Tag Archives: Henry David Thoreau

to autumn

 

 

 

 

Madison Square Park 12-20-p.m. 11-16-2016.jpg

Madison Square Park, New York City; November 2016 (photograph by Roger W. Smith)

 

 

 

Vassar College 12-05 p.m. 10-11-2018.JPG

Poughkeepsie, NY; October 2018 (photograph by Roger W. Smith

 

 

 

Pushkin’s favorite month was October.

Spring starts out wet and raw and often wintry at the outset. Fall starts out just plain nice and within a couple of weeks or so has become just plain gorgeous.

By the end of the season, fall has become indistinguishable from winter. But, in the first month or so, fall features clear, sunny days without oppressive heat, which in summer can be unbearable.

By the end of spring, summer is already here and one experiences days that suffuse the senses of old and young with sheer delight. Ask Shakespeare, who wrote of “springtime, the only pretty ring time, / Sweet lovers love the spring.” (As You Like It).

Ask Edvard Grieg or Carl Nielsen.

Autumn has its proponents too.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Let Autumn spread his treasures to the sun.
Luxuriant and unbounded …

From heaven’s high cope the fierce effulgence shook
Of parting Summer, a serener blue,
With golden light enliven’d, wide invests
The happy world. Attemper’d suns arise,
Sweet-beam’d, and shedding oft thro’ lucid clouds
A pleasing calm; while broad, and brown, below
Extensive harvests hang the heavy head. …

The sultry south collects a potent blast.
At first the groves are scarcely seen to stir
Their trembling tops; and a still murmur runs
Along the soft-inclining fields of corn.
But as the aerial tempest fuller swells,
And in one mighty stream, invisible.
Immense! the whole excited atmosphere
Impetuous rushes o’er the sounding world;
Strain’d to the root, the stopping forest pours
A rustling shower of yet untimely leaves. …

 

– James Thomson, The Seasons (1726-1730)

 

 

*****************************************************

 

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue.

 

John Keats, ‘To Autumn” (1820)

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Октябрь уж наступил — уж роща отряхает

Последние листы с нагих своих ветвей;

Дохнул осенний хлад — дорога промерзает.

Журча еще бежит за мельницу ручей,

Но пруд уже застыл; сосед мой поспешает

В отъезжие поля с охотою своей,

И страждут озими от бешеной забавы,

И будит лай собак уснувшие дубравы.

 

 

Теперь моя пора: я не люблю весны;

Скучна мне оттепель; вонь, грязь — весной я болен;

Кровь бродит; чувства, ум тоскою стеснены.

Суровою зимой я более доволен,

Люблю ее снега; в присутствии луны

Как легкий бег саней с подругой быстр и волен,

Когда под соболем, согрета и свежа,

Она вам руку жмет, пылая и дрожа!

 

 

Ох, лето красное! любил бы я тебя,

Когда б не зной, да пыль, да комары, да мухи.

Ты, все душевные способности губя,

Нас мучишь; как поля, мы страждем от засухи;

Лишь как бы напоить, да освежить себя —

Иной в нас мысли нет, и жаль зимы старухи,

И, проводив ее блинами и вином,

Поминки ей творим мороженым и льдом.

 

— Александр Пушкин, Осень (1833-1841)

 

 

 

October has arrived – the woods have tossed

Their final leaves from naked branches;

A breath of autumn chill – the road begins to freeze,

The stream still murmurs as it passes by the mill,

The pond, however’s frozen; and my neighbor hastens

to his far-flung fields with all the members of his hunt.

The winter wheat will suffer from this wild fun,

And baying hounds awake the slumbering groves.

 

This is my time: I am not fond of spring;

The tiresome thaw, the stench, the mud – spring sickens me.

The blood ferments, and yearning binds the heart and mind..

With cruel winter I am better satisfied,

I love the snows; when in the moonlight

A sleigh ride swift and carefree with a friend.

Who, warm and rosy ‘neath a sable mantle,

Burns, trembles as she clasps your hand. …

 

O, summer fair! I would have loved you, too,

Except for heat and dust and gnats and flies.

You kill off all our mental power,

Torment us; and like fields, we suffer from the drought;

To take a drink, refresh ourselves somehow –

We think of nothing else, and long for lady Winter,

And, having bid farewell to her with pancakes and with wine,

We hold a wake to honor her with ice-cream and with ice.

The latter days of fall are often cursed,

But as for me, kind reader, she is precious

In all her quiet beauty, mellow glow.

