A Hope in Sauntering

Henry David Thoreau wrote about “sauntering” in his essay “Walking,” when he said, “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 fields”.

Thoreau wrote about “sauntering” as the kind of idle walking that the people of the Middle Ages did, as they roved about the country supposedly on their way to Saint Terre (The Holy Land).

Concord and the area around Walden Pond were Thoreau’s holy ground where he sauntered every day.  His walks were slow, meandering walks, which were a time of self-reflection, nature study, and reverence for Creation.

Every day he sauntered his holy ground and studied the beauty and wonder of nature.  He was often seen carrying birds’ nests, insects, and plants that he gathered on his walks.

Sometimes a friend such as Ralph Waldo Emerson or a botany student such as Louisa May Alcott accompanied Thoreau on his saunters around Walden Pond.

Thoreau believed that a saunter in nature was the best medicine and the greatest healer; and, today, there is evidence that walking greatly benefits the heart, lungs, and bones.  There is also evidence that walking raises the serotonin level in the brain, and serotonin is a mood enhancer that helps us feel good.  These facts alone should help us want to go sauntering.

For troubled minds, a saunter might be a good prescription, because Mother Nature knows how to soothe the brows of her restless, fretting children.

At the same time that a saunter through nature can help clear the mind and the senses, it can also satiate hungering eyes, ears, and hearts that have listened to the din of machinery and traffic, and looked at plastered, concrete, or brick walls for the greater part of the day.

There is nothing like the feeling of being kissed by the sun, being serenaded by birds, frogs, katydids, and crickets, and hearing the sound of a babbling brook or the wind softly whistling through the trees.

We sometimes need to be all alone on our saunters so that we can use them as a time of prayer, meditation, problem-solving, and self-reflection.  At other times, like Thoreau, we might enjoy the company of a friend or loved one.

It is especially enjoyable to walk with children and help them find nature’s treasures such as pine cones, sugar gum balls, acorns, hickory nuts, chestnuts, flowers, and leaves.  We once again can see, through their eyes, with childlike excitement, awareness, wonder, and appreciation.

In many neighborhoods, it is often difficult to find a good place to take a slow, sauntering walk in nature, so why not take a visual saunter in the forest on the following YouTube video by Brian Crain.  Then, when possible, go sauntering wherever you can–even if it is in a shopping mall.   You will find that sauntering, leisurely walking as if on holy ground,  has a way of restoring hope without you even knowing it.