Notebook on Walking

. 15 min read . Written by Russell Smith
Notebook on Walking

In homage to Bruce Chatwin

At the end of Foster Season 3, my friend Dennis Lewis suggested I check out Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines. Funny enough, the famous travel writer’s In Patagonia had sat on my bookshelves for about a decade, unread. Dennis’s suggestion called out to me and I read The Songlines in a few days. In it, Chatwin tries to understand the Australian Aborgines’s song heritage - the way they understood, loved and communicated so much of their culture. Chatwin wants to examine “what is, for me, the question of questions: the nature of human restlessness.” He continues, about his travels in Australia and Africa: “What I learned there – together with what I now knew about the Songlines – seemed to confirm the conjecture I had toyed with for so long: that Natural Selection has designed us – from the structure of our brain-cells to the structure of our big toe – for a career of seasonal journeys on foot through a blistering land of thorn-scrub or desert.”

In constructing his analysis of our migratory history, Chatwin collected his thoughts, quotes and discussions on the subject into a few notebooks. The Songlines includes a chapter titled “From the Notebooks,” which includes quotes and snippets from those notebooks. It makes for one of the most enriching section of the book.

It made me think about this newsletter and the topic of walking. So I’ve created my own “Notebook on Walking” in homage to Chatwin – quotes, stories and reflections about walking in prose, poetry and song. Below you will read about the virtues of walking, about roads and paths, about the eternal moment of a single step.

Re-reading them over the past few weeks has uncovered new waves of exploration in my own practice of walking. It has reminded me of the joy and power inherent in a seemingly simple walk.

Enjoy these reflections. I hope they spur you to take a walk today.

“                "

— The Ventures, Walk, Don’t Run

“The Buddha loved to walk. For the Buddha, walking is a way to remind oneself that mind and body are two separate aspects of the same thing. Walking is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other, but we often find it difficult or tedious. We drive a few blocks rather than walk to “save time.” When we understand the interconnectedness of body and mind, the simple act of walking like the Buddha can feel supremely easy and pleasurable.”

— Thich Nhat Hanh, The Long Road Turns to Joy

“A BASE ON BALLS is an award of first base granted to a batter who, during his time at bat, receives four pitches outside the strike zone or following a signal from the defensive team’s manager to the umpire that he intends to intentionally walk the batter.  If the manager informs the umpire of this intention, the umpire shall award the batter first base as if the batter had received four pitches outside the strike zone.”

– Major League Baseball, Official Baseball Rules

“It requires a direct dispensation from Heaven to become a walker.”

– Henry David Thoreau, Walking

“Boredom is everything, man. I think our loss of boredom in contemporary society is one of the greatest, weirdest, ambient losses. It is one of these things that’s hard to quantify the value of. And we’ve lost it so completely and totally that we very rarely have moments to even re-experience it, unless you do so intentionally. And so for me, yeah the boredom of these walks is, I would say, 50% of the value of it. It’s forcing yourself into a place where you’re not teleporting mentally.”

– Craig Mod, Ridgeline issue 139

"Tramping is a way of approach, to Nature, to your fellow man, to a nation, to a foreign nation, to beauty, to life itself....Nature becomes your teacher, and from her you will learn what is beautiful, who you are, what is your special quest in life and wither you should go."

— Stephen Graham, The Gentle Art of Tramping

Two nights together had these gentlemen,
Marcellus and Barnardo, on their watch,
In the dead waste and middle of the night,
Been thus encountered: a figure like your father,
Armed at point exactly, cap-à-pie,
Appears before them and with solemn march
Goes slow and stately by them. Thrice he walked
By their oppressed and fear-surprisèd eyes
Within his truncheon’s length, whilst they, distilled
Almost to jelly with the act of fear,
Stand dumb and speak not to him. This to me
In dreadful secrecy impart they did,
And I with them the third night kept the watch,
Where, as they had delivered, both in time,
Form of the thing (each word made true and good),
The apparition comes. I knew your father;
These hands are not more like.”

– William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act I scene ii

“Before long they saw the marching line approaching: the Ents were swinging along with great strides down the slope towards them. Treebeard was at their head, and some fifty followers were behind him, two abreast, keeping step with their feet and beating time with their hands upon their flanks. As they drew near the flash and flicker of their eyes could be seen.

“‘Hoom, hom! Here we come with a boom, here we come at last!’ called Treebeard when he caught sight of Bregalad and the hobbits. ‘Come, join the Moot! We are off. We are off to Isengard!’

“‘To Isengard!’ the Ents cried in many voices.

