February 6, 2010


There can scarcely be a better therapy than walking. If I do not get out on foot regularly into the lean New England countryside despondency sets in. Even my regular tramp around the Old Reservoir in Lexington serves to displace one species of melancholy with another less disagreeable.

I cannot claim that I set out on the shortest walk “in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return,” as Thoreau advises, but I am always aware that I invariably discover something particular I have previously not seen. I mean nothing grand, just some hitherto unregarded filament of the world’s web. Today, as we sauntered round Gardner Hill in Stow, it was a pileated woodpecker, jabbing at a pine trunk; and a smooth ridge of glistening ice overhanging a black rushing stream that we passed on the way to the bank of the Assabet River. The trail was often treacherous, glazed with compacted snow, so that each footfall required a decision. This lent deliberateness to the stroll, compelling attention to the green pine sprigs, dry twigs, and cones on which we trod for traction.

In such circumstances, all the while breathing icy air, the thought returns that “the worst is not so long as we can say this is the worst”; and out there, while walking, is never the worst, but among the best we can hope for. This is colder comfort than Thoreau offers, glorying in an autumn sunset over marsh and meadow, in concluding his great essay, “Walking” (1862); but even though uplift often eludes me on the trail, at least to put one foot before the other in the oncoming twilight is a fundamental reassurance of continuing existence.