 

 

— Alexander Pushkin, “Autumn” (1833-1841)

 

 

*****************************************************

 

“Europeans coming to America are surprised by the brilliancy of our autumnal foliage. There is no account of such a phenomenon in English poetry, because the trees acquire but few bright colors there. … October is the month for painted leaves. Their rich glow now flashes round the world.”

— Henry David Thoreau, “Autumnal Tints” (1862)

 

 

*****************************************************

 

And, Roger W. Smith.

And, yes, the foliage is unmatched in the Northeast. I grew up in Massachusetts like Thoreau, and I never can or will forget the September and October days of my childhood.

 

 

— Posted by Roger W. Smith

   October 2018

when knowledge (and learning) can prove to be useful; the pleasures of pedantry

 

 

“We all know that as the human body can be nourished on any food, though it were boiled grass and the broth of shoes, so the human mind can be fed by any knowledge.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar” (an address delivered in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1837 before the Harvard Chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society)

 

 

*****************************************************

 

I am reading Henry David Thoreau’s essay on walking.

From a recent exhibit at the Morgan Library, I learned that Thoreau, who some moderns may think of as a sort of proto hippie, was very studious and had a very good education in classical and modern languages.

In his walking essay, Thoreau uses the Latin phrase ambulator nascitur, non fit.

After a moment’s hesitation, the meaning came to me: the walker is born, not made.

A curious person as he goes through life acquires all sorts of knowledge. Someone once remarked to me that it is very pleasurable to be able every now and then to USE those scraps of learning.

It was pleasurable to me to think I have retained a little bit of my high school Latin from over 50 years ago, including present passive verb endings.

Back in my high school days I was in a bus station in Boston once, using the men’s room. Some French sailors wearing funny hats with tassels were there too. They were in high spirits. They were teasing one another, joking and laughing. They couldn’t stop laughing. One jest led to another.

They noticed me and seemed friendly. We exchanged glances. I thought, I’m taking French. I can come up with something to say to them. I said, “Vous êtes de la marine française?” They nodded with smiles and seemed to be pleasantly surprised that an American teenager was speaking French to them.

It was very edifying to actually be using the French I had been learning out of a textbook.

 


–Roger W. Smith

September 30, 2017

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

AN UPDATE

 

On Friday, March 2, riding on the subway, I saw the following advertisement:

 

“LE SALVÉ LA VIDA A MI AMIGA”

Encontré a mi amiga desplomada en la cama. Se estaba poniendo azul y no podía respirar. Corrí a buscar mi naloxana y se la dí. Creí que estaba muerta. Cuando volvió en si, no sabía lo que había pasado ni por qué yo estaba llorando. Me alegro de haber tenido naloxona; le dio una segunda oportunidad.

La NALOXONA es un medicamento de emergencia que evita la muerte por sobredosis de analgésicos recetadas y heroína.

 

 

imageedit_1_2395197600

 

I was very pleased with myself in that I understood it completely, every word, in Spanish.

It seemed to me again that a little learning can be a good thing.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

I have been reading the charming novel Good-bye Mr. Chips (1934) by James Hilton. The following passage struck me:

A pleasant, placid life, at Mrs. Wickett’s. He had no worries; his pension was adequate, and there was a little money saved up besides. He could afford everything and anything he wanted. His room was furnished simply and with school­masterly taste: a few bookshelves and sporting trophies; a mantelpiece crowded with fixture cards and signed photographs of boys and men; a worn Turkey carpet; big easy-chairs; pictures on the wall of the Acropolis and the Forum. Nearly everything had come out of his old house­master’s room in School House. The books were chiefly classical, the classics having been his subject; there was, however, a seasoning of history and belles-lettres. There was also a bottom shelf piled up with cheap editions of detective novels. Chips enjoyed these. Sometimes he took down Virgil or Xenophon and read for a few moments, but he was soon back again with Doctor Thorndyke or Inspector French. He was not, despite his long years of assiduous teaching, a very profound classical scholar; indeed, he thought of Latin and Greek far more as dead languages from which English gentlemen ought to know a few quotations than as living tongues that had ever been spoken by living people. He liked those short leading articles in the Times that introduced a few tags that he recognized. To be among the dwindling number of people who understood such things was to him a kind of secret and valued freemasonry [italics added]; it represented, he felt, one of the chief benefits to be derived from a classical education.

Reminded me of the pleasure I have always taken — when boning up on literature or classical music, doing research, traveling watching films, etc. — in the knowledge I have obtained of several foreign languages, without having mastered any of them.

Know what I mean?

