Walk To New York by Charles Wilkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
"However, if one thing more than any other attracted me about traditional notions of pilgrimage, it was the suggestion that the spiritual is not just of the air and of the unseen but of the earth underfoot, that there is a transcendent, if not mystic, power in the mountains and forests and waters themselves, and even in the streets of the city. The idea that we absorb the best of the earth's energy through our feet is a correlative here - as is the notion that in dancing on the earth, the soles of the feet are a conductor between the energy of the planet and the spirit of the dancer. All of this resonates with the Native belief that the entire natural world - rock, water, fire, wildlife, trees - is in some way an embodiment of spirit. I have tended to resist the collateral belief that every pebble, pine needle, and raindrop has an individual spiritual essence. But there is undeniably something redemptive in the knowledge that the sacred has earthly location and that...we are able to move physically toward spiritual destinations that are more elusive, more difficult to comprehend, when approached in the abstract. If beyond locale and privation my walk bore the earmark of the old-style spiritual journey, in did so largely, I would say, in its provision of the chance to reflect, to rediscover, and to re-arm against the pressures and pessimism that are so much a part of contemporary life." p.173-174
This is the last in a list of travel while walking books I have read over the summer and into the fall. Walking is one of my secret past-times that I have revelled in for years as a form of solo exercise, and as an attempt to keep a connection to nature, which for me is restorative and healthy. In his early 50's Charles Wilkins' life has fallen apart and he decides that he is going to walk from Thunder Bay, Ontario to New York City, New York a distance of 2,200 kilometres. He needs to reconnect to himself and reconfigure his life goals, as does his friend whom he recruits, George Morrissette, to be his shelter and food seeker, as well as the driver during the evening hours. George's life is equally discombobulated and he has spend the last 30 years living in Winnipeg, Manitoba after a quick and sad move away from New York in the early 1970's, as the city was becoming unaffordable and crime ridden in the area in which he was attempting to raise his family. He has spent a lifetime looking back, trying to decide if he could have survived as an artist in New York rather than having made the choice to move back to Winnipeg.
During Charles' travels he speaks of the terrain, the history, the weather, his own thoughts and wonderings, which instills picturesque views of some areas and alarm at the weather he endures in others. He meets a small group of people a long the way but truly spends most of his time in solitude placing one foot in front of the other, heading towards his goal. Charles descriptive work was so detailed that I began to walk around my city for two hours at a time, wondering what I would notice, observe, see, think about and learn. A wee bit of bonding betwixt me, Charles, my current city (Winnipeg) and nature. If a book about walking can motivate an already avid walker to get up and walk more, it has succeeded in its goal of inspiring readers. It is a quick read and worth your time as Charles draws you into his experiences and you feel a sense of healing as he walks and walks and walks.
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