Wordsworth and his Sister get out there and walk!

We’re experiencing our first BIG winter storm. I wasn’t even able to make it out of our driveway for work and so, am blogging while I wait for the plows. The picture is of our neighbor horse cavorting in the snow, very much in the spirit of the poet, William Wordsworth, and his sister, Dorothy, who almost two centuries and a decade ago this week, went on a walking tour of the Lake District of England where they lived, for the enjoyment of itand to see the landscape of mountains and waterfalls in the brisk winter air.

They rode 22 miles on horseback, the first day, then hiked another 12 miles to their first lodgings. Wow! Are modern Americans wimps or what? On the next morning, the ground bore a thin covering of snow — granted, it wasn’t a foot, or even six inches — but, “Twas a keen frosty morning,” William wrote a week later, “showers of snow threatening us, but the sun bright and active; we had a task of 21 miles to perform in a short winter’s day.” They turned aside to see a waterfall. “On a nearer approach the water seemed to fall down a tall arch or rather nitch which had shaped itself by insensible moulderings in the wall of an old castle. We left this spot with reluctance, but highly exhilerated.” At another waterfall, in the afternoon, “The stream shot from the rows of icicles in irregular fits of strength and with a body of water that momentarily varied. Sometimes it threw itself into the basin in one continued curve, sometimes it was interrupted almost midway in its fall and being blown toward us fell at no great distance from our feet like the heaviest thunder shower. In such a situation you have at every moment a feeling of the presence of the sky. Above the highest point of the waterfall, large fleecy clouds drove over our heads and the sky appeared of a blue more than usually brilliant.” I can testify to the feeling of the presense of the sky in the Lake District. The clouds seem to race over the tall fells, shadowing the lakes and distant hillsides in a flowing pattern. It’s spectacular, always changing.

William and his sister spent four days walking across the Pennine Mountains for the exhileration of it. Life was slower paced then, I realize, and simpler for these two middle class people. They weren’t racing to don their clothes and wolf down some breakfast so they could get in their cars to race to work, then run errands, then race home to fix dinner and spend the evening spectating other people’s lives on the television or computer, stultified in mind and body. Dorothy, I’d like to point out, made this trip in long skirts! How I would love to have known them!

Rebecca Solnit, who wrote “Wanderlust: A History of Walking,” claims that the Wordsworths “are said to have made walking into something…new and thereby to have founded the whole lineage of those who walk for its own sake and for the pleasure of being in the landscape.”

So, I would like to invite my family and my friends to imitate these Eighteenth Century nature lovers and get out there and walk!

(Thanks to John Nichols, associate editor of the Capital Times, whose column brought Wordsworths’ hike and Rebecca Solnit’s book to my attention.)

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