Sauntering Is Good
“I don't like either the word hike or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains - not 'hike!' Do you know the origin of that word saunter? It's a beautiful word. Away back in the middle ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going they would reply, 'A la sainte terre', 'To the Holy Land.' And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not 'hike' through them.” So John Muir said sometime in the early 1900s.
It would seem that to Muir the term “hike” meant something like a forced march. Plodding with intense determination to reach a destination. Muir’s concept of hike was to get from point A to point B . . . often with resolute dispatch. No dallying. No lollygagging or loitering. No birdwatching.
A fair number of years ago my son, David, daughter, Katherine, and I went for an overnight in the rugged Cascade Mountains of western Washington. From the old mining town (40 miles from the nearest road) from which we started to our bivouac at Hart Lake was five miles. We did it on the leisure . . . birdwatching, mountain-gazing, berry picking, photo taking, easygoing. The following morning we trod another 12 miles round trip to Cloudy Pass and back and then packed up everything for the jaunt back to Holden Village. For reasons I won’t bother explaining, we decided to see if we could break the record time from Hart to Holden. We did (we think), but to do so we pushed down the trail as if our lives depended on it. It was not a saunter; it was a hike with ferocious intensity.
It felt good to push the old (well, mine) body’s limits but, truth be told, the relaxed trip uphill was measurably more enjoyable than the pedal-to-the-medal downhill run. I wasn’t aware of the Muir quote at the time, but I now know that he and I would be in hearty agreement.
To be sure, life imposes numbers of demands upon us. But a certain amount of sauntering is good for . . . well, everything. I have been a goal-oriented go-getter all my life, but somewhere along the way I picked up on the need for balance. Balance in life needs to take into account the whole shebang: physical, intellectual, spiritual, recreational, vocational, avocational, family, etcetera. Attempting to practice that has, I believe, preserved my sanity and overall well-being.
Life is holy. To live it as as sainte-terre-ers / saunterers is to treat it with reverence and gratitude.