The Habit of Walking by Sharon Ackerman

Solvitur Ambulando—a Latin phrase meaning “it is solved by walking”—is credited to the philosopher Diogenes in the fourth century BCE. He uttered this phrase when presented with a difficult metaphysical question, though judging from the masses of people I’ve seen out walking over the past year, some of us are rediscovering the truth of that observation.

Of course there are many different kinds of walking; fitness walking, pilgrimages, walks with mapped out ends and destinations. But the walking Diogenes refers to is aimless walking, purposeless walking and it is this type of walking that has been endangered and perhaps recovered to some extent. Historically this is the walking done by Jesus and his disciples, by poets and philosophers who’ve known for centuries what science can just now prove, that walking improves creative thinking. Aristotle was known for conducting his lectures while walking and being followed by his peripatetics who meandered alongside him.

Walking has been so much a part of the writer’s terrain that there are many quotes and anecdotes revealing this relationship. Wordsworth was dubbed “the pedestrian poet” and is said to have logged 180,000 miles wandering lonely as a cloud on foot, observing that both walking and writing were rhythmic and had meter. There is one comic story that the poet’s legs were “pointedly condemned” by all the female connoisseurs he came across.

When I was furloughed from work for four months this past spring, I discovered that walking—actually loitering and wandering, are indivisible from writing. I didn’t set out to create a manuscript of poems when I put on my boots but this is what happened. The world reveals itself to those who travel on foot, director Werner Herzog says. All that good company; Dickens, Thoreau, Emerson, Woolf, Kate Chopin, all walking writers. Four miles down a trail, I lose that stanza I was working on but not to worry, nature is subtly connecting the dots.

Blackrock Summit
worn brown boots in leaves
Bootsby Sharon Ackerman.

I am not sure
why we walked here

but for the blinding
heat. How our wrists

without watches, our voices
pressed low beneath
a staggering rise,

shining at its top
where the rock
spans roundabout

in all directions, our
breath caught suddenly
in the forming

five billion years past.
How it announces,

Here is the ring
of stones, each sun
telling its perfect time

Sharon Ackerman
Sharon Ackerman earned an MEd from the University of Virginia. Her poems have appeared in the Northern Virginia Review, Atlanta Review, Poetry Virginia, Heartwood and several anthologies. She is the winner of the Hippocrates Poetry in Medicine international contest, 2019. She is poetry editor for Streetlight Magazine.

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