 

— Roger W. Smith

   March 5, 2018

on walking (and exercise)

 

 

 

Pressed with conflicting thoughts of love and fear
I parted from thee, Friend! and took my way
Through the great City, pacing with an eye
Downcast, ear sleeping, and feet masterless
That were sufficient guide unto themselves,
And step by step went pensively.

— William Wordsworth, “St. Paul’s”

 

 

 

“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least—and it is commonly more than that—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.”

— Henry David Thoreau

 

 

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

— Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

 

 

“Hiking — “I don’t like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains — not hike! Do you know the origin of that word ‘saunter?’ It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, ‘A la sainte terre,’ ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.”

John Muir

 

 

“I love the leisurely amplitude, the spaciousness, of taking a walk, of heading somewhere, anywhere, on foot. I love the sheer adventure of it, of setting out and taking off. You cross a threshold and you’re on your way. Time is suspended. …the rhythm and pace of a walk — the physical activity — can get you going and keep you grounded. It’s a kind of light meditation. … walking seems to bring a different sort of alertness, an associative kind of thinking, a drifting state of mind.

“A walk is a way of entering the body, and also of leaving it. I am both here and there, betwixt and between, strolling along, observing things, thinking of something else. I move in a liminal space. … walking often quickens my thoughts, inducing a flow of ideas.”

— Edward Hirsch

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

This is a brief essay on walking. I fear it’s a subject that has already been beaten to death.

I have always been a walker. It began at a very early age.

I was raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We lived there until I was age twelve. My parents gave me and my siblings a lot of freedom, as long as it was exercised responsibly. This included things like going places by oneself. I was allowed to walk places by myself — such as to school, to stores, and to the public library from around age six or seven.

Cambridge was a very walkable city. Harvard Yard was only two or three blocks away and Harvard Square close by.

At that time, the red brick sidewalks, which I loved, were very wide, which I loved. They were narrowed in the 1950’s when the wonderful wooden trolley cars that ran up and down Massachusetts Avenue were discontinued and replaced by buses.

When I was age twelve, my parents moved us to the suburbs. I was extremely disappointed. In the suburbs, one needed a car to go just about any place. This meant having to be driven everyplace by my parents until I got a driver’s license at age seventeen.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

I moved to Manhattan after graduating from college and lived there for several years. I absolutely loved the same thing about Manhattan that I had loved about Cambridge: that it is such a walkable city. I lived right off Broadway in a studio apartment in the West 80’s for a few years. I particularly liked strolling along Broadway, an avenue that runs the entire length of Manhattan and further north into the Bronx. It seemed like all humanity was concentrated in this one thoroughfare. The “geography” of the neighborhood, which is to say the layout of the streets on the Upper West Side, seemed to funnel everyone into one stream, so to speak.

I once said to an acquaintance of mine who also lived in Manhattan and loved it, “When I am walking in Manhattan, I feel like I am walking on air.” Indeed, when strolling the sidewalks of Manhattan, I would often be in a trance like state where I was only half aware of progress and distance covered and was fully absorbed in everything around me, there was so much to see.

In several other cities I have traveled to in the USA, I have observed that people don’t walk. Dallas, for example, where I attended a business meeting in the 1990’s. The streets were broad thoroughfares with a couple of lanes, like a highway. One observed hardly any pedestrians. Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where we used to visit my in-laws, was more or less the same.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Walking seems to be a near perfect form of exercise. One can do it even when one is out of shape, and it won’t put undue stress on the body.

Walking is just plain enjoyable. I find that — compared, say, to going to a gym — it is a way to get exercise without it seeming to be a chore. (See Postscript.)

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Walking, as is well known, is conducive to thinking and creativity, which is why so many writers and intellectuals have always been walkers.

Often, I will start out on a walk with no timetable or agenda. (I find it best not to have a timetable; being under a time constraint defeats the whole purpose of a walk.) During the walk, my mind will wander and won’t be focused on anything in particular. Then, ideas will begin to float up and into my consciousness: a new perspective on some problem that has been perplexing me; a new idea about something to write.

This kind of mental stimulation, occurring as it does when I am not actively engaged in mental work, is extremely pleasurable. I will get excited about new ideas for creative undertakings that occur to me and will feel the urge to rush home and plunge into them.

During walks, I also find myself sorting out things in my mind. Personal relationships, for example. Difficulties I’ve been experiencing with relationships.

Walking can also be an ego transcending experience. Removed from bumptious activity that may make you feel self important, you have become one of a crowd. At a plebeian level. A pedestrian amongst other pedestrians. All equal, equally hoofing it, that is.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Walt Whitman loved to take long strolls, often with friends, often at night.

