Why walk?

When we walk through the woods, what does it really mean to us?

In a world of motorized transportation, where we can travel hundreds or thousands of miles in a matter of hours, where exotic foreign locales can be dabbled with and sampled so readily, where horizons and the limitations of consciousness that they imply can be transcended on a whim (provided of course that one can pay the fare) why insist on walking? Why insist even on the superiority of walking vis-à-vis other forms of transportation? Why be so confined, so provincial, so parochial as to value the constraints imposed by slow unmechanized locomotion? Why encumber oneself with such an outmoded mode of travel?

Why walk?

Because one’s manner of movement matters to one’s constitution. Whether by foot or by wheel, by wing or by keel: one is made different by how one moves. To walk is to create and recreate oneself in a particular way through a method of movement.

Slow sensing movement

To walk is to engage in a more immediate way of sensing the world. It is to smell what hangs in the air and wafts with the wind. It is perchance to taste what grows there. It is to feel the push of the elements against one’s body. To walk is to engage the local.

Speed matters. Moving slowly or quickly makes a difference to what one becomes through movement. Walking is slow, so that one is allowed to take in the detail of a place. Walking tends toward hushed movement: one hears what cannot be heard while sealed inside a motorized capsule.

To walk through a locality is to feel its contours. It is to rise and fall with the land, to see how life flows over and holds on to it. It is to discover the peculiar adaptations, how each thing finds its place to flourish and to die. To walk is to foster an appreciation and a care for the harmonies and discordances of a place.


It is also to habituate oneself to a place, eventually to dispense with navigational devices that mediate between the wild land and one’s bewilderment in the face of it. When one knows a place, then one has internalized a landscape in imagination and memory: a map in the head, heart, and belly, so much richer than one that any government department of lands could draw. A map imbued with feeling and personal meaning, with hope, affection, fear, concern, and love. One’s life is then entwined with the land. One becomes what one is only because the land is the way it is. Its shape and fertility shapes the self, gives it life and the power to engender life.

To walk is to own the place where one walks, but not as “property”, which is only nominal appropriation. It is to really appropriate the land, to take it in slowly, to savour its complexity by slow tasting and incorporation. It is to taste it again and again, to taste the slow morphing of it through weather and seasons. One acquires a place by acquiring a taste for it. To walk is to care how a place tastes, to want it to taste good: a place of health, not disease.

Topical values

Walking: a propaedeutic and preparation for the most robust environmental ethic. If one’s health depended on the health of the Athabasca River, one would not make it toxic by chemically sifting the tar sands. Only those who are not really of that place are so willing to defile it. Only those who are not really of the Churchill River could think of hobbling it by disrupting its shape and flow. More and more we are dis-placed. Our health depends not on our locality, but on distant foreign places. Life is possible for workers in the midst of the tar sands’ cesspools because what sustains life there comes from elsewhere. Only the nihilist deliberately maims and poisons that which sustains him.

To walk is to be real, to immerse oneself in the real. It is to reject the utopian, because in walking one seeks a place, one immerses oneself in a place, in a real topos, rather than fleeing from it to a no-place (ou-topos). One who endorses the possibility of utopia misunderstands the nature of places. For one always finds strife, perpetual and ineluctable strife, when one looks closely and really becomes acquainted with the minutiae and subtleties of places. What seems serene and peaceful from the perspective of the superficial observer reveals itself as storm and stress in its depths. To walk is to be rooted in the depths, not dispersed and dissipated all over. It is to go slowly and deeply within a place, rather than flit and skim on its surface. Walking is not superficial, not for the superficial. Walking makes deep.

Walking means a protest against thoughtlessly rushing through. It is a protest against the alienation from local experience and knowledge that our technologies institute. Walking means allowing one’s thoughts and feelings to be directed by the unfolding shape of the land and by the bodily exertion that takes one through that unfolding. It means to constitute oneself differently on the basis of local difference. Why walk? Because through walking we feel our placement. Through walking we attach ourselves to places. Through it we tap into a source of value that is as unique as each place is unique.

Walking makes silent

Land has no opinions, it does not speak. Speechless wind utters no argument – it asserts itself, is pure assertion. It moves without justification, and invites the walker to do the same. So that when walking one does not ask “why walk?” One walks, that is all. Only through displacement does one lose conviction and wonder “why?”

I have questioned walking.
I have asked “why?”
Perhaps I have not
yet walked enough.
So let me walk.
So let us all walk.

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