Reading Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking (2000) is a lot like talking a hike. It can be a strenuous journey. At times, you may wonder what you have gotten yourself into, but you happily trek on. Along the way, the book catches your attention with a beautiful point of insight or takes you to a soaring vista. The journey is enjoyable and ultimately rewarding.
Best of all, this book will make you want to get out into the world and walk. Solnit reminds us that walking is an intellectual, spiritual, and revolutionary pursuit and can be a creative and empowering act.
“Walking is an indicator species for various kinds of freedoms and pleasures: free time, free and alluring space, and unhindered bodies.”
Solnit writes a couple of different kind of books. There are her lyrically written, inventive essays (the extremely beautiful The Faraway Nearby for example) and her obsessively researched academic books (i.e. A Paradise Built in Hell), fascinating if the topic interests. Wanderlust falls into the latter category, but it is the pick for EcoLit readers.
“Walking, ideally, is a state in which the mind, the body, and the world are aligned, as though they were three characters finally in conversation together, three notes suddenly making a chord.”
Solnit examines the spirituality, history, literature, and political implications of walking. Along the way, she offers numerous side trails to explore introducing works by walking philosophers and the genre of the walking essay. Side treks include Thoreau’s “Walking,” Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey,” and Umberto Eco’s Six Walks in a Fictional Wood.
Readers of EcoLit may be particularly interested in the second section of the book, “From the Garden to the Wild,” which includes information about the Sierra Club and its founder John Muir who, “…took a stand against anthropocentrism, against the idea that trees, animals, minerals, soil, water, are there for human to use, let alone to destroy.” Solnit writes about how, as walking, hiking and mountaineering became popular, people began to take an interest in nature again.
“It is impossible to overemphasize how profound is the effect of this revolution on the taste for nature and practice of walking. It reshaped both the intellectual world and the physical one, sending populations of travelers to hitherto obscure destinations, creating innumerable parks, preserves, trails, guides, clubs, and organizations and a vast body or art and literature with almost no precedent before the eighteenth century.”
If you like to walk, read, create, write and change the world, Wanderlust is fuel. It is the perfect walking companion and will encourage you to walk more.
“Exploring the world is one of the best ways of exploring the mind, and walking travels both terrains.”
Inspired by this book: Find out more about The Sierra Club and read about Sarah Bergman’s Pollinator Pathway project on environmental architecture — we are of nature and can design our environment for biodiversity.
What to read next: See “Walking: The Secret Ingredient for Health, Wealth, and More Exciting Neighborhoods” in YES! Magazine.
A reader, writer, and @Utopianista living by the Salish Sea, Shel served in the Peace Corps and earned her MFA in Creative Writing.