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Retired publishing executive ecstatic with the idea of spending most of his time on the coast of Maine

Monday, December 24, 2012


I often think of the difference between walking in the city (well, OK, a suburb) and the country. The former is full of the works of humans, from which one can hardly escape. It's possible to gaze up at a tree or into the sky, or focus down on a piece of moss in the cracks of the sidewalk, but the effort makes one looks slightly ridiculous, not to mention sore in neck and knee, and the gaze must be intensely focused to avoid the intrusion of airplane, pavement, car horn, dog walkers, blinking Christmas lights, politics. None of these are bad in themselves, but the accumulation can be draining, if only because I'm forced to think of systems, and peculiarities of character, and the thin skein of society that holds this all together. The eye skitters from house to freshly sawed stump, from trimmed hedge to mowed lawn - all the trials of domestication, including the dog I'm walking for purposes of her nasal scent optimization. This human eye and mind are not optimized, unfortunately.

That shrub over there carved into a spiral may be very similar to a bush blown crooked at the edge of the sea, the quick brown dog across the street may be cousin to the fox, but they have been subsumed to human needs. To understand their essences needs a different, wilder context. I need to see the strong ropes of Nature holding all together.

Walking in my neighborhood in Maine is hardly exploring the wilderness, I hasten to point out. There are houses and cars and paved roads, just not nearly as many. Which means I can walk for minutes, or stare for an hour, and not see or hear or smell anything manufactured. I know this is important for me - do I dare to say it might be important for others?

It's as if in the country I think much more about the individual, who is innocent until proven guilty, and in the city, I'm fixated on the group, which is guilty until proven innocent.

Thoreau said it another way in his essay "Walking": "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 worldly engagements."

The final proof, for me, is that our frenemy time passes swiftly in the country. A walk down to Ash Point seems to take only a moment, because the eye and mind are actively engaged in the business of life, not passively receiving its manufactured products. Time can drag in the city, ironically, right in the midst of hustle and bustle.

Like Thoreau in Concord, I hope I have the best of  both worlds. What would it be like, though, to walk every day in real wilderness, and how dangerous? My whole life might pass in the blink of a fox's eye.

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