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Brooks Malm
Walking:
The Progression of Life and Fate

Walking To move at a regular and fairly slow pace by lifting and setting down each foot in turn,
never having both feet off the ground at once.

Henry David Thoreau is one of the greatest writers to ever jot down their thoughts on a
piece of parchment. Although what makes Thoreaus writing so grand is not the finished product,
but the journey upon which the reader takes. The journeys Thoreau embarks on, both inward and
outward, are more often than not, a result of his love for the outdoors. It is through his love of
nature he is able to experience an even great passion; the fuel for all forward movement in life:
walking.
With one foot being put ahead of the other, Thoreau was able to shed light upon many of
lifes greatest riddles; divulging himself completely in wonder. It is through his travels Thoreau
is able to sift through his thoughts, enjoying a spiritual journey for every physical one:
I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at
leastand it is commonly more than thatsauntering through the woods and over the
hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements. You may safely say, A
penny for your thoughts, or a thousand pounds. When sometimes I am reminded that the
mechanics and shopkeepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the
afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, so many of themas if the legs were made to sit
upon, and not to stand or walk uponI think that they deserve some credit for not having
all committed suicide long ago.

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I found this quotation from Thoreaus: Walking, to be a beautiful example of what his
writing was about. Thoreau was able to concisely print his thoughts, allowing the reader to
understand and develop their own thoughts about the topicallowing the readers mind to join
Thoreaus journey. The structure of the writing is a journey in itselfsuch as in the final
sentence of this passage, where he plays with grammatical markers, embarking on a long
sentence eventually finding his way to his final thought. I believe it is fair to say Thoreau did not
always know where it is he was going when starting a new journey, or sentence for that matter,
but he always believed by moving forward fate would soon take its course.
It is in Thoreaus, A Week on the Merrimack and Concord Rivers, we see Thoreaus idea
of fate. Not only his own fate, but the fate of all men, and all living creatures. Although Thoreau
completely immersed himself in thought about his own fate, not even he could have imagined
what fate would have in store for his writings. It was in a jail cell which Thoreau would make the
one of the largest silent contributions in the history of mankind. It is an interesting paradox to
consider how the fate of Thoreaus writings would inspire and affect the fate of two of the
worlds most famous leaders: Mahatmas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.
It was the night Thoreau would spend in jail for his refusal to pay taxes, that he would
come up with the idea for one of his most inspirational writings: Civil Disobedience. In this
essay, Thoreau would argue against the Mexican-American War, refusing to support the violence:
If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let
it go: perchance it will wear smooth--certainly the machine will wear out but if it is of
such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break
the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to
see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.

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It is through passages like these that call the people to action; to fight against a system
whose actions are seen as unjust, not done through physical violence, but through civil
disobedience. It is the concept of Thoreaus essay Civil Disobedience, which Mahatmas Gandhi
and Martin Luther King Jr. came to adopt as their own way of protest, as Dr. King said it was his,
"first intellectual contact with the theory of nonviolence and resistance" (Blakely, 1). As history
shows, Dr. King would lead peaceful protests against racial discrimination, including a type of
protest which I believe Henry David Thoreau would be very proud of: walking.
Before Dr. King read Thoreaus famed work, it was a Hindu man from India who was
first inspired: Mahatmas Gandhi. Gandhi first read Thoreaus Civil Disobedience while
incarcerated in a South African prison for speaking out against unlawful treatment against people
of color. As Gandhi adopted the term civil disobedience, renaming it satyagraha, he chose one
of Thoreaus most favorite activities in order to carry out his mission of protesting, walking.
Gandhi organized many different marches over his lifetime, although it was the most famous
march, the Salt March, which created a link between the three men: Gandhi, King, and
Thoreau. The march was inspired over unlawful set of acts known as the Salt Acts. These Acts
gave a heavy increase to the price of salt, as well as prohibiting Indians from collecting or selling
salt. During the Salt March, over 60,000 people were incarcerated while traveling more than 240
miles. Unknowingly, Gandhi had marched directly into his fate, as it would be this specific
march which would have significant impact on a young man by the name of Martin Luther King
Jr.
Like most people, I [Dr. King] had heard of Gandhi, but I had never studied him
seriously. As I read I became deeply fascinated by his campaigns of nonviolent
resistance. I was particularly moved by the Salt March to the Sea and his numerous

