Long before the pandemic, walking the city and its neighborhoods was, for me, a practice as life-giving as it was routine. Amidst Melbourne’s multiple lockdowns, it’s been a gift to my sanity.
For a long time, the Scottish poet Thomas A Clark has paid attention to the practice of walking. He finds in it the life I’ve so often experienced. In this particular poem, Clark provides a series of propositions or ‘truths’ about walking. Many of them resonate.
In Praise of Walking
Thomas A Clark
Early one morning, any moment, we can set out, with the least possible baggage, and discover the world.
It is quite possible to refuse all the coercion, violence, property, triviality, to simply walk away.
That something exists outside ourselves and our preoccupations, so near, so readily available, is our greatest blessing.
Walking is the human way of getting about.
Always, everywhere, people have walked, veining the earth with paths, visible and invisible, symmetrical and meandering.
There are walks on which we tread in the footsteps of others, walks on which we strike out entirely for ourselves.
A journey implies a destination, so many miles to be consumed, while a walk has its own measure, complete at every point along the way.
There are things we will never see, unless we walk to them.
Walking is a mobile form of waiting.
What I take with me, what I leave behind, are of less importance than what I discover along the way.
To be completely lost is a good thing on a walk.
The most distant places seem most accessible once one is on the road.
Convictions, directions, opinions, are of less importance than sensible shoes.
In the course of a walk, we usually find out something about our companion, and this is true even when we travel alone.
When I spend the day talking I feel exhausted, when I spend it walking I am pleasantly tired.
The pace of a walk will determine the number and variety of things to be encountered, from the broad outlines of a mountain range to a tit’s nest among the lichen, and the quality of attention that will be brought to bear upon them.
A rock outcrop, a hedge, a fallen tree, anything that turns us out of our way, is an excellent thing on a walk.
Wrong turnings, doubling back, pauses and digression, all contribute to the dislocation of a persistent self-interest.
Everything we meet is equally important or unimportant.
The most lonely places are the most lovely.
Walking is egalitarian and democratic; we do not become experts at walking and one side of the road is as good as another.
Walking is not so much romantic as reasonable.
The line of a walk is articulate in itself, a kind of statement.
Pools, walls, solitary trees, are natural halting places.
We lose the flavour of walking if it becomes too rare or too extraordinary, if it turns into an expedition; rather it should be quite ordinary, unexceptional, just what we do.
Daily walking, in all weathers, in every season, becomes a sort of ground or continuum upon which the least emphatic occurrences are registered clearly.
A stick of ash or blackthorn, through long use, will adjust itself to the palm.
Of the many ways through a landscape, we can choose, on each occasion, only one, and the project of the walk will be to remain responsive, adequate, to the consequences of the choice we have made, to confirm the chosen way rather than refuse the others.
One continues on a long walk not by effort of will but through fidelity.
Storm clouds, rain, hail, when we have survived days we seem to have taken on some of the solidity of rocks and trees.
A day, from dawn to dusk, is the natural span of a walk.
A dull walk is not without value.
To walk for hours on a clear night is the largest experience we can have.
For the right understanding of a landscape, information must come to the intelligence from all the senses.
Looking, singing, resting, breathing, are all complementary to walking.
Climbing uphill, the horizon grows wider; descending, the hills gather round.
We can take a walk which is a sampling of different airs: the invigorating air of the heights; the filtered air of a pine forest; the rich air over ploughed earth.
We can walk between two places and in so doing establish a link between them, bring them into a warmth of contact, like introducing two friends.
There are walks on which I lose myself, walks which return me to myself again.
Is there anything that is better than to be out, walking, in the clear air?