“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.” — John Muir
I’ve been absent from the mountains for a long stretch now. A heel injury nags and before that an ankle injury right above it and really, what’s it all but excuses and reluctance to push onward through a bit of pain? I’d been saving this quote for my next saunter up the mountains—to the Holy Land—but I’m done waiting for the moment. For all my enduring love for the mountains, my pilgrimage is with life itself.
John Muir turned the act of hiking to where it belonged; towards reverence. For who doesn’t encounter reverence deep in the mountains? And what of life? Life can be an unfair grind, filled with misery and pain and setbacks, and maybe we feel a bit of reluctance to be reverent about the slog we feel we’re on. There’s immense suffering in this world, serious challenges to our collective future, and I don’t turn a blind eye to it writing about sauntering merrily through life. But shouldn’t we meet each moment for the ripe potential it offers? Shouldn’t we seek a path that brings us to a better place?
Once I plodded through life, grinding it out in jobs I didn’t love, invested in relationships that didn’t matter all that much in the end, wasting time on the inconsequential. Humans are very good at frivolously consuming away our time like so many empty calories, until our fingers reach the bottom of the bag and we realize we’re left with emptiness and greasy fingers. I’m not so much like that now. Now I celebrate moments. Now I saunter.
The world continues to assault our senses. Sauntering is an embrace of the world as it is, taking it on the chin but greeting life as it comes. A move away from consumption in the present towards the mission of the future potential in all of us. Staying on the path with a spirit of aliveness despite the worst hardships life throws at us. Living with reverence for the gift of the pilgrimage.