Whitman said to his Boswell, Horace Traubel, that the weather didn’t bother him. He would walk at all hours, day or night, and would not mind if it was raining or there was otherwise inclement weather.

Whitman felt and took exquisite, sensual pleasure from things like the warm sun and the breeze. In his great poem “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” he refers to “the just-felt breezes,” by which he meant a gentle breeze caressing him.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

With respect to the weather when I walk, I pretty much don’t mind what the conditions are either. Like Whitman, I take great pleasure in sunshine and fresh air.

I love to walk in the summer, don’t mind hot weather a bit, and this includes extremely hot days. I could never understand why some people always complain about the heat, are always cautioning you to beware of the sun.

I love the feeling of the sun on my face and arms, like to get a tan. I like to work up a sweat. I feel it’s very healthy to do so; it sweats the toxins right out of you.

In hot weather, especially, I drink huge amounts of water before, during, and after a walk. I rarely drink any other type of liquid. This seems to be very good for one’s health. I actually enjoy getting very thirsty and then having the satisfaction of drinking to quench my thirst. Under such conditions, water goes from being something ordinary to a wonderfully refreshing drink.

Like Whitman, I absolutely love a summer breeze.

I love to walk on a sultry summer day. I take great pleasure in the smell of the grass and herbage.

Often, I am reluctant to go for a walk in foul weather. But, when it comes to cold, biting days — the crisp, clear ones — I find that the bracing air actually feels great. I am a fresh air fiend. It seems to me from experience that the cold air kills germs, makes one practically immune to winter colds. (This has been disputed. Some experts say that cold air can exacerbate colds and flu. The question is yet to be resolved.) It’s invigorating too.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

As I grow older, I tend to wake up much earlier than I used to. I often will wake up very early. It’s an ideal time of the day to take a walk.

In fact, I would advise, if you intend to take a long walk (as I often do), start as early as you can. It’s hard to get going later in the day, and, as the day gets later, one wants to get home.

I find that when I am tired and achy, as I often am, or feel I need more sleep (in the morning, after having woken up), once I set afoot a lot of the tiredness and achiness goes away. The same is true if I am feeling under the weather. Walking seems to cure ills, and rather than tiring me (although there is a sort of “good tiredness” resulting from a long walk), a walk seems to make me more alert and less fatigued, mentally at least.

I feel that a lot of fatigue that people experience (in general, that is; not from walking per se) is actually the result of tedium and boredom, of being inside too much doing repetitive work requiring concentration. So that walking, which is supposed to wear you out, has the opposite effect.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

I like to take marathon walks, into Manhattan or back or from one end of Manhattan Island (south or north) to the other. I am pleasantly surprised by my stamina. I rarely get tired. Sometimes, I will admit, I do get tired. But, more often than not, I seem to be able to just keep going, chugging along, knowing I will eventually reach the end point.

One thing or factor that I have experienced as a walker is second wind. The solution for getting tired seems to be walk a little bit more. It’s counterintuitive, but I swear it’s true. I will walk six or seven miles, perhaps more, and begin to feel very tired. I will sit down on a bench for a few minutes. Or perhaps stop for longer and get a cup of coffee. When I start walking again, I am surprised to find that I don’t feel tired any longer, and that, once I am walking, I feel energetic and limber. It seems that with walking, the more one does, the more one wants to do. In contrast to other forms of exercise.

As I have said, it’s not good if one has to hurry. Ruins the entire walk. Walking at a moderate but reasonably brisk pace seems to work best for me, and to the extent that I do get tired near the end, it’s a very pleasurable feeling.

The length of the walk does not matter as much as that it be enjoyable and relaxing.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

March 2016 (updated September 2017)

 

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

POSTSCRIPT

 

Since posting this essay, I have been doing some thinking about walking as it pertains and relates to the subject of exercise in general.

Walking has helped me to reduce and control my weight, and it may have helped to lower my blood pressure, too.

It can help to alleviate and shorten occasional periods of depression.

I have been thinking about walking vis-à-vis other forms of exercise.

This past summer, I went to a local Y with my older son. He was working out there on a regular basis for a while, almost every day. I was surprised how bright and clean it was. The exercise machines were state of the art.

We spent about an hour there, each of us on a treadmill.

There was a TV you could watch right there on the exercise machine, but I got awfully bored, as well as tired, and kept thinking, when is this going to end, when will my son say, mercifully, “time’s up”?