“‘To Isengard!’”

– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

"Walking is one of the best times to repeat the mantram, especially if you walk briskly. The rhythm of your footsteps, the rhythm of the mantram, and the rhythm of your breathing all harmonize to soothe and invigorate the body and mind. This happens naturally, and there is nothing mysterious about it."

– Eknath Easwaran, The Mantram Handbook


  1. Get a rucksack (or a backpack)
  2. Put ~20 lbs in it.
    – Stabilize the weight next to your back in the ruck
    – Cinch your rucksack down so it sits higher on your back

3.  Then, just walk. Ruck 2 miles, shoot for 20 minutes/mile. Longer is OK. See how it feels.”

– Jason McCarthy, The Rucking White Paper (Beta)

“The Tomb Guard marches exactly 21 steps down the black mat behind the Tomb, turns, faces east for 21 seconds, turns and faces north for 21 seconds, then takes 21 steps down the mat and repeats the process.  (The number 21 symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed, the 21-gun salute.) Next, the Sentinel executes a sharp "shoulder-arms" movement to place the weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors, signifying that he or she stands between the Tomb and any possible threat.”

March of the Tomb Guard, 3rd Infantry Regiment, United States Army, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, 24 hours a day, every day of the year

“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.”

– Henry David Thoreau, Walking

"Leo Szilard waited irritably one gray Depression morning for the stoplight to change. A trace of rain had fallen during the night; Tuesday, September 12, 1933, dawned cool, humid and dull....When Szilard told the story later he never mentioned his destination that morning. He may have had none; he often walked to think. The stoplight changed to green. Szilard stepped off the curb. As he crossed the street time cracked open before him and he saw a way to the future, death into the world and all our woe, the shape of things to come....

""It occurred to me that neutrons, in contrast to alpha particles, do not ionize [i.e., interact electrically with] the substance through which they pass.

""Consequently, neutrons need not stop until they hit a nucleus with which they may react."

"Szilard was not the first to realize that the neutron might slip past the positive electrical barrier of the nucleus; that realization had come from other physicists as well. But he was the first to imagine a mechanism whereby more energy might be released in the neutron's bombardment of the nucleus than the neutron itself supplied.

"Leo Szilard stepped up onto the sidewalk. Behind him the light changed to red.""

— Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb

“He doesn’t want you at all. He’s after somebody called Skywalker.”

– Lando Calrissian, The Empire Strikes Back

“I confess 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, ay, and years almost together.”

– Henry David Thoreau, Walking

Long Walk to Freedom

– Title of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography

Austin Millbarge: Find a rock! Go the SatScram terminal! Smash that thing!

Emmett Fitz-Hume: [Fitz-Hume smashes terminal] It's broken.

Austin Millbarge: Bring it here. [Fitz-Hume shrugs and walks towards Millbarge holding the rock]

Austin Millbarge: Not the rock.”

– Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase, Spies Like Us

“It must be noticed….that the predecessor to this first road was “nothing but an Indian trail passing the wilderness” – a path. The Indians, then, who had the wisdom and the grace to live in this country for perhaps ten thousand years without destroying or damaging any of it, needed for their travels no more than a footpath; but their successors, who in a century and a half plundered the area of at least half its topsoil and virtually all of its forest, felt immediately that they had to have a road. My interest is not in the question of whether or not they needed the road, but in the fact that the road was then, and is now, the most characteristic form of their relation to the country.

“The difference between a path and a road is not only the obvious one. A path is little more than a habit that comes with knowledge of a place. It is a sort of ritual of familiarity. As a form, it is a form of contact with a known landscape. It is not destructive. It is the perfect adaptation, through experience and familiarity, of movement to place; it obeys the natural contours; such obstacles as it meets it goes around. A road, on the other hand, even the most primitive road, embodies a resistance against the landscape. Its reason is not simply the necessity for movement, but haste. Its wish is to avoid contact with the landscape; it seeks so far as possible to go over the country, rather than through it; its aspiration, as we see clearly in the example of our modern freeways, is to be a bridge; its tendency is to translate place into space in order to traverse it with the least effort. It is destructive, seeking to remove or destroy all obstacles in its way. The primitive road advanced by the destruction of the forest; modern roads advance by the destruction of topography.”

– Wendell Berry, A Native Hill

“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”….equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering.”

– Henry David Thoreau, Walking

“Arjuna: Tell me of those who live always in wisdom, ever aware of the Self, O Krishna; how do they talk, how sit, how move about?”

