When I walk I am conscious of the ground beneath my feet, whether asphalt or dirt, the soundscape of the city or nature, the space unfolding before me. No doubt our outer landscape has a powerful effect upon our inner landscape. Indeed, in his journal of his own walkabouts, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, Robert MacFarlane says that "[f]elt pressure, sensed texture and perceived space can work upon the body and so too among the mind, altering the textures and inclinations of thought."
And so it does.
Walk my suburban path, full of green lawns and mature oaks and retirees picking up newspapers on settled driveways and minivans and dog-walking masters and busy bluebirds and robins with my vision limited by the tree-scape, and I feel a deep contentedness, a sense of boundaries, roots, home, blessing, swaddled in my place, wearing my own old path in my circuit like the grooves of a oft-played LP. Jackson Browne. Running on Empty. Seventies. Groove-fatigue.
Walk the desert, with unobstructed views that go on for 50 miles, trodding the paths of cowboys and indians and prospectors for gold and those on the move going west, west, west, until their feet lapped the waters of the Pacific, and I feel remarkably different. Free. Boundless. Unsettled. Possibilities, some which may have seemed foolhardy at home, loom large and realizable there, dangerous, like cacti and rattlesnakes, but not so fearful. My "why" becomes my "why not."
Some even walked on the moon. They were never the same. Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, described the sensation as one of "magnificent desolation," sensing the "eons of lifelessness" in that place. No doubt that overwhelming absence contributed to the deep depression, alcoholism, nervous breakdown, and divorce after his return to Earth. The moon was too boundless, space too empty. Perhaps he began to sense that he was a mere atom amongst atoms unquantifiable. When you walk where hardly any others have walked, maybe you are stymied by the difficulty of not being able to communicate an experience to people for whom that walk would be incomparable, fantastical.
MacFarland concludes that, in the minds of poet-walkers like Edward Abbey, Richard Jeffries, or Thomas Hardy, "[p]aths were figured as rifts within which time might exist as pure surface, prone to weird morpholgies, uncanny origami." That all sounds so mystical, like one foot is (as Francis Schaeffer said) "firmly planted in the air." Yet sometimes the unseen world impinges. One's soul is moved.
Twelve years ago I was discharged from the hospital after an emergency abdominal surgery. For about nine months thereafter, I had an irrational fear. The slightest discomfort yielded an overwhelming anxiety, a sense that I was going back into the hospital. There was nothing wrong with me, and yet I could not escape it. I prayed. I read scripture. I even took a few anti-anxiety pills. But the thing that yielded the best result was to simply walk, and walk, and walk. I settled into a deep routine where the only thing I had to focus on was putting one foot in front of another, footfall after footfall. Eventually my mind rested, my spirit calmed by the mundane dependability of the unfolding landscape, birdsong, wind murmur, and low rumble of the city. And then, the worry was gone. Somewhere along the way, I let it go. Walking gave dimension to my prayers, gave topography to my spirit.
Trust God. Keep walking. Follow the cloud, the star, the inner voice that bids. In the early morning dark, when alone, pray out loud. Pray loud. Cry out to God if you need to. Be the widow pestering the judge until an answer comes, until God comes, until rocks cry out and trees clap their hands, until the road bends upward before you and heaven comes down. Take dominion over the earth. Till it and keep it. Walk on until you meet God coming. Just keep moving.