A Genius for Sauntering

March 14, 2011 § 1 Comment

With the days lighter and the weather finally warming up, I’m more tempted to venture out on walks. Since there’s nowhere I need to go, I’m reminded of this passage beginning Henry David Thoreau’s essay, Walking:

I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks, who had genius, so to speak, for sauntering: which word is beautifully derived from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretence of going a la Sainte Terre, to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terre,” a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense.

Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home, which will mean having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the saunterer is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea.

It is true, we are but faint-hearted crusaders. Our expeditions are but tours, and come round again at evening to the old hearth-side from which we set out. Half the walk is but retracing our steps. We should go forth on the shortest walk in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return, prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again, if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free [person], then you are ready for a walk.

Kevin Gallagher must have taken these words to heart. After studying film in college, he spent six months sauntering the Appalachian Trail’s 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine. And then made this stop motion film from his photos:

Whether you have six months or ten minutes, the Appalachian Trail or city streets, saunter on. It’s not for the faint of heart.


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§ One Response to A Genius for Sauntering

  • Jesse says:

    …and whether I like it or not, each walk I take seems to feel more like a saunter of the mind.

    I don’t know that I like the word saunter so much.

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