Thoreau Journal

Thoreau’s famous lecture on walking started out as part of another lecture titled “The Wild,” which grew and grew until on its own, it struck out on its own, a sum of all that grew and grows beyond. The very concept of the wild is rooted in the beyond, as is that of walking, so it was inevitable, which is the natural on a steep hill. He walked down the steep hill into color.

The two lectures came back together for the 1860 publication titled Walking as if the wild had become a step no longer space but a long way of letting space filter into the body through the foot as an organ of perception inlaying a rhythm into the earth, a fusion of the tactile and the kinetic that makes it almost to music. If you walk in complete silence, the surrounding animals are not forced to rearrange themselves into recognizable patterns.

Thoreau carefully poised his walks, some at night, some in the moon, some at midday to carefully note the slowing of time as light pulls back, to balance the effect of shadow against that of breeze, a slight leaf from sky to sky, and the wild leaf that has no inside. The lace breaks and what was a sheaf has now lost count. Picture it in the next sky, yet taking it to pieces, as if to make a nest.

If walking creates a wild within, Thoreau said the lost, if we try to be precise, the doors flying open will onward own. For Thoreau, the word “wild” was never an adjective, but an exile sifting a strange country backward through trees that took entire childhoods to die.

And the wild grew and grew. Walking precedes time and is its main condition of possibility.

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