Walking (in the haze)


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 pretense of going a la Sainte Terre,” to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea. But I prefer the first, which, indeed, is the most probable derivation. 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.

It is true, we are but faint-hearted crusaders, even the walkers, nowadays, who undertake no persevering, never-ending enterprises. Our expeditions are but tours, and come round again at evening to the old hearth-side from which we set out. Half the walk is but retracing our steps. We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return–prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again–if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man–then you are ready for a walk.


Surely T jests…what a price to pay for a walk !
Then again, who is to say a walk is not as serious and holy a business as walking with and following the One; after all, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service”.
[Luke 9:62]

T continues:

To come down to my own experience, my companion and I, for I sometimes have a companion, take pleasure in fancying ourselves knights of a new, or rather an old, order–not Equestrians or Chevaliers, not Ritters or Riders, but Walkers, a still more ancient and honorable class, I trust. The Chivalric and heroic spirit which once belonged to the Rider seems now to reside in, or perchance to have subsided into, the Walker–not the Knight, but Walker, Errant. He is a sort of fourth estate, outside of Church and State and People.

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, absolutely free from all worldly engagements. You may safely say, A penny for your thoughts, or a thousand pounds. When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics and shopkeepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, so many of them–as if the legs were made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon–I think that they deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago.

I, who cannot stay in my chamber for a single day without acquiring some rust, and when sometimes I have stolen forth for a walk at the eleventh hour, or four o’clock in the afternoon, too late to redeem the day, when the shades of night were already beginning to be mingled with the daylight, have felt as if I had committed some sin to be atoned for,–I confess that I am astonished at the power of endurance, to say nothing of the moral insensibility, of my neighbors who confine themselves to shops and offices the whole day for weeks and months, aye, and years almost together. I know not what manner of stuff they are of–sitting there now at three o’clock in the afternoon, as if it were three o’clock in the morning. Bonaparte may talk of the three-o’clock-in-the-morning courage, but it is nothing to the courage which can sit down cheerfully at this hour in the afternoon over against one’s self whom you have known all the morning, to starve out a garrison to whom you are bound by such strong ties of sympathy. I wonder that about this time, or say between four and five o’clock in the afternoon, too late for the morning papers and too early for the evening ones, there is not a general explosion heard up and down the street, scattering a legion of antiquated and house-bred notions and whims to the four winds for an airing-and so the evil cure itself.

So, be it chivalrously cavalierly or errantly, we walk…
Though four hours everyday seems such a luxury in this present age, like T, rusty is how I feel if denied my regular walk and airing from my chambered cell.

But sometimes, the outdoors air may prove to be less of a cordial elixir towards “preserving health and spirits”.



Haze back in S’pore:

We are caught in the tail-end of the Southwest monsoon winds of the summer months. Hoping and praying for the cleansing rain and favourable winds of the torrential Northeast monsoon is futile — that is at least two months away. Only chance we have is for the Inter-monsoon to arrive promptly and have its swirling whippy winds give us at least a 50/50 chance of escaping the haze.

I’ll hate to have to go a-sauntering and choking in a foggy daze.


5 thoughts on “Walking (in the haze)

  1. The haze is of course due to the seasonal slashing-and-burning of the region’s farms and plantations and the vagaries of the prevailing winds and monsoons. It has not always been this way; it only got this bad in the last 15-20 years as the commercial plantations got larger and larger, buying out and consolidating the smaller family farms. (Capitalism at its worst)

    [Slash-and-burn as a landclearing technique is not evil in itself and has been used in subsistence farming for thousands of years; in fact, prudent use of slash-and-burn can regenerate non-fertile (or ‘farmed-out’) land by releasing nutrients, allowing the land to lay fallow and carrying out proper crop+plot rotation.
    But in the modern world of huge commercial plantations often cultivating only one/two cash crops, indiscriminate large-scale slashing-and-burning is carried out ILLEGALLY and UNCONSCIONABLY, simply as the cheapest means of clearing land.]

    In some good years (and there have been many), the onset of the slash-and-burn season fortuitously coincided with favourable winds, resulting in relatively haze-free years. The bad years are when the Evil Planters decide to start slash-and-burn season early in the Southwest monsoon, then the haze can come on unbearably thick and last very long.

  2. I just read this and remembered my drive by Walden pond early this morning on an absolutely beautiful fall day here in new England. I actually live about 9 miles down on the same road. The day here was crisp, clear and absolutely the opposite of what I imagine a slash-and-burn monsoon mix to be. Thank you for the reminder to appreciate that which we have.

  3. legacy,

    The sin of Envy consumes me…

    Nature’s beauty is something we can take for granted and be all too easily jaded with. Good that you are enjoying and appreciating your natural surroundings.
    And Walden pond, if not one of the more beautiful places on earth, is at least one of the most beautifully and poignantly described earthly corner in literature.

    And actually, the haze situation here has turned out much better than expected in the past week.
    Right after I posted the above almost a week ago, we were visited by intermittent squalls at least once a day, which cleansed the dusty haze considerably and kept the sky+air reasonably fresh and clear.

    On my weekend half-day easterly walkabouts, the winds were noticeably and consistently on my back; a hopeful sign that the South-west monsoons are indeed passing and a harbinger of shifting winds from the north, which should continue to assuage the haze situation in the coming weeks+months.

    As I walked (very chivalrously and errantly!), I also performed various homages to appeal for and elicit rain, with satisfyingly positive but ruefully drenched results.
    Am now seriously considering hanging out my shingle as rambling rainmaker.


  4. The last few days have seen the month of Ramadan fasting culminating in festivities (especially feasting) for the local Malay and Muslim community; with monday a holiday for the Eid ul-Fitr, known here in the Malay tongue as Hari Raya Aidilfitri or simply Puasa.

    I have a weakness for spicy Malay dishes (beef rendang…) and for the past month, some of my favourite Malay food-vendors have altered their opening hours (towards nighttime) to accomodate fasting hours, and to my detriment.
    Now let the feasting begin.

    Here’s a passage which puts together some nonlogical logic, in the Sufic/Islam context, and measured via pacing/walking:

    Ibn al’ Arabi has God saying these words to the Sufi:
    “I am known by no one but thee, just as thou existest only by Me. He who knows thee, knows Me–although no one knows Me. And thus thou also art known to no one.”
    This is the nonlogical logic of mysticism and of direct experience, expressed in statements which do not agree and which nevertheless finally explode into a meaning that can be seized if one has some experience of what is being said. Otherwise, it remains totally unintelligible.
    Another Sufi, Al’ Hujwiri, says:
    “It is glorious for man to bear the burden of trouble laid upon Him by His beloved.”
    This is not cryptic at all: it has all the directness and clarity of the greatest mystics. But once again, it is not self-evident without a certain logic of its own, learned in prayer and perhaps in years of seeking.
    “Sufism is essence without form.”
    This is challenging, but one has to know something of the subtle metaphysical background of their thought. Hence it is merely esoteric. Much better, much more direct, and unequivocal is this:
    “The Sufi is he whose thought keeps pace with his foot.”

    -Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

    Agree with Merton.
    Many walks have taken on the cadence of my thinking and infact, so many times, solutions/comprehension to nagging problems, dense concepts seem to offer up themselves on good long walks.

  5. Pingback: Hot, dry and ashened « Late Monsoons…

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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