In May 1862, The Atlantic Monthly posthumously published Henry David Thoreau’s seminal essay, “Walking.” Thoreau’s central premise seemed that humanity should experience nature “as an inhabitant” and that we are “part or parcel of Nature.” The essay makes not only a plea to re-commune with nature, but also to do so at a “sauntering” pace. He insists “the walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking exercise… but is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day.”

As Thoreau suggested over a century ago, perhaps in stepping away from all the chatter of our daily lives what we’re seeking is not exercise of the body, but exercise of the mind: silence. In his 2011 New York Times Opinion piece, writer Pico Iyer notes that “empathy, as well as deep thought, depends (as neuroscientists like Antonio Damasio have found) on neural processes that are ‘inherently slow.’ The very ones our high-speed lives have little time for.”

In today’s increasingly-urbanized and interconnected world, the luxury of such walks may be few and far between—however, these great reads from Amherst College’s literary journal The Common prove that the general spirit of Thoreau’s essay still persists, in ways unique to each writer-walker:


In “Annals of Mobility: Walking Places,” novelist Sonya Chung contemplates the necessity of taking time out of one’s day to walk, and what it means to have the mental and societal freedom to do so. She writes, “To walk for the sake of walking, without destination or ulterior purpose, is to perhaps claim a truth about the very notion of destination—to push back against the tyranny of exact answers, projected endpoints, the illusion of certainty.”


Editor Jennifer Acker’s essay “From the Seventeeth Floor: Against Wilderness,” explores the common experience of walking—from Kenya to Sri Lanka to New England—and how, in doing so, she unpacks Thoreau and his famed “Walking” essay. In the end, she learns that perhaps a boundless walk in wilderness is not what she’s after, but something still tied to human communities.


Then there are walks that lead us places we don’t expect to find ourselves: back at the beginning. In  “Deluge,” a brief and beautiful meditation on place, Hong Kong writer Keane Shum walks a line between past and present, home and away.


Another city, Sydney, is the walking place of choice in Michael Bourne’s “Stanley Street.” He writes, “This, I thought, is why lovers can walk without jackets in the rain. They know someone will be waiting for them when they get home to make them a pot of tea and talk with them while they drink it.”


But what to do if walking alone simply isn’t enough? In “Doing a Dérive: Or Walking 2.0,” Jennifer Acker explores new internet software called “dérive” or “drift, drifting” in French. The app, easily downloadable to your smart device, gets you lost in a city and allows you to share that experience with your social network. Acker writes of her experience using the app in Abu Dhabi: “Learning and adaptation take great strides on the backs of such miniscule discoveries as mine, this neighborhood pocket of villas, schools, and embassies. In my case it was unexpected comfort that I discovered via disorientation.” Surely, this would not be Thoreau’s expectation of a modern world so interconnected and overly-explored. Yet here is technology bringing us round again, reminding us to step outside into the unknown, to challenge ourselves to the possibilities in getting lost.


Further Reading:


Image credit: Andrew Bowden via flickr

About The Author

Kaitlin Solimine
Co-Founder and Editor, Hippo Reads

Kaitlin Solimine, Co-Founder and Editor, Hippo Reads