Henry David Thoreau On The Art Of Walking

“I think that I cannot preserve my heath and spirits unless I spend four hours a day at least, — and it is commonly more than that, — sauntering through the woods…”

R. C. Abbott
4 min readJul 29, 2021


Screen shot from Badlands 1973, by Terrence Malick. A man stands in the desert at night with his arms draped lazily over a stick. The moon behind him is full and the subtitle reads: We lived in utter loneliness, neither here nor there.
Photo credit: CriterionBabe. Badlands 1973, Terrence Malick.

In his essay Walking, Henry David Thoreau discusses the subtle art of wandering in nature and the healing effects and spiritual rejuvenation that arise when one manages it.

Early on in the essay, he spends a fair few words dissecting the idea of sauntering. He claims the word originated in the Middle Ages when idle folk wandered throughout the countryside, sustaining themselves with charity, claiming that they were on their way to à la Sainte Terre. (To the Holy Land).

… till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terre,” a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander.

He offers up an alternative origin of the word drawing from sans terre, meaning without land or home.

…which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere.