“I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks,—who had a genius, so to speak for sauntering, which word is beautifully derived ‘from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretence of going à la Sainte Terre, to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, ‘There goes a Sainte-Terrer,’ a Saunterer,—a Holy Lander…. For every walk is a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go forth and reconquer this Holy Land from the hands of the Infidels.”
—Henry David Thoreau, Walking. 1862.
Interesting how Thoreau could convert strolling, which is walking without a destination, into a crusade, which nearly always has a goal and a destination. It is easier to think in Dickens’ terms of “objectless, loitering, and purely vagabond” outings.
We want to get out in the sun for a while, shake off a hectic day at home or office, ruminate on a thorny topic, idly window shop, or walk a dog, by ourselves or with a neighbor or a friend. Whatever the prompt, personal or social, we accomplish our purpose by simply taking the walk, often arriving back where we began. Unlike the directness associated with goal-driven paths, the stroll, and the stroller, can meander.
The rewards of strolling range from relaxation to affiliation, motives that occupy upper rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, so strolling presupposes that our basic needs for food, water, comfort, security, and shelter have been met.
Still, since we have time to focus on our personal wellbeing, we prefer a strolling path that provides creature comforts—sun and shade, seating, food, and water. It must allow us to relax, being easy to get to and simple and safe to get around.
Ideally, it feels like a world apart from the hurly-burly of our daily lives, a place that invites exploration, a sense of mystery, and surroundings that change by the hour, the day or the season.
At its best, a strolling path engages all our senses—textures to touch, harmonics to hear, sweet scents to smell, and sights to see. Along it, we know we will not be harried, hurried, or lost; we hope to be cheered and uplifted or at least refreshed.