clear thinking, creativity, and spiritual renewal. I am tempted, of course, to write about each of these benefits. For the moment, however, I simply invite my readers to enjoy what others have said about the joys of walking.
Walking and health --
Walking is man's best medicine.
A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good
for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than
all the medicine and psychology in the world.
Paul Dudley White
Above all, do not lose your desire to walk.
Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being
and walk away from illness.
When you have worn out your shoes,
the strength of the shoe leather has passed
into the fiber of your body. I measure your health
by the number of shoes and hats and clothes you
have worn out.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Walking and thought --
All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.
I can only meditate when I am walking. When I
stop, I cease to think; my mind works only with
Jean Jacques Rousseau
Walking and creativity --
If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking.
Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk.
Nothing like a nighttime stroll to give you ideas.
Walking and spiritual matters --
My father considered a walk among the mountains
as the equivalent of churchgoing.
My God is the God of Walkers. If you walk
hard enough, you probably don't need any
Walking and truth --
Perhaps the truth depends on a walk
around the lake.
Wallace Stevens, "It Must be Abstract"
If you look for the truth outside yourself,
It gets farther and farther away.
Today walking alone, I meet it everywhere I step.
It is the same as me, yet I am not it.
Only if you understand it in this way
Will you merge with the way things are.
Walking and final notes --
I was the world in which I walked, and what I saw
Or heard or felt came not but from myself;
And there I found myself more truly and
Wallace Stevens, "Tea at the Palaz of Hoon"
The sum of the whole is this: walk and be happy;
walk and be healthy. The best way to lengthen out
our days is to walk steadily and with a purpose.