“Are you getting tired of walking?”, Steve Inskeep, host of NPR’s Morning Edition asked National Geographic adventurer Paul Salopek after he had completed the first year of his planned seven year walk retracing human migration from Ethiopia, through the Middle East, Asia, North and South America and ending at Tierra del Fuego, the southern tip of Chile. Salopek is wintering in Turkey for a few months, to rest, catch up on documenting his trip and plan the next section of his walk.
Salopek did not hesitate to answer.
Myriad reasons attract people to walk the open road or trail. Many are motivated by the need to exercise. Some are seduced onto the rocky trail by the siren call of rustling leaves, or a cascading creek, or the birdsongs which are so prominent a part of nature’s soundtrack.
And if you are fortunate, you returned from your hike or run or walk in the woods feeling emotionally recharged, even if physically tired. You may have seen an animal or flower that quickened your heart beat. Worries dissipated, at least for a time, and where to place your next footstep was your most pressing concern.
But how does it happen? How can running along a brook, hiking in a meadow or walking through the park be so therapeutic?
Today at twilight I ran along a creek, a small river, actually. And I was surprised by what I did not see. No birds. No herons, or egrets or cormorants. No swallows diving toward the water than soaring toward the sky. And I saw precious little animal life. One cottontail, not the dozen I usually see. And one doe, large eyes staring straight at me, but all alone.
The branches were bare save for the pine and spruce boughs. And no trefoils or clover were in bloom. All was quiet, nature bereft.
As I contemplated the stillness I thought of the answer Salopek gave at the end of his interview.
“Are you tired of walking?”, Inskeep asked.
“No”, he answered immediately. “I think, on the contrary, that’s what this walk does. This walk has the power I never imagined, to make the whole world seem new again”, Paul Salopek concluded.
How than does the trail recharge the soul? When you engage the world at a slow human pace, and remain in contact with the ground, you have the opportunity to see the world anew.
Around the globe, many people will soon mark a new calendar year. But make no mistake. What makes the year, or month or day new, is not the date on the calendar. Rather, the ability to look at the day with open eyes, and take the time to contemplate that experience, that is what endows sameness with newness.
I do not have Salopek’s seven years to walk. But I can wander into a nearby forest or field, and when I do and whatever the season, even on a barren winter eve, all seems new, again.
Howard E. Friedman