Walking, Henry David Thoreau, 1862
Thoreau’s classic essay on walking starts with the derivation of the word ‘saunter’ either from sainte terrae, the Holy Land where the faithful walked in pilgrimage, or sans terre, a man walking since he is without a land. In either case, they are the basis for the term ‘sauntering’ which he prefers to ‘walking’. Thoreau urges one to get out of the store, the office, the factory and walk if possible more than four hours a day enjoying the sky, the air, the land, and the scenery. ‘In wildness is the preservation of the world’ is one of his most famous lines and he applies it to the still unsettled areas of New England and most emphatically the West. He sounds like an American exceptionalist as he contrasts the new, America’s wilderness and wildness, with the old, settled, urban culture and life of Europe. He also presages Jared Diamond’s thesis of how society’s lose their well being when they lose their forests, fields, soil, and water. He praises “useful ignorance’ over ‘useful knowledge’ urging man to pursue the new and unknown rather than the familiar. He also presages today’s mindfulness and meditation as he urges living in the present moment. All in all, a brief essay packed with wisdom and anticipation of many of today’s major thought trends.