“It must not be imagined that a walking tour, as some would have us fancy, is merely a better or worse way of seeing the country.”
R L Stevenson’s ‘Walking Tours’ guides us to the method of enjoying a ‘walking tour’. The essay which starts with relishing the ‘walking’ ends on an unexpected note of self reflection.
Miles and miles of walk may sound exhausting but it is not so when one reads this essay. If a tour is all about viewing landscapes and picturesque places, then a train would make for a satisfactory travel. But a walking tour starts with hope and spirit and ends with replenishing ourselves with peace and spirit. A person will find pleasure after pleasure during the walk.
When going on such a tour, one shouldn’t be an ‘over walker’ for they will not comprehend the purpose of the travel. To cover a long distance by walking fast is merely to brutalize one’s own body. An over walker will neither enjoy the evening sky nor the journey and his physical exhaustion will put him to sleep.
“It is the fate of such an one to take twice as much trouble as is needed to obtain happiness and miss happiness in the end…”
To enjoy the walking tour to the fullest, one has to go alone. For if one goes with a company or as pairs, it will be more like a picnic. In a walking tour, one should enjoy the liberty to stop and then continue.
“…you must be open to all impressions and let your thoughts take color from what you see. You should be as a pipe for any wind to play upon.”
In the beginning of the tour, it might be difficult and one would have the urge to give up. In this case, one is to take off their knapsack, enjoy a short break and “ give three leaps and go on singing”. This will improve the mood and soon the spirit of the journey will enter them. If one constantly ponders over their anxieties and worries, which like the merchant Abudah’s chest never empties, they will never be happy about the walk.
There are instances where one will be joined by other wayfarers. Of them is this one who walks fast with a keen look all concentrated on setting the landscape to words. There is this one who stops at each canal to look at the dragonflies and each gate to look upon cows. There is another who is busy talking, muttering, laughing and gesticulating to themselves; definitely composing the most passionate oration and articles.
There will also be that person who will sing even though he is not a master in that art. It is all fine until he comes across a stolid peasant. This person may be misunderstood for a lunatic for no reason can explain their gaiety to the passers-by. This is completely possible in a walking tour for when surrounded by pleasant things, a person will definitely skip, run, and laugh out of nowhere. Here the essayist quotes Hazlitt who had said,
“Give me the clear blue sky over my head, and green turf beneath my feet, a winding road before me,…I laugh, I run, I leap, I sing for joy.”
Though the essayist had quoted it, he is against leaping and running because these actions breaks the natural rhythm of respiration and break the pace. But when one is on an equable stride, there requires no conscious thought to keep one going and it neither does engage the mind. A walking tour gives us a sense of physical wellbeing, a delightful play of fresh air, contraction of thigh muscles and makes him relish the solitude.
“He becomes more and more incorporated with the material landscape, and the open air drunkenness grows upon him with great strides, until he posts along the road, and sees everything about him, as in a cheerful dream.”
The essayist stresses on bivouacs as a necessary part of the walking tour. One may dally time as long as one wishes to. It feels like prolonging the time and slowing it down. This is what we people in the industrial era miss. Being in a constant race with time, we have forgotten to live the time.
“You have no idea, unless you have tried it, how endlessly long is a summer’s day, that you measure out only be hunger, and bring to an end only when you are drowsy.”
The essayist draws near conclusion with a talk on an evening’s rest after a long walk. We throw ourselves into the hands of nature and bring down all our guards.
“And it seems as if a hot walk has purged you, more than of anything else, of all narrowness and pride, and left curiosity to play its part freely, as in a child of a man of science.”
When the night leaves us alone, we are free to reflect on the way we have led our lives. We are all running after our desires and greeds, we have failed to understand how ephemeral life is. The essayist puts out lines which makes the readers to question themselves.
“We are in such a haste to be doing, to be writing, to be gathering gear, to make our voice audible a moment in a derisive silence of eternity, that we forget that one thing, of which these are but the parts — namely, to live.”
“We fall in love, we drink hard, we run to and fro upon the earth like frightened sheep. And now you are to ask yourself if … to remember the faces of women without desire, to be pleased by the great deeds of men without envy, to be everything and everywhere in sympathy, and yet content to remain where and what you are — is not this to know both wisdom and virtue, and to dwell with happiness?”
These lines make us reflect on ourselves. It urges us to ask ourselves when was the last time we were happy, are we happy, are we living, what have we left for the world. These profound questions are for us to think. Maybe there will be no answer. To think and to live our life from here onwards is all that matters. When times get better and when you are to live, go on a walking tour.
“And whether it was wise or foolish, tomorrow’s travel will carry you, body and mind, into some different parish of the infinite.”