Thursday, November 29, 2012


Whatever happened to the Sunday stroll through the park? The saunter? The ramble? The traipse down the primrose path? Who goes shank's mare anymore? Who takes the hobnail express?

Not many, as far as I can see.

Kids are driven to school, soccer practice, gymnastic lessons, birthday parties. Mom and Pop take the car to the market down the block.

And in the woods -- the roar of internal combustion. All-terrain vehicles. Snowmobiles. Wanna experience the great outdoors? Get a Yamaha Raptor 700R: "The reigning king of all terrain continues its conquering ways with the help of a fuel-injected 686cc powerplant, fully adjustable suspension, steel and aluminum hybrid frame, and more."

There was a time when the young John Muir, age 29, put his feet in his boots and walked solo from Indiana to the Georgia coast. Put one foot in front of the other and didn't stop walking until the foot out front met salt water. A couple of million steps, I calculate.

"My plan," he said, "was simply to push on in a southward direction by the wildest, leafiest, and least-trodden way I could find." In his sack -- a change of underwear, his journal, a bar of soap, comb and brush, a botany textbook, the New Testament, Milton's Paradise Lost, and the poems of Robert Burns.

That's walking for you.

"You must be born into the family of Walkers," wrote Thoreau. He was thinking, no doubt, of his Concord neighbors, who even then got about mostly by horse-drawn gig and the Fitchburg Railroad. But truth be told, we are all born walkers. It is a birthright I am loathe to surrender.

If wheels are so great, why didn't God invent them? The closest nature comes to endorsing the wheel is a small marine crustacean, Nannosquilla decemspinosa, that lives on the coast of Panama. Washed up on a sandy beach, it regains the sea by doing back flips, then using its curled-up body to roll like a hoop.

No hoops for me. Where two roads diverge in a yellow wood I'll take the quieter path, the one tracked only by shoe or boot, the one that allows the mind to stop, attend, consider. No helmet necessary. No Day-Glo jumpsuit zipping me in, head to toe. The breeze on my cheek. The tip-tip of the nuthatch in my ear. One foot in front of the other. As naked of technology as God made me.

By the wildest, leafiest and least trodden way.