The joy of walking

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 absoutely free from all worldly engagements.

– Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”

In recent days I have been doing quite a bit of sauntering, and as I saunter I often think of Thoreau. I had the privilege of visiting Walden Pond as a teenager. I was underwhelmed by its small size and its decidedly non-wild contemporary setting. It’s difficult to imagine the area back in Thoreau’s day, when he wrote:

I can easily walk ten, fifteen, twenty, any number of miles, commencing at my own door, without going by any house, without crossing a road except where the fox and the mink do. First along by the river, and then the brook, and then the meadow and the wood-side. There are square miles in my vicinity which have no inhabitant.

In my corner of the world, there are still places where it is possible to walk for some distance without seeing a house. I can even walk to some of those places from my own house, although I have to pass by many houses on the way to the trailhead. I wouldn’t want to live in total wilderness or total solitude, so that’s all right by me. Yet, like Thoreau, I do find peace and inspiration in those places that have not yet lost their wildness.

At walking speed I see things that I would have missed while running or cycling. Recently I spent a few moments watching two river otters in full courtship dance. No photos, sorry… while I’m watching something like that, reaching in my pocket for my phone to take a photo is the last thing on my mind.

In an effort to make peace with the place where I fell and broke my arm, I have hiked several miles of the Olympic Adventure Trail. It’s an easy, pleasant, relatively level trail. In several places the trail meanders through recent clear cuts — so it’s not exactly pristine — but those clear cuts open up views southward to the Olympics or northward to the strait and Vancouver Island.

At walking pace I was delighted to find calypso orchids on the OAT! There are at least 100 of them in the first mile from the trailhead. I have never noticed them on this trail before.

I’ve often put orchid photos in this blog, but to refresh your memory here is what they look like. They are tiny flowers, not much more than an inch across.

Calypso Orchids

The other day on the OAT, in the midst of all of these “normal” calypsos, I came across a pair of unicorns.

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Those, my friends, are “albino” calypso orchids! It’s not the greatest photo, but I hope you can see that the outer petals are pure white while the inner petals are muted compared to the “normal” flower. Over the past three years I have inspected hundreds of calypso orchids but I’ve never seen any like these before.

Yesterday we went out to the mouth of the Elwha River. I haven’t been to the mouth since before the dam removal project began. The mouth is now at least a quarter of a mile north of where it used to be! The silt that has flowed downriver from the dams has created a broad, easy-walking silty beach.

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At the water’s edge the river and the tide are joining forces to create small canyons, cutting vertical mini-cliffs through the silt. I took this photo looking straight down. The water here is about a foot below the edge of the silt.

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The configuration of this river delta changes from day to day, but the clear trend is growth of the land northward into the strait. A few hours after I took these photos, I was standing on a high ridge line looking down toward the strait, where I could clearly see the river’s current fanning out and outlined against the saltier water of the strait.

While I deeply miss running (and eagerly look forward to the day when I’m cleared to run again), I’m finding deep happiness in hours of leisurely walking. These are all steps in my journey, and each of them is to be savored. There is no going back, no other way but forward.

By walking one makes the road,
and upon glancing back
one sees the path
that will never be trod again.

– Antonio Machado

Slow and happy — here’s to the joy of walking!

2 responses to “The joy of walking

  1. It’s springtime in the desert too. Hiking the same trail every week and witnessing the transformation makes me feel a part of it.
    When we were at Walden Pond in 2005, I was surprised at how large it was– a small lake rather than a pond. If I ever make it back there again, I will know to bring a special rock to add to the pile.

    • Colleen, yes even where you are the natural world changes so rapidly this time of year! It’s good to get out there regularly and watch it happen.

      It’s funny how we had such different impressions of Walden Pond. I do remember it as distinctly pond-like. I had to reassure myself that it must have been wilder in Thoreau’s day. Wikipedia tells me it’s 61 acres, so it’s not so tiny. Perhaps I was comparing it to what I knew at the time, which was the epic scale of features within the western national parks where my family took all our vacations. It’s all about our perspective, isn’t it?

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