– Eknath Easwaran, translator, The Bhagavad Gita, Book 2 Verse 54

“If you would get exercise, go in search of the springs of life.”

– Henry David Thoreau, Walking

“Although we can enter their last thoughts and feelings only by indirection, we are sure to find the final act of many of them. Dr. Hawkins, the physician who went in with the rescue crew the night the men were burned, told me that, after the bodies had fallen, most of them had risen again, taken a few steps, and fallen again, this final time like pilgrims in prayer, facing the top of the hill, which on that slope is nearly east. Ranger Jansson, in charge of the rescue crew, independently made the same observation.

“The evidence, then, is that at the very end beyond thought and beyond fear and beyond even self-compassion and divine bewilderment there remains some firm intention to continue doing forever and ever what we last hoped to do on earth. By this final act they had come about as close as body and spirit can to establishing a unity of themselves with earth, fire, and perhaps the sky….

“I, an old man, have written this fire report. Among other things, it was important to me, as an exercise for old age, to enlarge my knowledge and spirit so I could accompany young men whose lives I might have lived on their way to death. I have climbed where they climbed, and in my time I have fought fire and inquired into its nature. In addition, I have lived to get a better understanding of myself and those close to me, many of them now dead. Perhaps it is not odd, at the end of this tragedy where nothing much was left of the elite who came from the sky but courage struggling for oxygen, that I have often found myself thinking of my wife on her brave and lonely way to death.”

– Norman Maclean, Young Men and Fire

“When we first learned to walk, we walked just to enjoy walking. We walked and discovered each moment as we encountered it. We can learn to walk that way again.”

– Thich Nhat Hanh, How to Walk

“It seemed such an extraordinary notion – the idea that I could set off from home and walk 1,800 miles through the woods to Georgia, or turn the other way and clamber over the rough and stony White Mountains to the fabled prow of Mount Katahdin floating in forest 450 miles to the north in a wilderness few have seen. A little voice in my head said: ‘Sounds neat! Let’s do it!’

“I formed a number of rationalizations. It would get me fit after years of waddlesome sloth. It would be useful – I wasn’t quite sure in what way, but I was sure none the less – to learn to fend for myself in the wilderness. When guys in camouflage pants and hunting hats sat around in the Four Aces Diner talking about fearsome things done out of doors. I would no longer have to feel like such a cupcake. I wanted a little of that swagger that comes with being able to gaze at a far horizon through eyes of chipped granite and say with a slow, manly sniff, ‘Yeah, I’ve shit in the woods.’”

– Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods

“The essence of walking, which is slowness: I explain that he who walks lives longer. The memory sharpens. The blood pressure falls. Your immune system gets stronger….

“Why do we walk? Where do we walk from and what is our destination? We all have our own answers. Even if you and I walk next to each other, we can experience the walk differently. After having put my shoes on and let my thoughts wander, I am sure of one thing – to put one foot in front of the other is one of the most important things we can do.

“Let us walk.”

– Erling Kagge, Walking

“I sat down one spring day to write about walking and stood up again, because a desk is no place to think on a large scale.”

– Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust

“And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people.”

– Leviticus, Chapter 26 Verse 12

“He who walks blamelessly,
 and does what is right,
 and speaks truth in his heart.”

– Psalm 15

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
 I fear no evil,
 for you are with me;
 your rod and your staff,
 they comfort me.”

– Psalm 23

“Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain: and when he sat down his disciples came to him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them”

– The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 5, Verses 1-2

“But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.”

– Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 3 Verses 6-8

“Lo! Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
For I am the meanest son of a bitch in the valley.”

– Many attributions, including Joel Rosenberg and Vietnam era Zippo lighters

“I walk in nature still alone
 And know no one”

– Henry David Thoreau, Great Friend

“This is the end of the road, Galvetron.”

– Rodimus Prime, Transformers: The Movie

“In a world geared for hurry, the capacity to resist the urge to hurry – to allow things to take the time they take – is a way to gain purchase on the world, to do the work that counts, and to derive satisfaction from the doing itself, instead of deferring all your fulfillment to the future.

“I first learned this lesson from Jennifer Roberts, who teaches art history at Harvard University. When you take a class with Roberts, your initial assignment is always the same, and it’s one that has been known to elicit yelps of horror from her students: choose a painting and sculpture in a local museum, then go and look at it for three hours straight. No checking email or social media; no quick runs to Starbucks. (She reluctantly concedes that bathroom breaks are allowed.) When I told a friend I planned to visit Harvard to meet Roberts, and to undertake the painting-viewing exercise myself, he gave me a look that mixed admiration with fear for my sanity, as though I announced my intention to kayak the Amazon alone. And he wasn’t entirely wrong to worry about my mental health. There were long moments, as I squirmed in my seat at the Harvard Art Museum during the assignment, when I’d willingly have done countless things I usually can’t stand – shopping for clothes, assembling flat-pack furniture, stabbing myself in the thigh with thumbtacks – simply because I could have done them in a rush, instead of having to be patient.

