I am an inveterate walker. When I am in the country I walk nowhere in particular – like Henry Thoreau, who wrote of “sauntering,” a word derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the middle ages, and asked charity, under pretence of going à la sainte terre – to the holy land.” The land I walk across is holy to me, but it is also mostly private property. No one has yet thrown me off, however, so I walk where I please. I tread carefully, mindful of others’ privacy and of the fact that I am a visitor in every sense of the word. I walk in the clouds, lost in my surroundings and in my own head. In the city, where I walk more often now, it is different. The streets are alive with people and filled at all hours with sounds. The tabloids scream out their headlines (“Dumped” “Thighs the Limit! “Tom Talks Trash”). Here I don’t saunter; I am going somewhere. I am seeking vitality not serenity. “The United States was born in the country and has moved to the city,” Richard Hofstadter wrote, and our cities have always seemed the foster children of America’s landscape, places for those who don’t really belong.
But as someone who just walks around, I believe that America needs both the energy of the city and the reflective peace of the wild.