It seems to me — I have myself experienced it — that such exercise regimens frequently start out good and then peter out after a while.

You will make a resolution, say, to work out for 45 minutes to an hour first thing every morning. You will do it religiously for a while. You’ll be feeling a lot better about yourself and asking yourself, “why wasn’t I doing this before”?

Then, suddenly, you’ll stop.

I believe that for exercise to be done regularly and over a long, sustained period of time, it’s got to be fun — psychologically enjoyable — and not seem like a CHORE.

Think of one’s childhood. One is all the time playing. One is not even aware (hardly) that he or she is getting healthy exercise.

When walking, you can

— stop and get a bite to eat;

— people watch;

— view streetscapes and scenery;

— shop or window shop.

And, you can vary your route.

I firmly believe that variety is the key, makes all the difference here. Exercise routines — such as walking on a treadmill every morning — can’t fail to become monotonous. Which is why, in my opinion, they often fail.

 

 

 

*****************************************************

 

See also the following posts of mine

 

 

“Manhattan Island from Bottom to Top; Walking as Exercise”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/07/22/manhattan-island-from-bottom-to-top-walking-as-exercise/

 

 

“Thoreau on walking”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/04/17/thoreau-on-walking/

 

 

“Walt Whitman on walking”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/03/21/walt-whitman-re-walking/

writers: walkers

 

 

In a previous post of mine

 

“on walking (and exercise)”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/09/26/on-walking-and-exercise/

 

I wrote that “walking, as is well known, is conducive to thinking and creativity, which is why so many writers and intellectuals have always been walkers.”

Por favor, read on!

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

CHARLES DICKENS

 

Dickens was a man of abundant, restless energy. His chief exercise was walking, and his “daily constitutionals,” as he referred to his long walks, could extend as far as twenty to thirty miles each day. He once wrote, “My only comfort is, in Motion,” and told John Forster that “if I couldn’t walk fast and far, I should just explode and perish.” — gallery text, “Charles Dickens and the Spirit of Christmas,” exhibit at The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, November 2017

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

HENRY DAVID THOREAU

 

I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least–and it is commonly more than that-–sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements. … When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics and shopkeepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, so many of them–as if the legs were made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon–I think that they deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago.

“Walking” (The Atlantic Monthly, June 1862)

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

WALT WHITMAN

 

“Why are there trees I never walk under but large and melodious thoughts descend upon me?”

“Song of the Open Road” (1856)

 

I too walked the streets of Manhattan Island, and
bathed in the waters around it,
I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within
me,
In the day, among crowds of people, sometimes they
came upon me,
In my walks home late at night, or as I lay in my
bed, they came upon me.

“Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” (1860)

 

My joys in the open air—my walks through the Mannahatta

“To My Soul” (1860)

 

I continually enjoy these streets, planned on such a generous scale, stretching far, without stop or turn, giving the eye vistas. I feel freer, larger in them. Not the squeezed limits of Boston, New-York, or even Philadelphia; but royal plenty and nature’s own bounty—American, prairie-like. It is worth writing a book about, this point alone. I often find it silently, curiously making up to me the absence of the ocean tumult of humanity I always enjoyed in New-York. Here, too, is largeness, in another more impalpable form; and I never walk Washington, day or night, without feeling its satisfaction.

In my walks I never cease finding new effects and pictures, and I believe it would continue so if I went rambling around here for fifty years.

Walt Whitman, Letter from Washington, New York Times, October 4, 1863

 

GIVE me the splendid silent sun, with all his beams full-
dazzling; ….
Give me odorous at sunrise a garden of beautiful flowers,
where I can walk undisturb’d; …
While yet incessantly asking, still I adhere to my city;
Day upon day, and year upon year, O city, walking
your streets, …
Give me faces and streets! give me these phantoms incessant and endless along the trottoirs! …
Give me such shows! give me the streets of Manhattan!
Give me Broadway, with the soldiers marching—give
me the sound of the trumpets and drums! …
Give me the shores and the wharves heavy-fringed
with the black ships! …
People, endless, streaming, with strong voices, passions,
pageants;
Manhattan streets, with their powerful throbs, with the
beating drums, ….
Manhattan crowds with their turbulent musical chorus
—with varied chorus and light of the sparkling
eyes;
Manhattan faces and eyes forever for me.

“Give Me The Splendid Silent Sun” (1865)

 

NIGHT on the prairies;
The supper is over—the fire on the ground burns
low;
The wearied emigrants sleep, wrapt in their blankets;
I walk by myself—I stand and look at the stars,
which I think now I never realized before.

