Understanding the Message of the Author in Walking, a Book by Henry David Thoreau

My understanding of and ongoing experience with nature is reflective upon my youth and continues to modify and deepen as I saunter along life’s path. Nature demands pure existence. By this, I mean not just to be alive, but to be “most alive” (Walking, 17), to unleash “the wild savage in us”, the flame of wild spirit that burns incessantly within each and every one of us. Just some of the natural world’s inherent characteristics, these unmistakable sentiments are expressed frequently in Thoreau’s essay “Walking”, which I would like to address.

Thoreau rendered his Transcendentalist views in his ability to conceptualize (in his own respect) what it meant to go beyond the range of the commonly anthropocentric belief, instead regarding man as a “part and parcel of Nature”, an integral piece in nature’s puzzle. When my mind wanders, it reverts to two not so distant memories where my experiences with the natural world peaked spiritually and emotionally, leaving me in a state of euphoric bliss and permeating through my body to serve as persistent reminders of what can be achieved as a result of being entirely present in the midst of nature’s pristine condition.

To be walking in your body is one thing, but to be walking completely present in your body is something different entirely, an act Thoreau passionately expresses as sauntering. Sauntering requires presence, which is not an easy undertaking. In Iceland I felt like the ultimate saunter-er by Thoreau’s standards. In the spring of 2013 I was backpacking and road tripping in the land of ice and snow.

Get quality help now
Dr. Karlyna PhD

Proficient in: Henry David Thoreau

4.7 (235)

“ Amazing writer! I am really satisfied with her work. An excellent price as well. ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

There was one moment in particular, embedded within a series of moments, where I was walking through a field and discovered an abandoned thatched cottage outside the town of Borgarnes.

The ambience was a fusion of mist, rain and fog, much of what you would expect of Iceland in March. All this stimulated senses of mystery, awe and fascination. I had no control over the weather, the welcomed breeze or the way the rain fell onto the ground and fog rose into the darkened air. Experiences with nature’s elements empower the curious mind to ponder where on earth you are going. My exposure was unspoiled and largely spiritual -although that was not what I anticipated.

Discovery was what drove me to keep walking. There is to an indescribable feeling you receive when you not only see a waterfall but also feel it tremble through your body. In nature we crave the unforeseen because the world we live in has so many foreseeable obligations – what Thoreau would identify as “Man and his affairs, church and state and school, trade and commerce, and manufactures and agriculture, even politics–“. Nature provides an outlet to newness, discovery and reflection; an opportunity to escape mans self-inflicted duties.

To walk truly does not involve aimless wander or any significant exertion. To Thoreau it “is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day”. The journey to the Holy Land only demands that the walker abandons life and be fully submissive to the present. This returns back to the sentiment of pure existence and feeling most alive; it’s the feeling that everything could change in a moment and you would be ready. In my experience, there is an immanent aspect of travel in which, however brief the moment, I am willing to leave everything behind, in Thoreau’s words, “in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return–“.

Of course these moments are fleeting but while traveling I find myself completely free from obligations and ready to saunter to the Holy Land. The beauty of traveling to someplace new is that there is no retracing in your steps. Everything is something you haven’t seen before. Traveling allows me to connect with unfamiliarity in the most welcomed and uniquely divine sense, offering an escape from the monotonous domestic routine. Thoreau says, “my desire for knowledge is intermittent, but my desire to bathe my head in atmospheres unknown to my feet is perennial and constant” (26). While traveling, you can dive into endless unknown atmospheres.

Thoreau is not exactly an easy writer to follow. Though powerful, his arguments are filled with non-sequiturs and undisguised arrogance. His positions and his messages elicit substantial reflection. From the first lines of “Walking” his basis is made clear: “I wish to make an extreme statement, if so I may make an emphatic one, for there are enough champions of civilization: the minister and the school committee and every one of you will take care of that”. To look deeper into Thoreau’s writings, one must understand his Transcendentalist view where he provokes and exposes mans inter-relation to the natural world.

I find Thoreau to be notably inconsistent in telling people to go to depths of solitude to reap the fullest benefits of nature’s divinity when he himself was no more than a “faint- hearted crusader”, at best. He says, “For my part I feel that with regard to Nature I live a sort of border life, on the confines of a world into which I make occasional and transient forays only–“. From his position he can know that wild exists, even if that knowledge means only to occasionally visit with nature.

The wild refers to many things. By definition, wild is unrestrained, especially in pursuit of pleasure. To Thoreau, Nature is “absolute freedom and wildness”. Thoreau says, “In wildness is the preservation of the world”. This claim centers itself upon nature. If you want to preserve and experience the world, wildness is absolutely vital. Every living thing, man included, seeks and depends on this notion. In his belief, wilderness and wildness are not to be used interchangeably as they are vastly divergent. In wildness, he proposes that we can seek nature anywhere. This indicates his comfort in the woods outside his Concord home. The close proximity to civilization is where Thoreau finds his most wild state. From there, he is able to resist the civilized world and he prides himself in that.

I don’t think all of us have the power to do this, so kudos to Thoreau. To reach a near divine state from the leisure of an afternoon walk in what is essentially his backyard is impressive. I find it difficult to be fully engaged in nature, what Thoreau would describe as to be “absolutely free from all worldly engagements” from a simple walk outside my house. That and a combination of other reasons contribute to why I’m studying in Montana, a place on earth that I would consider to have the quintessential wildest qualities, “as there is something in the mountain air that feeds the spirit and inspires”.

I came from Massachusetts to work on a ranch in Wyoming, and there is a reason why I have not been back east since. The mountains were calling, so I left. Perhaps the mountains are my Holy Land. I find it almost impossible to agree with Thoreau’s assertion that we can lose ourselves seemingly anywhere. Just a few weeks ago I went on a class Trek in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness in South Central Montana.

I think extended backpacking trips like that are so necessary for the avid saunter-er. The trip was another experience in which I reached a state of, what is my understanding of some impermanent divinity. This achievement was by no means immediate. It wasn’t until about the fourth day that I became completely free from my life in the front country. What was particularly unfortunate was the difficulty to transition back to civilization, returning to a world where we carry computers in our pockets. Nature demands a limitless sense of time and space where the body can passionately reflect. You find peace in solitude yet company with the environment, which creates a supernal equilibrium.

Thoreau’s message is largely hopeful. Although to some degree his essay addresses a level of disappointment in the disconnected relationship with humans and Nature, he remains optimistic that if gone about correctly, humans can actually find themselves absolutely present and therefore in the presence of natural divinity, in “the gospel according to this moment”. Thoreau says, “I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright”.

In “Walking” the testimony to being most alive manifests among bold yet accountable assertions. Thoreau says, “Life consists with wildness. The most alive is the wildest”. This introduces a difference between feeling “alive” and feeling “most alive” on the basis of achieving nature’s divinity. His transcendental sentiments are timeless and the relevance of his words echo to this day.

Cite this page

Understanding the Message of the Author in Walking, a Book by Henry David Thoreau. (2023, Feb 13). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/understanding-the-message-of-the-author-in-walking-a-book-by-henry-david-thoreau/

Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7