If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again; if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man; then you are ready for a walk.
–Henry David Thoreau, “Walking” (1862)
An extreme but considerable statement from someone whose thoughts bear considerable attention. For me, walking (and climbing and descending) in pursuit of chukar — when I’m in the middle of it — achieves Thoreau’s preconditions for a walk. Even if I’m fortunate enough to be accompanied by my wife or friends on these “walks,” I’m as free as I’ve ever felt, with no worries about bills, politics, or any other “affairs.” It’s much the same feeling I get from playing the bagpipes. Although I very much enjoy the company of my wife and friends on these walks, maybe I prefer hunting alone because — when I’m not hunting but thinking about hunting — I feel less guilty about my selfishness achieved while hunting.
I wonder what Thoreau would say about my going at this all backwards, if it’s possible to become ready for a walk by starting the walk, a kind of arriving by commencing. When I set out for what I have come to expect will be a very enriching, liberating experience, I am certainly not “ready” to leave my loved ones and never see them again. And I know I’ll never start a walk debt-free.
But in the process of hunting, walking on hillsides — and, this is important, reading Angus’s walking — everything but my body moving and my eyes and ears doing their best is eliminated. In those moments, were I to die I could say, easily, I am ready for a Thoreau-esque walk.