Leaves of Grass (1867)

 

My little dog is stretched out on the rug at full length, snoozing. He hardly lets me go a step without being close at my heels—follows me in my slow walks, & stops or turns just as I do.

letter from Whitman to his friend Pete Doyle, 26–27 March, 1874

 

SKIRTING the river road, (my languid forenoon walk, my rest,)

“The Dalliance of the Eagles” (1880)

 

I came down yesterday amid sousing rain & cloudy weather—but this forenoon it is sunshiny & delightful—I have just returned from a two hours ramble in the old woods—wintry & bare, & yet lots of holly & laurel—& I only wish I could send you some cedary branches thick with the china-blue little plums, so pretty amid the green tufts— … We had a flurry of snow last evening, & it looks wintry enough to-day, but the sun is out, & I take my walks in the woods.

letter from Whitman to Herbert Gilchrist, 30–31 December 1881

 

Thy windows rich, and huge hotels—thy side-walks wide;
Thou of the endless sliding, mincing, shuffling feet!
Thou, like the parti-colored world itself—like infinite, teeming,
mocking life!
Thou visor’d, vast, unspeakable show and lesson!

“Broadway” (1888)

 

Sunday, October 21, 1888.

7.20 evening. W. lying on the bed, dressed, I entered very quietly: stood there without a word. He had been dozing. Started up. “Come in! Come in!” After we had shaken hands he described his day: “… he [Whitman] asked: “And you—what have you done with the day?” I had been far in the country on a long walk. I said something about “the joy of going on and on and not getting tired.” This aroused him. “I can fully realize that joy—that untranslatable joy: I have known its meaning to the full. In the old days, long ago, I was fond of taking interminable walks—going on and on, as you say, without a stop or the thought of a stop. It was at that time, in Washington, that I got to know Peter Doyle—a Rebel, a car-driver, a soldier: have you met him here? seen him? talked with him? Ah yes! we would walk together for miles and miles, never sated. Often we would go on for some time without a word, then talk—Pete a rod ahead or I a rod ahead. Washington was then the grandest of all the cities for such strolls. In order to maintain the centrality, identity, authority, of the city, a whole chain of forts, barracks, was put about it and roads leading out to them. It was therefore owing to these facts that our walks were made easy. Oh! the long, long walks, way into the nights!—in the after hours—sometimes lasting till two or three in the morning! The air, the stars, the moon, the water—what a fullness of inspiration they imparted!—what exhilaration! And there were the detours, too—wanderings off into the country out of the beaten path: I remember one place in Maryland in particular to which we would go. How splendid, above all, was the moon—the full moon, the half moon: and then the wonder, the delight, of the silences.” He half sat up in bed as he spoke. “It was a great, a precious, a memorable, experience. To get the ensemble of Leaves of Grass you have got to include such things as these—the walks, Pete’s friendship: yes, such things: they are absolutely necessary to the completion of the story.”

Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Volume 2

 

Tuesday, November 20, 1888.

W. had another letter for me. He picked it up from the accustomed place on the table. “It’s from Rossetti,” he said: ” I’ve been reading it over: William Rossetti: full of wise beautiful things—overflowing with genial winsome good will: you ‘ll feel its treasurable quality.” I sat there and read. He said: “Read it aloud: I can easily enjoy it again.” When I got to the passage describing the walks W. interrupted me: “Oh! that’s so fine—so fine, fine, fine: he brings back my own walks to me: the walks alone: the walks with Pete [Doyle, Whitman’s friend]: the blessed past undying days: they make me hungry, tied up as I am now and for good in a room …

Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Volume 3

 

AH, whispering, something again, unseen,
Where late this heated day thou enterest at my window, door,
Thou, laving, tempering all, cool-freshing, gently vitalizing
Me, old, alone, sick, weak-down, melted-worn with sweat;
Thou, nestling, folding close and firm yet soft, companion better than
talk, book, art,
(Thou hast, O Nature! elements! utterance to my heart beyond the
rest—and this is of them,)
So sweet thy primitive taste to breathe within—thy soothing fingers on
my face and hands,
Thou, messenger-magical strange bringer to body and spirit of me,
(Distances balk’d—occult medicines penetrating me from head to foot.)
I feel the sky, the prairies vast—I feel the mighty northern lakes,
I feel the ocean and the forest—somehow I feel the globe itself swift-
swimming in space;
Thou blown from lips so loved, now gone—haply from endless store,
God sent,
(For thou art spiritual, Godly, most of all known to my sense,)
Minister to speak to me, here and now, what word has never told, and
cannot tell,
Art thou not universal concrete’s distillation? Law’s, all Astronomy’s
last refinement?
Hast thou no soul? Can I not know, identify thee?

