"Walking makes the rumours and complaints fall suddenly silent, stops the ceaseless interior chatter through which we comment on others, evaluate ourselves, recompose, interpret. Walking shuts down the sporadic soliloquy to whose surface sour rancours, imbecile satisfactions and easy imaginary vengeances rise sluggishly in turn. You are facing a mountain, walking among great trees, and you think: they are just there. They are there, they didn't expect me, they were always there."
- from A Philosophy of Walking by Frederic Gros
There is a rather charming interview piece in The Guardian with Frederic Gros. The interviewer asks:
Have there been points in your life where you've found walking helpful to your mental state?
"Absolutely. There is an element of repetition in the act of walking where you can forget. And there is a tiredness. A peacefulness. I think that when you are really alone you have a fragility. The feelings are more intense. You have more of the feeling of the eternity of things. There are moments of vibration between your own body and the landscape."
Gros talks about a kind of walk where you "conceive an affection for yourself. You forgive yourself instead of making excuses. Nothing left to lose, just keep walking. And everything, all around, takes on this new face: indulgence for the fearful, hiding bird, for the fragile, wilting flower, indulgence for the thick foliage. For, once you no longer expect anything from the world on these aimless and peaceful walks, that is when the world delivers itself to you, gives itself, yields itself up. When you no longer expect anything."
As the Guardian writer points out, there is a decided lack of women in this book, but perhaps that leaves room for someone to write another such book.
The walks described are generally long walks, epic walks, but it's not difficult to relate them to my own small-scale, suburban saunters.
Near the beginning of the book Gros says, "What I mean is that by walking you are not going to meet yourself. By walking, you escape from the very idea of identity, the temptation to be someone, to have a name and history."
When I'm walking, I can feel various things falling off of me, and the longer I walk, the more the caked on muck loses its grip. The closer I am to anonymous. Which, if you've read my book, Hive, you know my thoughts on anonymity.
Walking with a dog, is another kind of walking I suppose. The kind of dog you have will change the perfume of your walking. The degree to which your dog stops to sniff and mark territory, the pace you keep, the smoothness of the creature's leash walking.
And walking with a camera is yet another kind of walking. One's looking becomes more delicate, sharper, refined. One loses oneself in the walking, and then is lost again, while one focuses in on the leaf, twig, or dried seed pod that has attracted one's attention. And then, the quality of light becomes paramount.
The steadiness of one's hands, evenness of breath, the dog's willingness to sit still, all come into play.
It's when I'm walking that I come closest to feeling an affection for myself.
Whatever other health benefits, I'm sure the walk is worth it to arrive at ourselves this way, and so arrive at the fragile peace in which we're able to indulge in the unexpected beauty of whatever natures offers up on a particular day.