A prefatory: K. Linda Kivi suggested recently that I find Rebecca Solnit’s splendid book on the history of walking during a stroll that she and I shared together in a splendid wooded reserve while there was still snow on the ground. The time was good for positive suggestions, they came – for we were awalk. Now that spring has arrived many more of us will venture outdoors, to clear their brains, or just simply as many writers and philosophers have done for millennia, to think creatively, for walking is certainly not mindless activity.
K.L. and I have walked in some ways together for some four decades, albeit on different paths - and certainly in many different countries. Yet I know, somehow, that we have been on the same road for quite a while. I heed suggestions from likeminded individuals. And given time and a chance, follow up. And pass them on. Hence this suggestion to find this book, available in the Toronto Public Library system.
I do hope that others, who might chance upon this book, will have as strong a reaction as produced on me, not always a solitary hiker. Then again, walking together, in silence, is a treasure of its own. Almost equal to walking alone, in silence.
Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking, published in 2000 by Viking/Penguin (in Canada, ISBN 0-670-88209-7) falls into the category of impossible to summarize. I am not reviewing the book. You walk – you get it. You r/amble – you get it. You live, breathe, know nature, the unsullied, yet fierce reality – you get it. You read this work –you will get it, if you have not done so yet.
One rambles, hikes, scales mountains, descends slopes – for such a reader, this work provides not only a reason as to why we embrace nature, but advises why it has been historically difficult to do so in most parts of the “enlightened world.”
Solnit’s work is a historical masterpiece. The reference material is magisterial. While I knew from High School days that Wordsworth was peripatetic and that his walks with his sister produced his best poems, I had no idea, of the influence that he had on Britain at the time. Further, the sections on The Lake District– The Alps –, where to stop.
My favourite place for rambling has always been Kotkajärve – the hundreds of acres plus the adjoining thousands of crown lands, the myriad lakes best crossed in winter on ski or snowshoe offer so many differing directions to go, choices of length of hike numerous. Bushwhacking is best, but even KJ’s many roads and paths give a grand choice of where to end up. It is not the getting there, but the journey.
Newfoundland has provided another wonderful location for both winter and summer hikes. Scaling Gros Morne Mountain in summer, seeing the vista from the peak is an indescribable experience. Blow-me-down Plateau in winter is an experience in exuberance.
And then asphalt. Sad, but true, it exists. The street is also always humming. Solnit dedicates valuable pages to identifying the positive as well as negative attempts to improve metropoli. New York. Paris. London. The emphasis on poets expressing the joys of strolling through the urban landscape is excellent - Whitman, Ginsberg and O’Hara et al capture New York and other cities exquisitely. Virginia Woolf’s walking experiences in London are described (albeit briefly) in such a manner, that one thinks Edward Albee never knew her.
What us walkers – stopping to identify to trees, stooping to recognize mushrooms, slowing to stroke the fern canopy and then wander on our lust - need to recall, when back ensconced with our tea in our favourite reading chairs – is that the walking environment is threatened, has been for centuries, and will remain so unless walkers of the world unite….
I am tempted to steal from Thoreau, or even the Scottish distiller for the last line, but won’t. And won’t sing a single verse from the Happy Wanderer. Matkamees olen – (that is Estonian for Johnny Walker of the non bottled-in kind.)