curious, not creepy.

June 11, 2009, 3:38 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

i remember reading the excerpt of wanderlust last summer and wanting to read the book in its entirety. unfortunately, i got distracted with other classes and other books and never got around to reading it until this summer. i tracked down a copy of the book and got to hear rebecca solnit’s history of walking.

the structure of the book gives the reader a very through and detailed history of walking. she begins with a personal narrative voice, discussing what it is she goes through while on her walks. we share a lot of the same ideas about what makes walking important, “walking allows us to be in our bodies and in the word without being made busy by them.”  she talks about how thinking has begun to be looked down upon in today’s society. we are always moving forward so quickly, needing to be more and more productive each day that by seemingly being inactive causes us, and others, great distress. i catch myself doing this fairly often, especially in times of stress. if i’m not constantly working on something or planning my next step i feel as though i’m just wasting time. but, if i just gave myself a moment to be with my own thoughts i’d be much more productive. but doing nothing, is very hard to do. she also touches on how we have become disconnected from outside spaces and each other. we are now living in a series of interior spaces, from the house to the car to work and back.  “one lives in the whole world rather than in interiors built up against it.” walking allows us to reconnect with the idea of being in nature and being with ourselves.

she continues this idea of connecting with ourselves, because ‘in the experience of walking, each step is a thought. you can’t escape yourself.’ its this notion of what walking does for a person that leads into how the trend of walking for some kind of cause began. it began with the pilgrimage, or a sacred walk, “pilgrimage unites belief with action, thinking with doing, and it makes sense that this harmony is achieved with the sacred has material presence and location.” the body becomes a vessel for all the beliefs that the person has, making the private public through this gesture. for a long time, it was only religious based causes, but over many years it was able to evolve into something with more political content. solnit uses the Peace Pilgrim as an example, a women who dedicated her life to walking. originally she set out to walk 25,000 miles for peace and after accomplishing that hefty goal she just continued to walk but stopped keeping track of the miles. she wouldn’t bring anything with her aside from a few toiletries that could fit into her pocket, she relied on the kindness of others to help her sustain herself. this idea is what made her walks mean something, she walked for peace and that relies on others to give part of themselves to people they don’t know for the greater good. i think its great that someone is able to have that much trust in others, and that she really did do what she set out for. though there isn’t world peace, which who knows if it will ever happen, she made a very positive impact on the people she interacted with which is a step in the right direction.

what i found to be the most interesting was the next section of the book, lives of the streets. it is easier for me to relate to urban life then rural, not that tucson is super urbanized but its certainly not a tiny town. she draws a comparison between the two at the beginning of this section that really sums up the relationship that i know i have with the city. “the average rural walker looks at the general – the view, the beauty – and the landscape moves by as a gently modulated continuity: a crest long in view is reached, a forest thins out to become a meadow. the urbanite is on the lookout for particulars, for opportunities, individuals, and supplies, and the changes are abrupt.” anytime i have lived in a new neighborhood i do this, i go out on a walk to familiarize myself with the area and see what is nearby. and though i have lived close to 4th avenue for the past 4 years, i have very different places that i go to out of connivence. i could always be found at epic when i lived in west university, but now that i live in iron horse i go to caffe passe. they are only half a mile apart, but feel so very far apart. i don’t really cross 6th street that often, instead i found all the things that i need on my side of the road. there is still that instinctual part of us that looks knows that we need to know where food is, where shelter is, it’s just that now we do that from the comfort of our cars instead of using our legs.

she goes onto talk about this as well, the new way to get around is no longer to walk but to drive. and because of this there has been a serious decrease in public space. she compare cities to one another, how “most american cities and towns are organized around consumption and production, as were the dire industrial cities of england, and public space is merely the void between workplaces, shops and dwellings.” back, not too long ago, people would come out on saturday nights and just go for walks around plazas and streets. “the promenade is a special subset of walking with an emphasis on slow stately movement, socializing, and display. it is not a way of getting anywhere, but a way of being somewhere, and its movements are essentially circular… allows people to remain visually in public but verbally in private.”  there is a women she talked to that grew up in san francisco and can remember when she was young going out on these walks, that the streets would be full of people just going for a stroll up and down market street. there is a sense of community there, even if you’re not speaking to the person next to you. “the word citizen has to do with cities, and the ideal city is organized around citizenship – around participation in public life.” though these walks may not seem like they are changing anything, they are creating an active public life. there are people out and about which not only helps prevent crime, but also boosts the local economy though their purchases as well as a sense of community which i find to be severely lacking today. there was a demand for public spaces at this time because people were actually filling them, something that can still be seen in places like san francisco and new york but is a rare sight in tucson. 

this next portion of wanderlust really struck a chord with me. ever since i did walk 5 in which i took myself out on a date, i have been doing a lot of thinking about my role in todays society. though the status of women has progressed a lot from 50 years ago there are still things that haven’t changed. and what solnit discusses in the chapter, walking after midnight: women, sex, and public spaces, is still relevant today. she gives historical examples of women being subjected to unfair social standards and legalities.  in 1895, lizzie schauer was arrested as a prostitute because she was out alone after dark and asked two men for directions. she was on her way to her aunts house, but the very act of talking to these men was perceived as solicitation. they performed medical examinations to make sure that she could still be considered a ‘good girl’ and was so she was released. if she hadn’t been a ‘good girl’ she would have been charged with walking alone in the evening as well as having been sexually active. “the young men strolling on the streets think only that a woman of good reputation does not allow herself to be seen in the evening.” women would be arrested if seen out at a late hour, while men had the privilege to go out at any time, day or night, without judgement. though things are not this extreme now in america, there is still this sense of fear that is instilled in women of being alone at night. “two-thirds of american women are afraid to walk alone in their own neighborhoods at night, according to one poll, and another reported that half of british women were afraid to go out after dark alone and 40 percent were ‘very worried’ about being raped.”  we are socialized to be afraid instead of learning to be independent and take proactive measures to protect ourselves. 

it also got me thinking about other nations and how the freedom of going on a walk at any time day or night, man or women, is prohibited. there are national curfews and if they are not adhered to, there is the very serious and real risk of being arrested or death. i can only hope that one day this will change.

if walking is a primary cultural act and a crucial way of being in the world, those who have been unable to walk out as far as their feet would take them have been denied not merely exercise or recreation but a vast portion of their humanity.

wanderlust changed my thoughts on walking dramatically. i’ve always enjoyed going on them, they’ve always been a means of clearing my head and really being with myself. the history of walking and its evolution turned out to be much more fascinating then i thought it would be. but what was the most interesting part is knowing that i am not the first person to have used walking for these reasons. that i’m not only one who uses it as a means of collecting my thoughts or as a way of being both present and detached from the world around me.


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

A weekend celebration of “Peace through Art and Music”, in honor of what would have been Peace Pilgrim’s 101st. Birthday will be held in her home town of Egg Harbor, New Jersey on July 17-19, 2009. The events will include, within others, a concert with folksinger Jody Kessler, a two-mile inter-generational Walk for Peace and historical tour to Peace Pilgrim’s childhood home, hosted by Peace Pilgrim’s sister Helene Young, and an old-fashioned pot-luck community picnic. We invite you to be with us as we celebrate Peace Pilgrim and how the pilgrimage continues.

More information at:

Mayte Picco-Kline, Friends of Peace Pilgrim Board Member
Author of Wholeness in Living

Comment by Mayte Picco-Kline

thank you so very much.

Comment by chriiiistian

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: