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The Literature of Walking

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

While the Sixties were ripping and rending the social fabric of America, on Rock Island it was still 1954. We forgot to wind our clocks.

Only one or two innovations trickled down the bluffs. One of these was a local college course in "The Literature of Walking," taught by a Lutheran pastor as part of his own pilgrimage to find connecting points between the sacred and the mundane.

Students read Thoreau and Annie Dillard, poems by Wendell Berry. They kept a journal of their readings and their walkings.

But mainly, they walked and walked and walked. The course syllabus outlined the requirements: there was the Sunrise Saunter, the Eagle Walk, the Urban stroll, the twenty-five-mile hike, the backpacking trip.

Students normally leave the opening day of class complaining about the heavy reading. After the pastor's class they said "160 miles, doesn't he think I have any other assignments?"

But those who walked the walks learned a truth: our perceptions of the environment change when we walk through this world on foot rather than drive through it fifty-five miles an hour.

It becomes our world again, as it was when we were children and walked to school. Remember those trips, the rain puddles waiting to be jumped, the fall leaves you ran to catch before they hit the ground, the stone fence to be walked like a tightrope?  Those things are still there, have been there all these years, waiting for you to get out of your car and drop by on foot. On foot a neighborhood becomes a whole world. "I have traveled a good deal in Concord," Thoreau wrote in Walden. Have you been down every street in your own town? What Windsor Castles might you be missing? More important, what small front-yard gardens await your visit, brimmed with cosmos, iris, roses, and astilbe marking the seasons as they pass?

The walking course has gone the way of the Sixties, but the pastor still walks his pilgrimage, up and down the bluffs, in every weather, bundled against the cold, walks at sunrise and sunset, walks  alone in a light whose richness no car window ever lets through.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.