“Sauntering, which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte Terre, to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a Saunterer, a Holy Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the saunterer, in the good sense, is no more the vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea. But I prefer the first, which, indeed, is the most probably derivation. For every walk is a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go forth and reconquer this Holy Land from the hands of the Infidels.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walking
Well that paragraph was a mess. I love Thoreau, but my goodness does he go all over the place with his writing. So while I’ve quoted him here, I’ve used boldface to emphasize a few points that fascinated me enough to include the quote at all. First and foremost is the origin of the word itself. Sauntering, from Sainte-Terrer, is a lovely example of how English words are derived. Pure magic in this word; saunterer, both in origin and in the magic it conveys. Thoreau’s second observation, that the successful saunterer is at home everywhere hits home for this saunterer at heart. My own adventures in travel with purpose have confirmed this to be true.
Three years ago I actually went to the Holy Land, not on a pilgrimage, but as a history buff. Walking through the Old City was meaningful for me, I can only imagine what its like for the millions of followers of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In some ways I was a vagabond walking through the Old City. My purpose was history, and I found it to be a successful trip. I got as much out of seeing a cart loaded with bread or an old flight of stairs with two ramps built into them to accommodate carts like the one saw loaded with bread.
Back to Thoreau for a moment, and something he wrote later in the same book: “I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least – and it is commonly more than that – sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all other worldly engagements.” Which brings me to Gunstock…
Today I went sauntering in a different way, with hikes up to Mount Gunstock and Mount Belknap. You couldn’t pick two more different walks, between a hike in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire and a walk through the streets, churches and markets of the Old City in Jerusalem. But to me, they’re both meaningful in their own way. One payoff is the views of the mountains and Lake Winnipesaukee, but so was the forest floor scattered with Trillium, the blueberry bushes in blossom, and criss-crossing a mountain stream several times. If sauntering means traveling on a path towards enlightenment, then both places can get you there.