Let us make walking holy
The Barna A. Clark spring, as seen on a walk from Halifax to Brattleboro.

Let us make walking holy

‘Walk somewhere you’ve never walked before. Walk a little outside of your comfort zone, knowing that Gandhi and Dr. King and millions of pilgrims have done so before you.’

HALIFAX — Why don't we walk more?

Anyone who can afford to do so drives a car most places in the U.S. Walking is a luxury activity for health or social reasons, not a mode of transportation.

The folks who do walk to get somewhere are disproportionately poor, are vagrants, or are flying a sign.

I work in sustainability, a field that looks deeply at practical obstacles to walking and mass transit.

Today, I want to talk on an emotional level.

In many places in the world, in many traditions, walking is considered holy, or an act of goodness and earnest commitment.

Consider El Camino de Santiago, where people walk in a pilgrimage to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in northern Spain.

Or the 1930 Salt Satyagraha, a march led by Mahatma Gandhi in colonial India's nonviolent fight for independence. That act later inspired Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was a key player in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, among other marches in the U.S. civil rights movement.

Why don't we worship walking as holy?

* * *

In May, I walked to Brattleboro from my homestead in Halifax on a day when I wanted to experience autonomy of movement rather than being controlled by my car.

I noticed that as a walker in certain neighborhoods I felt like an object of suspicion.

I walked mostly on dirt roads that are hospitable to walkers only because of their relative slowness and lack of steady traffic. There were not sidewalks or any special concessions to those on foot. The folks in those neighborhoods have cars and get around by car. They would not have recognized me.

When they drove by, I felt them wondering why I was there.

Was I making that up? I don't think so. If I see someone on foot in my neighborhood, I wonder who they are and what they're doing there. I have less of this curiosity when someone's in a car. It seems more normal.

* * *

The Barna A. Clark spring is in the neighborhood of my recent walk. It's in the Ames Hill section of Brattleboro just as it passes into Marlboro.

The spring offers a steady stream of clean, fresh water to travelers, along with the inscription “Barna A. Clark/A True Friend/And/A Good Man/1896.”

I've often stopped here over the last 25 years and thought that it's one of the most beautiful memorials a person could ask for.

The urban legend is that Ames Hill Road was a key route in the 1800s and required a toll for passing in this area, but Barna Clark let people in need use his land to skirt the toll collection point and was appreciated for doing so.

As I do with so many urban legends, I appreciate the spirit of this story.

Someone helped travelers in need, even if it took a little money from the pockets of those making the road smooth for those who could afford carriages.

* * *

Reader, today or this month, consider walking somewhere for no reason, even if it doesn't make sense.

Walk somewhere you've never walked before. Walk a little outside of your comfort zone, knowing that Gandhi and Dr. King and millions of pilgrims have done so before you.

Be safe! Bring a friend; bring someone in a car to drive with you. Listen to your body.

And don't be so goddamn serious about it. Try a silly walk. Do a dance. Enjoy grooving to some music and noticing beautiful roadside greetings from the heart.

Don't let there be such gaping holes in your life - let it be holy, starting with the simple act of walking.

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