“To The Sunset Breeze” (1890)

 

Friday, February 14, 1890

On B[uckwalter]. expressing his pleasure that W. got out of doors, W. said: “I got out yesterday—today it has not been possible. Yesterday’s jaunt—and it was quite a jaunt—was a fine one. The sky, the river, the sun—they are my curatives.”

Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden , Volume 6

 

Who was not proud of his songs, but of the measureless ocean of
love within him, and freely pour’d it forth,
Who often walk’d lonesome walks thinking of his dear friends, his
lovers, …
wandering hand in hand, they twain
apart from other men,
Who oft as he saunter’d the streets curv’d with his arm the shoulder of his friend, while the arm of his friend rested upon
him also.

“Recorders Ages Hence” (1891)

 

 

*****************************************************

 

— Roger W. Smith

   originally posted November 2017; updated December 2017

 

 

addendum:

Note that Charles Dickens is said to frequently have taken long walks that could extend to twenty to thirty miles a day, and that Henry David Thoreau wrote: “I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least — and it is commonly more than that” walking. I wonder if Dickens really did thirty miles that often.

My record for a single day was two separate walks (one in the morning and one in the afternoon) of a combined total length of twenty-four miles. I try to take one very long walk once a week. This walk is usually about twelve miles, though sometimes I do around fifteen or sixteen miles.

However, it is noted in The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits by Les Standiford that Dickens went to work in a blacking factory at age twelve to support his family, which was in financial straits and that, after working all day, he would walk home every night, a distance of five miles.

 

— Roger W. Smith

Manhattan Island from Bottom to Top; Walking as Exercise

 

 

In the spirit of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, I will begin with the conclusion, followed by evidence to prove my point.

Walking is a naturally beneficial form of exercise habitual since human origins. It is perfectly suited to the human body and is a form of physical activity from which it seems personal injury cannot come; hence, one can justly say that it is one hundred percent beneficial.

The body welcomes such exercise. In fact, when it is undertaken, the body seems to be saying, “give me more!” It seems to cure all kinds of nagging (but not serious) physical complaints, discomforts, and ills, such as aches and pains, and actually seems to restore energy as much if not more than depleting it.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

I love to walk, as was noted by me in a previous post on this blog:

“on walking (and exercise)”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/03/20/roger-w-smith-on-walking/

I like to think of new places and routes to walk in the City (i.e., New York City, including Manhattan and the “outer boroughs” of Brooklyn and Queens).

I keep finding new places to explore — in Brooklyn, for example. It could be a neighborhood, such as Williamsburg, or a park, such as Brooklyn Bridge Park, which I only found out about recently. I like to call my walks, playfully, “jaunts,” a favorite term used by the poet Walt Whitman.

The other day, while writing a post, “Walt Whitman on Manhattan”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/07/18/walt-whitman-on-manhattan/

I noticed that in his poem “Mannahatta,” Whitman describes Manhattan as “an island sixteen miles long.”

Yes, I thought to myself, sixteen miles long, from the southernmost point of Manhattan, Battery Park (which overlooks New York Harbor and from which boats depart regularly for the Statue of Liberty, which can be viewed from the park), to Inwood at the northernmost point of Manhattan.

Then, on Thursday evening (July 20), I saw a documentary film at the Morgan Library in Manhattan: Henry David Thoreau, Surveyor of the Soul, directed by Huey Coleman. In the film, it is noted that when Thoreau first attended a lecture by Ralph Waldo Emerson, he walked seventeen miles from Concord, Massachusetts to Boston to attend.

I had been thinking of taking such a walk myself. If Thoreau can do it, I can, I thought. I would like to see how such a long walk feels.

 

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Yesterday I walked, in around 90 degree weather, from Bowling Green, at the southern tip of Manhattan, to the northernmost point of Manhattan Island, Inwood Hill Park, where the Henry Hudson Bridge and the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge link Manhattan to the Bronx.

It took me about ten hours with a couple of pit stops.

I got up in the morning feeling sluggish and achy. I took the subway to Bowling Green, then started walking, taking a few photographs of the harbor and then starting to walk uptown.

I felt sluggish and unsteady on my feet. The heat felt oppressive. I had a pain in my right foot that had persisted for a day or two. But gradually, as my walk and the day progressed, I started feeling better.

