Summer Evening at Skagen Beach by Peder Severin Kroyer
I used to think animals were better than people and cars were the ultimate evil. I still think baby animals are cuter than most people, but who doesn’t? Maybe the people who club baby seals . . . hmm. But the mind tends to wander when you walk–alone–without a blue tooth in your ear.
Did you know that Theodore Roosevelt walked thirteen miles a day for fun with his kids? I tried a walk with my kids (one mile) and it goes down forever in their minds as the forced march. Even our dog had to be carried off the nature trail, foaming at the mouth.
As a kid my parents kept weird hours. We’d get up, feed ourselves then leave for the day as far as our feet would take us. I went to the polluted Hackensack River mostly and mourned the occasional dead fish, throwing my muddy little fist up towards God who created death and chemicals. I’d sit on a moss covered spot for what seemed like hours under a tree overhanging the sad river and contemplate things 7-year-olds contemplate–death, loving your enemies even when they throw Pepsi cans in the river and why school was invented to enslave innocent children.
Am I going to get to the 19th century with all of this? Okay, calm down, this is a meandering walk/post. Theodore Roosevelt swam across the Potomac. Can you imagine? My mother swam in the Hudson the day before they put up signs saying the pollution had won and swimmers had lost.
Walkers are great. They’re not intense fitness joggers who look like they’re dying and wear stupid clothes. They’re not cyclists constantly veering out of the bike lane (need I say anything about their clothes?). Walkers think. They stop when a golden retriever crosses their path. They have time to note the beaver swimming in the canal beside the towpath. They’re almost as cool as shepherds.
Back in the good old 19th century, places with names like Tannersville and Gloversville really messed with the rivers making gloves and tanning leather with BAD chemicals. But there were cool walkers back then, too.
John Muir not only had the whole beard thing going on, he really was the GUY who convinced Theodore Roosevelt to save some great walking spots from the constant onslaught of materialist land grabbers (hey, we all do this–we live in houses or apartments on land that used to be wild–downtown Manhattan streets follow the deer and Indian trails of long ago). John walked 1000 miles just for the hell of it from Indiana to Florida and wrote about it in A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf. He didn’t do a blog tour and never made much money in life, but he didn’t seem to care. His passion was wild. When he finally married and settled onto his wife’s orchard she’d laugh when that look came over him and shoo him up to the mountains where he’d spend nights in swaying pine trees as sudden storms whipped through the forest.
John’s father beat him as a kid and forced him to memorize the Bible. Did the psalms about the wonder of creation come to mind as he roamed? He wrote his own psalms. The words and actions of his life offer profound insight into stewardship. Speaking of sight, he was blinded for a time when working at a sawmill led to an eye injury: “This affliction has driven me to the sweet fields. God has to nearly kill us sometimes, to teach us lessons.” Very true words, Mr. Muir.
Imagine a country so young that rules and regulations and super highway systems didn’t choke off the walkers’ vast possibilities? Sure there were Indians, but usually these meetings were fairly harmless. Muir’s first experience with them led to his favorite horse being stolen, but the further west he went the more he grew to have at least a grudging respect–for some of them (and why must we cage people by their ethnicity or praise them for it either?).
When he walked he read Emerson and when he read Emerson he wanted more walking. In the end his love affair with creation and its beautiful wildness in America saved bits and pieces of it for us. Walk on, you walkers. You bless the world more than you know.