Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Sauntering Society


"It is a great art to saunter."  So wrote Henry David Thoreau over 100 years ago.  He used to saunter four hours a day, explaining that the origins of the term "saunter" comes from the Middle Ages, when wandering pilgrims would beg for alms to finance their journey to “la Saint Terre,” the Holy Land. Such people became known as saint-terrers, or saunterers.  I've known some people who consider a walk among the mountains as the equivalent of churchgoing. 

I remember the first time I learned of Henry David Thoreau and read his famous "Walden."  I had just graduated from college and was recovering from a car accident, stuck in bed with hours upon hours to read.  I was intrigued with his quest to discover the greater meaning of life and I admired his commitment to simplify his life by living off the land in quiet contemplation.  He built a tiny 1 room "house" where he LIVED for 1 year, 1 month, 1 week, and 1 day.  If I weren't so addicted to ice cream and movies I would do the same.

I tried to imagine myself next to him on his adventure and wondered if I'd even be able to withstand the solitude. I wondered if I would be creative enough to keep myself entertained and inspired or if my brain would start to hurt after the first day of attempting prolonged deep thought.

Some consider Thoreau to have been a hermit, although he sauntered into town and visited with friends every few days. Now that my days are filled with never-ending tasks and sounds, I envy Thoreau's stillness. Oh, to have time to sit and think in perfect silence! Unexpectedly this autumn, I found myself in beautiful Concord, sauntering around Walden! A business trip took me to Boson, only a stone's throw from Thoreau's beloved pond.  It was almost dusk, but my husband and I were determined to saunter.
Markers indicate the location where Thoreau's "home" stood, overlooking the pond he made immortal with his words.  For a brief moment in time, life was simple.  We walked and walked, taking in every breath of crisp, Fall air. 

 Ducks swam by.  The wind kissed our chilled cheeks.  The fallen leaves crunched under our feet.  It was perfect.

According to my family's pedigree chart, Ralph Waldo Emmerson and I are related.  Until I visited Concord, I never realized that the Walden property was actually owned by Ralph Waldo Emmerson's father.  I suddenly felt an even greater connection to this place.  Ralph and Henry were not only contemporaries, but good friends who shared a love for this very spot on earth.  Oh, to be a fly on the wall of Thoreau's home when Emmerson came to visit him!  Both inspiring writers found comfort and wisdom in nature and stillness...a reminder to me to turn off the TV and free my mind on a long walk outside.  

Thoreau says it best..."So we saunter toward the Holy Land; till one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever he has done, shall perchance shine into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light, so warm and serene and golden as on a bank-side in autumn."