“Such reactions come as no surprise to Roberts. She insists on the exercise lasting three hours precisely because she knows it’s a painfully long time, especially for anyone accustomed to a life of speed. She wants people to experience firsthand how strangely excruciating it is to be stuck in position, unable to force the pace, and why it’s so worthwhile to push past those feelings to what lies beyond.”

– Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks

“When I was a little baby
My mama said “Hey son,
Travel where you will and grow to be a man
And sing what must be sung, poor boy
Sing what must be sung.”
And I don’t give a damn about a greenback dollar
Spend it fast as I can
For a wailin’ song and a good guitar
The only things that I understand, poor boy
The only things that I understand.
Now that I’m a grown man,
I’ve traveled here and there,
I’ve learned that a bottle of brandy and a song
The only ones who ever care, poor boy
The only ones who ever care.
And I don’t give a damn about a greenback dollar
Spend it fast as I can
For a wailin’ song and a good guitar
The only things that I understand, poor boy
The only things that I understand.”

– Hoyt Axton (writer) and The Kingston Trio (musicians), Greenback Dollar

“I wanna walk on a wire
I want to walk on an unbroken line
I wanna live when I die
Shake my soul loose from time
I wanna ride with the angels
On that invisible street
And leave my footprints in the sky
And feel the stars beneath my feet
And when the thunderheads start beating like a drum
And the thunder cracks the sky in two.”

– Buddy and Julie Miller, River’s Gonna Run

“In a gadda da vida, honey
Don’t you know that I’m lovin’ you
In a gadda da vida, baby
Don’t you know that I’ll always be true
Oh, won’t you come with me
And take my hand
Oh, won’t you come with me
And walk this land
Please take my hand.”

– Iron Butterfly, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida

“There’s wondering about the shadow
Keeps crossing your path
Don’t look nothing like you but I’m afraid to ask
I was thinking about your bad dream
Is it still under your cover
Or flying around like a snake doctor
Wanting to be your lover
Rain crow
I’ve seen you walking in a hard rain
Nothing over your head
And you smile just like it’s a sunny day
Is it something the thunder bed said
Rain crow”

– Tony Joe White, Rain Crow

“After all is said and done, you've never walked, you've never run
You're a winner!
Got the moves, you know the street. Break the rules, take the heat!
You're nobody's fool!
You're at your best, when the going gets rough!
You've been put to the test, but it's never enough!
You got the touch, you got the power!
When all hell's breakin' loose, you'll be right in the eye of the storm!
You got the heart, you got the motion!
You know that when things get too tough, you got the Touch!”

– Stan Bush, The Touch

“I don't know you
And you don't know the half of it
I had a starring role
I was the bad guy who walked out
They said be careful where you aim
'Cause where you aim you just might hit
You can hold onto something so tight
You've already lost it”

– U2, Dirty Day

“I'm on a tightrope, baby, nine miles high
Striding through the clouds, on my ribbon in the sky
I'm on a tightrope, baby, one thing I've found
I don't know how to stop, and it's a long, long, long
Long way down”

– The Stone Roses, Tightrope

“Well, I shuffled through the city on the 4th of July
I had a firecracker waiting to blow
Breakin' like a robber who was makin' his way
To the cities of Mexico
Lived in an apartment out on Avenue A
I had a tar-hut on the corner of 10th
Had myself a lover who was finer than gold
But I've been broken up and busted up since”

– Ryan Adams, New York, New York

“Call the sun in the dead of the night
And the sun's gonna rise in the sky
Touch a man who can't walk upright
And that lame man, he's gonna fly”

– Neil Diamond, Holly Holy

“We spotted the ocean
At the head of the trail
“Where are we goin’
So far away?”
And somebody told me
“This is the place
Where everything’s better
And everything’s safe.”
Walk on the ocean
Step on the stones
Flesh becomes water
Wood becomes bone.

– Toad the Wet Sprocket, Walk on the Ocean

“She turned around to look at me
As I was walking away
I heard her say over my shoulder
"We'll meet again someday on the avenue."
Tangled up in blue.”

– Bob Dylan, Tangled Up in Blue