When first I contemplated walking to New Hampshire, and writing a book about it, I wondered, “Has somebody already done that ?” This is the curse of baby boomer authors.
Ellen Stroud mentioned a book called Walking to Vermont in Nature Next Door. She wrote that “When New York Times journalist Christopher Wren ushered in his retirement with a walk from Times Square to his summer home in Post Mills, Vermont…he had far more company on his walk [than Herbert Welsh], since he spent most of his four hundred miles on the Appalachian Trail…But Wren had it right: hiking from Times Square to the Green Mountain Forest is not so strange. The cities and forests of the Northeast are all of a piece.”
Stroud’s conclusion is profoundly simple: the unity of town and country. Between the woods and the megalopolis, the connections–of ownership and stewardship, watershed and foodshed, protectors and predators–are stronger than the distinctions. And at a plodding pace, Wren, like Herbert Welsh a hundred years ago, was able to connect the city, the suburb, and the land.
As curious a text as The New Gentleman of the Road is, I prefer Welsh’s prose to Wren’s. Of course, Wren tells more exciting stories: he was a foreign correspondent for 29 years, in Moscow, Cairo, Beijing, Ottawa and Johannesburg at the UN, and reported from the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East, China and Southeast Asia, Africa, South America and Canada. The trouble with Walking to Vermont is Wren’s apparent resolve to include an anecdote from every outpost, even if it has nothing to do with his walk. His story wanders, and not in an enlightening or entertaining way.
Like every long-distance pedestrian I have read, Wren dropped several pounds and felt fitter and younger when he got where he was going. (Welsh himself published an affidavit from his physician in his book.) He draws no other moral from his story. All well and good. But when Colin Thubron observes that walking, like poetry, makes nothing happen–his wry conclusion seems more hard-won than Wren’s.
I note that Wren’s route is not exactly mine, and hope my passing thoughts are less, well, pedestrian, too.