“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least—and it is commonly more than that—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements…” Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”

I love to walk. Most of my blog posts are about walking, and I’ve even written a book about my walks with my dogs during the years I lived in California, My Everest.

I never have taken the ability to walk for granted. There have been times when I couldn’t just “get up and walk.” I’ve written here — often — about the challenges to me — emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually — of suffering from hip arthritis and not being able to walk well.

This time last year I was flying, uh walking, on the short-term high afforded me by a cortisone shot in my hip joint. For the first time in YEARS I could walk, pain-free and happy. I could even go up and down stairs! Two things happened as a result of that shot. I realized how long I’d been messed up (years), and my doc saw for sure (for the benefit of Medicare) that I had no real choice but a hip replacement if I were to regain my mobility. The cortisone shot brought me relief for 3 weeks then I was back where I was.

I have fought hard to be able to continue to walk. In a long conversation with my doc, I told him about my dad who suffered from MS, who, over a period of 15 years, lost the ability to walk.

“So you know what it is to lose mobility.”


He confided to me that it was a similar situation with his mom that had inspired him to become an orthopedic surgeon. “We know what it means not to be able to walk.”

Of course, as often happened when I talked to him about these things, my eyes filled with tears.

Me, age 12, hiking in the woods of Nebraska, hiding from my brother. Obviously, he found me. 😀

“…most of my townsmen would fain walk sometimes, as I do, but they cannot. No wealth can buy the requisite leisure, freedom, and independence which are the capital in this profession [walkers]. It comes only by the grace of God. It requires a direct dispensation from Heaven to become a walker. You must be born into the family of the Walkers. Ambulator nascitur, non fit. Some of my townsmen, it is true, can remember and have described to me some walks which they took ten years ago, in which they were so blessed as to lose themselves for half an hour in the woods; but I know very well that they have confined themselves to the highway ever since, whatever pretensions they may make to belong to this select class.”  

Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”

I hope this summer will bring me some good walks that I haven’t been able to to take because of, well, being unable. Now I have a car with good ground clearance, a dog who’s willing to go to war for me, maps, a hydration pack , trekking poles and a big can of bear spray. I should be good to go as soon as the snow melts and the roads to the mountains are dry enough not to be destroyed by cars. Maybe being exiled from the golf course and chased away from the wild life area by the Icky Man and the closures so the geese can mate is fate’s way of telling me, “You can go anywhere now, Martha. Don’t be afraid.”

I’ve also lately realized that I’m alone. No one is depending on me for anything. If a cougar gets me how’s that different from a heart attack? Just more interesting. I’ve realized that before in my life, but in the agar culture of, uh, culture, I sometimes forget. We all live FOR something. I think I can live FOR walking. Oh, and langlauf. ❤

My vicinity affords many good walks; and though for so many years I have walked almost every day, and sometimes for several days together, I have not yet exhausted them. An absolutely new prospect is a great happiness, and I can still get this any afternoon. Two or three hours’ walking will carry me to as strange a country as I expect ever to see. A single farmhouse which I had not seen before is sometimes as good as the dominions of the king of Dahomey. There is in fact a sort of harmony discoverable between the capabilities of the landscape within a circle of ten miles’ radius, or the limits of an afternoon walk, and the threescore years and ten of human life. It will never become quite familiar to you

Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”

14 thoughts on “Saunter

  1. I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t walk. Adjust I suppose, as you do, when there are no alternatives. Walking in nature is at the top of my list of necessities for living. I haven’t read Walking, it is on my list.

    • Along with “Walking” I recommend “Nature” by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Somehow the two seem to be companions to each other.

      Until I found my doctor last year and saw the light at the end of my tunnel, I reached a point of pretty dark despair from which my dog rescued me. Walking in nature is probably the most important thing in my life. Honestly, all the other stuff, though it might be cool and I might like, is just fluff because I can’t be outside walking 24/7.

  2. I need my walks too. Getting knee surgery is something I want to do now but the doctors don’t want to do it until I’m seventy. I am told that replacement knees only last about 15 years and if I actually try to put serious mileage they will wear out much sooner. They say they don’t want to do a 2nd replacement when I’m 80. Yet when I look it up online, I’m seeing 96% are still completely functional after 20 years. Where the hell are they buying their knees, Walmart?

    I know they are just trying to save money. Kaiser policy. A significant number of people will die between my age and 70 or simply give up on mobility for other reasons. Heavy sigh!

    Now I have severe epicondylitis, right elbow, and just a week ago developed an inguinal hernia as more immediate issues to deal with. At least those aren’t affecting simple walking.

    Thoreau is such an incredible writer. I know it is fashionable to deconstruct him on the left as just another privileged old white man. And the right likes to point out all his exaggerations, inconsistencies, and shortcomings in an attempt to undermine his messages on civil disobedience and the environment. Yet he is one of the core thinkers whose ideas led to the modern environmental and anti-war movements.

    I just mark it up to being a flawed human. If my idols don’t have feet of clay I don’t see any point in looking up to them. My own feet are pretty squishy as well.

    • Find another doctor. The knee replacements are much longer lasting than they thought some time back and put up with a lot more shit. Are you old enough for Medicare? It’s worth fighting. I had to fight hard for my hip resurfacing back when I was 55 but I won.

      Thoreau — honestly I was a little disappointed when I learned he usually went to Emerson’s for supper, but I got over it when I fully understood what a pain in the ass it is too cook supper every night. When I was teaching “Critical Thinking through Nature Writing” Thoreau was, of course, a staple. Whatever anyone thinks or says or makes up about him, his words STILL have the power to inspire the young in a very good way. “Morning is when I’m awake and there is a dawning in me.”

      I don’t think politics should put it’s dirty, intellectually inferior, self-interested, narrow-minded little hands in literature. Nope. Poor Nietzsche. For that matter, poor Jesus.

  3. The first place Garry took me when I visited him here (I was still living in Israel) was Walden Pond. It was October. We met the mayor who was having his walk. I later discovered that it was a big deal but at the time, I was reporting for a paper in Israel and meeting important people was what I did professionally. And it was such a small country back then and so easy to meet important people. Walden Pond was polluted. I was shocked by the signs saying “Swimming prohibited due to pollution.” I kept thinking that Thoreau would NOT approve.

    You can swim there now. And walk. It’s particularly lovely in the fall.

  4. Yes, so much yes to this. And, I have never read “Walking” by Thoreau. Now, I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. I grew up in a walking family, and am now raising my kids in a walking family. My 10-yr. old son asks daily to go on “his” walk. After experiencing what these walks do for us, I don’t think we’ll ever go without them. I can’t imagine going through what you did with your hip, I think I would have gone into despair too.

    Enjoy your warm season of walking with your loyal pup, and away from the Icky Man (CREEPY!). I’m thrilled that you can get out again, but probably not nearly as thrilled as you are❤️

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