So as I begin to look into countryside and landscape walking books, I am starting to see some specific philosophers and writer’s names keep on reappearing. This is certainly helpful as I start to dig further into my research for my project.
The main name that I see every experienced walker and writer talking about is Henry David Thoreau. This American man seemed to undertake every occupation you can, from tax resister to an abolitionist, but I am more interested in looking specifically at his writing and his journals. The impression I get from reading his work is that he definitely campaigns the right to have nature and not letting the industrial and digital world take over, but he sees walking as more than a hobby or an exercise. In his book, “Walking and other essays”, he refers to walking as sauntering, and he says he has met only one or two others who have understood the ‘art of walking’.
Thoreau also talks, quite importantly, about the negative stereotype that walkers and travellers have, almost in a homelessness and barbaric way. However, I feel like he is almost giving them a heroic title to these people who walk on these, ‘faint-hearted crusades’. I love when he describes amateur walkers and their journeys, ‘Half the walk is retracing our steps”, I feel like there is so much truth to this. How often do we walk the same fields with our dogs, we call ourselves walkers, yet however, I personally see walking to be an adventure, making a new route that you didn’t knew existed. Even after completing my first shoot, I did repeat my footsteps on some certain aspects of my “adventure”. I need to take this on board and branch out on my locations, and perhaps feel braver in getting lost and finding new paths to explore. Thoreau also goes on to describe what a true walker is, someone who will give up their entire life, their money, family, possessions. I am not sure if I could ever have the courage to do that, but id like to try to, and also explore people who have actually done this themselves.
I do think there is so much truth to Thoreau when he says, ‘No wealth can buy the requisite leisure, freedom, and independence’. Walking is one of the only things that you can do with no money but still getting a complete fulfilled feeling. We definitely need to appreciate this in our digital, manic lives.
After reading various walking books I fully understand the health benefits that walking presents us with, but contradicting Thoreau undermines these and say walking should not be done as a physical way of keeping fit, it should be done because we have legs. He gives the example of shopkeepers ‘sitting with crossed legs… as if legs were made to sit upon… credit for not having all committed suicide long ago’. I do think this is a very radical thought, but on the other hand we have all become so immune to sitting four hours upon hours everyday on our laptops, and thinking about it does become bizarre that we are all okay with this.
Even though Thoreau says, ‘You must be born into the family of walkers’, almost like he is referring to gypsys and it is something that we inherit in our blood, he then goes onto say, ‘when we walk, we naturally go to the fields and woods’. I think this is really true because when we think of our ‘Happy places’ they usually revolve around the elements.
I then went on to read “Thoreau’s country- A Journey through Landscape’ by Daving R.Foster. This is almost homage to Thoreau, and contains his own diary extracts and the mind-set and ideas that he had about nature and landscape. The focal points that Foster explores are Thoreau’s recordings of the changing of the relationship between people and nature. However, I feel that the most important aspect of this book is the topic of ‘New England Landscape’ and ‘New England countryside’. They both have the same viewpoints and give us a detailed view of what these two are. They are an outcome of the recent ecological transformation that has taken place within the last 350 years, which they imply, has been radical. For a basic understanding I shall try to explain this change that has happened; in the 1700’s farms dominated landscapes, by the 1800’s 60% of the land was open field and most people relied on the land in one way or another, then in the 1900’s we have “Rural New England Countryside”, which consists of agricultural villages, small shops, mills and farm animals grazing alone, however there was an explosion of the expansion of mills so people abandoned their farming and rural lifestyles. Today we have increased and expanded forestry and we have a new major environmental concern, such as hunting.
I am also finding the inserts of Thoreau’s diary really interesting; they display such an experience of smells, sights and sounds that you can really imagine these places. This is something that I definitely hope is present in my own work.
The final book that I have explored today is “Wanderlust- A History of Walking”, but Rebecca solnit. This was a very different take on walking compared to the other two books I have looked at. Solnit shows that it is not just a specific selected group that the walker is put into, but she says that walking effects all of us in our daily lives no matter who we are, ‘religion, philosophy, urban policy, anatomy, allegory and heartbreak’… ‘Walking has created paths, roads, trade routes, generated local and cross-continental senses of place, shaped cities, parks, generated maps, guidebooks, gear, and further afield, a vast library of walking stories and poems, of pilgrimages, mountaineering expeditions, meanders, and summer picnics’. I didn’t think this amount of activities and ways of life really was affected by walking and it does show that we do take it for granted.
Solnit says that walking is a basic thing we simply do to get us from one place to another, but it does have different cultural understandings to us all, and she gives the example of eating and how we all do this in a different manor. She’s also made me want to explore the history behind walking as all of the books and journals I have looked at have all stated that there is no clear history to walking, and this has intrigued me, so I definitely want to look at this more and also certain journeys we take such as pilgrimages.
So all of these books I have read today, all have very similar points and yet some very contradictory ideas. It has made me want to document my own experience in an informal manor to record the landscape I visit but also to create a strong experience for the viewer to hopefully understand. I would also like to research more into the history of walking but also the personal reason why I am walking, and I don’t mean just for this project, I want to find a real reason and something that I am passionate about as all these writers have given different motives on why we do and why we should walk.