At 3:45 p.m., I texted a friend:

have reached 96th St and Broadway

wouldn’t u know it

I seem to have more energy than when I started

my toe is not hurting any more

I feel much less achy and better overall

A couple of hours later, from 155th and Broadway, I texted my friend again, saying “I am getting tired.” I had probably walked over 15 miles already. But, I kept going. It took me over an hour more to reach Inwood Hill Park. The park is entered via Dyckman Street, which is located precisely where West 200th Street would be, were it a numbered street. I walked along the western end of the park, which skirts the Hudson, to the northern end of the park, then back to the subway.

Riding home on the subway, I felt exhausted. I was relieved to get home and after a short while fell into a deep sleep.

I woke up very early after only a few hours of sleep feeling refreshed and very energetic. I haven’t felt so good in a long time. I felt very alert and refreshed. (It is my belief that pleasurable, mentally relaxing exercise such as walking obviates neurasthenia and chronic fatigue.)

 

 

 

*****************************************************

 

Conclusion:

 

I already said it! The body welcomes exercise. It craves it. I can often hear my “brother body” (a term used by Pitirim A. Sorokin, which he undoubtedly got from Saint Francis) telling me, “thank you; give me more.” It is not uncommon after a five to seven mile walk for me to find myself saying to myself, I could do another five miles more. And, I am not a fitness addict or fanatic.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   July 22, 2017

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

 

IMG_7451.JPG

Battery Park

 

 

DSCN0006.JPG

New York Harbor viewed from Battery Park

 

 

 

IMG_7480.JPG

Sixth Avenue, Greenwich Village

 

 

 

IMG_7494.JPG

Broadway, Upper Manhattan

 

 

 

 

IMG_7528.JPG

Inwood Hill Park

 

 

IMG_7550.JPG

Hudson River, late evening, viewed from Inwood Hill Park

 

 

IMG_7659 (2).JPG

Inwood Hill Park, overlooking Hudson River

 

DSCN0032.JPG

northern tip of Inwood Hill Park, overlooking Hudson River and Spuyten Duyvil Bridge

 

 

 

photos by Roger W. Smith

 

 

*****************************************************

 

Addendum: On Sunday, August 6, 2017, I reversed myself and walked from the top (northernmost point) of Manhattan Island to the bottom (Battery Park). I found that Manhattan actually ends at Broadway and 218th Street — not at 207th Street, as I had thought.

I did it faster this time. It took me about seven and a half hours.

The weather was cool for August, and I did not experience appreciable fatigue. I felt as if I could have kept going should I have had cause to.

 

 

 

IMG_9090.JPG

Broadway at 218th Street, 1:34 p.m.; Manhattan’s northern border

 

 

DSCN0165.JPG

Broadway at entrance to Battery Park, 8:44 p.m.; Manhattan’s southern tip; end of my Sunday walk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoreau’s last journal

 

 

 

From age 20 on, Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) copiously kept a journal in which he recorded his observations about nature and his thoughts. The journal provided the grist for some of his finest writings.

The following is from “This Ever New Self: Thoreau and His Journal,” an exhibition currently at The Morgan Library & Museum in Manhattan.

 

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

“What’s in Thoreau’s Last Journal?”

 

 

“Here are a few of the things Thoreau did in November 1860 and wrote about in his final notebook:”

Built a new fence in his family’s yard

Weighed the merits of imported and native fruits

Measured acorns, tree stumps, and a raccoon skeleton

Counted the rings in a spruce plank

Studied the history of local berries

Looked up the Abenaki word for “bluets”

Argued that slavery exists wherever a man “surrenders his inalienable rights of conscience and reason”

Imagined a town committed to preserving nature

Analyzed the contents of a crow’s stomach

Cited Pliny, Gosse, and Herodotus

Paid tribute to the slowness of Nature

Examined an owl and a salamander a friend brought over

Mused on the extreme flexibility of a cat’s body

Copied extracts from Carolina Sports by Land and Water

Heard the twitter of spring’s first bluebird

Logged childhood memories of his 80-year-old Aunt Sophia

Talked to friends about slavery, turtle eggs, and the price of wood

Noticed the river’s level after the snow had melted

Listened to sparrow in March (“the finest singers I have heard yet”)

Observed water bugs, frogs, butterflies, and mouse droppings

Took a train trip to Minnesota

Watched a kitten scratch its ear for the first time

 

 

–Roger W. Smith

  June 2017

 

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

Note: Thoreau died on May 6, 1862.

Philip Henry Gosse (1810-1888) was an English naturalist and well known writer.

 

 

 

 

Continue reading