Friday, April 15, 2011

Not getting somewhere, but being somewhere

Once, our ancestors walked the world. Then came domestication of animals and the wheel, and now the car. Today walking can be hard, as settlements and transport have become rearranged beyond our control. Many people still walk for pleasure, in urban parks or in the countryside. But few of us now walk far as part of daily lives. This disconnection from regular contact with the land has shifted our perspectives on memory, place and time. A few people have walked all their lives, and have seen how the land has changed. Ronald Blythe remembers that footpaths were once full of people moving about, working, interacting. These were like today’s main roads, except people talked and walked and watched. The old countryside was peopled. Blythe writes, “friends never tire of telling me that my life would be transformed if only I could drive a car, quite forgetting how transformed it has been because I cannot.” The trouble is, we get out less today, and the resulting alienation from nature is contributing to environmental problems. We are suffering in short from an extinction of natural experience. “I wish to make an extreme statement”, said Thoreau, “walking is about the genius for sauntering. It is not about getting somewhere, but being somewhere.” Edward Abbey was blunter: “you can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees.”
-- Jules Pretty

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