Walking and writing

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I've been interested in the subject of walking and how it engages mind, body, and place. Michael McColly, a Northwestern MA/MFA nonfiction instructor, writes regularly on walking in his blog. For example, he reflects on the 16th century poet Basho in his post of March 22, 2011:

Reading him, I was reminded of the humility he taught as he walked so lightly on the earth, observing and marveling at all forms of nature before him along his path through his beloved island home of Japan.

This sense of nostalgia is not despair or sentimentality. In fact, it’s a sign of life in us, a vibration that is there if we listen.

So I was intrigued by a five-part essay in Slate by Wen Stephenson, “Walking Home from Walden,” in which Stephenson addresses a similar theme. He decides to walk six miles from his suburban home to Walden Pond. These walks are more than the expected metaphor; the experience creates a literal connection from the interior life to the immediate world of nature, extended then to the problems of the earth and its inhabitants that are real and abstract (because they are physically remote) at the same time. He describes his first walk:

I want to call it grace, but that's only a word. It was a tactile reality, a place my own feet could carry me, and all I had to do was wake up, walk out, and touch it—out there, in a clearing, beside a pond, in a cloud's reflection, on the way to Walden.

He goes on to reflect on the relationship between his connection to nature and the impact of climate change wrought by modern living:

Thoreau struggled to conceive of his own material identity with wind, rocks, and trees. And yet he wasn't forced to confront, as we are now, his own complicity in the destruction of Earth's balance, the very atmosphere. . . . But that's the landscape in which we now stand. We don't know who we are. We don't know where we are.

The last section of his narrative gives a call to action that may leave us grasping for more direction, but perhaps also looking for both physical and metaphysical connections we haven't thought about before. That examination might start with the simple task of walking and writing about it.

In his Twitter feed about the article, Stephenson comments, "I would only note, it was the walk *home* that changed me."