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fasts. The whole concept of Satyagraha (Satya is truth which equals love, agraha is
force; Satyagraha, therefore, means truth-force or love force) was profoundly
significant to me. As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi my skepticism
concerning the power of love gradually diminished, and I came to see for the first time its
potency in the area of social reform. (Stride Toward Freedom, 96-7)
It is important to remember the idea behind all Thoreaus work began with a simple walk,
first in his journals, in his times along the Merrimack and Concord Rivers, and most famously
his time at Walden Pond. It is through these journeys which fate had prepared him to write Civil
Disobedience, and it was fate which allowed Gandhi, than Dr. King to read this work. I believe it
is only fair to say that fate was what drove the marches led by Gandhi and Dr. King.
Whether marching or walking, the forward advancement in life is both what Thoreau,
Gandhi, and King felt necessary to achieve ones greatest fate. It is in the final pages of Walden
when Thoreau states, If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors
to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours
(Thoreau, Walden). It is very interesting to compare this quote from Thoreau to a quote by Dr.
King which has a very similar message, If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if
you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward (Martin
Luther King Jr.). The continual advancement in life is what is important, it is the journey, not the
destination which provides the fulfillment of life.
Although much credit has been given to Thoreau throughout this essay, it is unfair to say
he was the first to walk, or to walk with a purpose other than to reach a physical location. In an
article written by Rebecca Solnit she states for William Wordsworth, walking was not a mode of
travelling, but of being(Solnit,104). I appreciate this quote from Solnit, as I am sure Thoreau

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would as well. Wordsworth, like Thoreau was revolutionary for his time, both of whom practiced
the art of walking; later in Solnits article she has a passage describing what walking meant for
Thoreau among other Romantic thinkers:
It allowed them to really see their surroundings to look more carefully and to better
understand how different features of the landscape were connected. Walking helped them
to attend to fine details about plant life, animal tracks, the almost unnamable quality of
light at dusk, and features of outdoor life that they might otherwise have missed.
Walking, more than any other means of travel, brought them into contact with a nature
that was unpredictable. They never knew exactly what would strike them as interesting,
even when they traveled their most familiar routes. They never knew ahead of time which
feature of nature would bring them that elusive experience of transcendence.
For Thoreau and other Romantics, walking allowed them to seek discovery. To feel as if
the world is slowed, allowing the mind and body to slow with it. A quote from Thoreau explains
how walking was not just a physical phenomenon, but an art combining body and soul: The
great art of life is how to turn the surplus life of the soul into life for the body. The art of
walking has inspired, it has made history, and with each step humanity takes, we make a gradual
forward movement.
It was not just history being made when Mahatmas Gandhi led over 60,000 followers on
a march spanning over 240 miles, but it was an act of fate. As it was fate which led Dr. King to
learn about Gandhi and Thoreau, leading he and his own followers down the sidewalks of Selma,
Alabama, and leading the United States of America to the election of our first black President:
Barack Obama. Walking, although a simple act, may be the greatest act of all humanity, after all
it is the first steps which lead us in the right direction. Although both Gandhi and Dr. King

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understood this concept, no one understood the value of walking more than Henry David
Thoreau.
Although it is untraceable to discover who invented walking; as well as to hunt down the
first man to have mentioned it in any sort of literature, it is Thoreau who gave walking the
greatest meaning; who used walking to inspire change, unknowingly creating magic with pen
and paper which would inspire not just civil disobedience, but a movement. It was Thoreaus
passion for walking, his great understanding and appreciation for the overlooked art, which gave
so much meaning to his writing, and to not only his life, but to all who are fortunate enough to
read any of his works. It is the unappreciated art which gives life meaning, the opportunity for all
forward movement: walking.

Citations
Blakely, Gregg. "The Formative Influences on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr." Peace
Magazine V17n2p21:. Peace Magazine, Apr.-May 2001. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.
<http://peacemagazine.org/archive/v17n2p21.htm>.

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King, M. L. (1958). Stride Toward Freedom : The Montgomery Story (First Perennial
Library edition.). New York: Harper.
King, Martin Luther Jr. Walk for Freedom. By Martin Luther King Jr. University of
Standford. Web. 22 Feb. 2016. <http://okra.stanford.edu/transcription/document_images/ Vol03
Scans/277_May- 1956_Walk%20for%20Freedom.pdf>
Popova, Maria. "The Spirit of Sauntering: Thoreau on the Art of Walking and the Perils
of a Sedentary Lifestyle." Brain Pickings. Brain Picking, 2014. Web. 22 Feb. 2016.
<https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/11/17/thoreau-walking/>.
Thoreau, Henry David. "Civil Disobedience." By Henry David Thoreau. Univeristy of
Virginia. Web. 22 Feb. 2016. <http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/walden/Essays/civil.html>.
Thoreau, Henry David. Walden. Philadelphia, PA: Courage, 1990. Print.
Thoreau, Henry David. Walking. Gutenberg.org, 2001. ebook.

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