30 Sep Saunter, Don’t Hike
Woodstock Principal, Dr Craig Cook, reflects on the joys of sauntering.
In two weeks’ time, our students will be heading off for activity week. Undoubtably one of the highlights of the school year, it gives all our students the chance to swap the classroom for the great-outdoors and step outside their comfort zone. The challenges they face and experiences they gain can be truly transformative, forming lasting relationships with the natural world, while building resilience and leadership.
Many of our students will be packing their rucksacks and heading higher into the Himalayas to hike through one of the world’s most stunning natural environments. I’m sure John Muir, legendary Scottish-American naturalist, conservationist and outdoorsman, would have approved. Of the activity at least, but not of the terminology.
Counterintuitively, Muir stated that he didn’t like either the word, hike, or the thing. Instead of hiking through the mountains, he argued people ought to saunter.
Muir said: “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.”
There is an elegant beauty in Muir’s argument. Whatever you call it – hike, trek, walk, tramp – immersing yourself in nature brings you closer to the magnificence of the divine. The sheer scale of the mountains in particular, of the landscape dropped off below you and rising above, takes us away from the mundane and every-day, and reminds us that we’re a small part of something far greater. We are blessed with our location, and spending a week walking through the Himalayas is something only a lucky few will ever get to experience. We should not rush through this opportunity, but as Muir says, saunter with reverence for our surroundings. Nearly all walks ultimately start and end at the same place – home. What’s important is that the path we travel should be more than just a physical one.
While John Muir lived much of his life in the US, he was born in Scotland, where the seeds of his love for the outdoors were first sown. This week I’ve been visiting the UK, including meeting some of our alumni community in Scotland. As I’ve admired the country’s rugged beauty, I’ve been conscious that I may, just may, be walking in his footsteps. And I’ve been very careful to not hike, but to saunter.
Dr Craig Cook, Principal
Pictures: Our Middle Years students sauntering through the Himalayas in September on their walk to Lurntsu Peak. Thanks to Malliakarjun, Outdoor Education Coordinator, for the photos.