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 wordly engagements. You may safely say a penny for your thoughts, or a thousand pounds. When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics and shop-keepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, so many of them — as if the legs were made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon — I think that they deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago.
Henry David Thoreau, "Walking"
Easy for him to say. The man took a two-year holiday beside a pond and did nothing but finish up some writing, sauntering in to Concord on Sundays to mooch meals from anyone who’d feed him. Four hours a day and more—just walking? Thoreau was no Calvinist.
Our vacation walks are sometimes like saunas. My shirt gets soaked every day, twice by rain, when we were caught out along the trails; but every other time by a bath of body sweat. Twice, heat stroke seemed just 100 yards off. Four hours of walking would lay me up for a day or two, but then the kind of preservation of health and spirits Thoreau is talking about isn’t a plain old constitutional. Besides, Thoreau wasn’t sixty years old when he parked himself in the woods either.
Listen to him:
But the walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking exercise, as it is called, as the sick take medicine at stated hours — as the swinging of dumb-bells or chairs; but is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day. If you would get exercise go in search of the springs of life. Think of a man’s swinging dumb-bells for his health, when those springs are bubbling up in far off pastures unsought by him.Okay, okay—consider me scolded, even if searching for the springs of life wasn’t what we’ve been doing. Thoreau, a thorough-going New Englander, shed his Puritanism rather well, but lost nothing of the preacher in the process. There’s lots of finger-wagging in Walden.
So what if we’re not Thoreau-scale walkers. I don’t really care. There are bike paths galore here, “up north,” flat and paved and richly accessorized old railroad beds that make wonderful places to walk. Wild flowers are just now coming into their own; and after an hour’s workout, one’s appetite well, sort of blossoms, too.
Besides, toting a camera and snapping pictures is great therapy because it forces the eye to look for beauty. As Thoreau himself might say, that's not a bad occupation. One could do worse things with his or her time.
And that statement, by this dumb bell, almost sounds like him. But I swear--no finger-wagging.