Tuesday, May 01, 2007

To go a-sauntering

When a visitor to Wordsworth's house asked a servant to show him the poet's study, she answered, "Here is his library, but his study is out of doors."

I'm starting to feel that old wanderlust again, the need to soak up some wisdom through the souls [sic] of my feet. I weary of the library. I have the Thoreauvean itch to saunter. Saunter: from the Middle English santren, to muse.

Of course, I walk every day, some miles at least, along familiar paths. And there's nothing wrong with familiarity. Someone who read my book The Path asked me recently, "You've walked it a thousand times, doesn't it get boring." I could only smile. A walker might get boring, but a walk has an endless capacity to surprise. Thoreau said we should set out on even the shortest walk with a spirit of adventure -- with the idea that we might never return. Well, that's asking a lot, but we know what he means. Set out like explorers and we'll find something new.

But what I'm feeing now is the need to put my feet on unfamiliar soil. My tramp across England has faded. My circumnavigation of Malta is ancient history. I'm thinking Mallorca, maybe, or the levadas of Madeira. I'm too old for walking rough. When John Muir was young he threw a few things in a bag -- a change of underwear, his journal, soap, towel, comb and brush, map, and four books: Wood's Botany, The New Testament, Milton's Paradise Lost, and Burns's poems -- and walked a thousand miles across America, from Indianapolis to Florida. I require a clean bed at night, and a meal with wine in an outdoor cafe. So we are talking someplace warm and civilized, with ancient footpaths.

Walking is exercise for both body and mind. Thinking stops at any pace more accelerated than three miles per hour. I mean this more than metaphorically. I suspect that our thought processes evolved in the grasslands of East Africa to keep pace with pedal locomotion. Which may be why Wordsworth was out and about when the visitor came knocking.