An update and two book reviews about walking

South Shore of the UP

I am away, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, for two weeks. One of the weeks is vacation and the other I set aside for study. During this time, I have been reading a lot! The Bible and commentaries on the book of Daniel, the new biography of Karl Barth by Christiane Tietz, Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited, Casy Tygrett’s As I Recall: Discovering the Place of Memories in our Spiritual lives, Gregory Orr’s A Primer for Poets and Readers of Poetry, Richard Lischer’s Open Secrets: A Memoir of Faith and Discovery, as well as poetry by Barry Dickson, Tim Conroy, and Nancy Bevilaqua. I have also been taking daily walks of three to four miles, and wrote a review of a book I’d finished just before coming here: 


Robert Marfarlane, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot

 (2012.  Audible released the same year, Robin Sachs, narrator, 11 hours 23 minutes)

The book begins with the author taking a walk at night. He had me there as I love walking at night and letting my ears and nose supplement what my eyes can barely see. The author didn’t disappoint as he walks around England and Scotland with travels to the Himalayas, in the West Bank with a Palestinian friend, and on the Camino de Santiago from France to Spain. Most (but not all) of these trips are made with others. Along the way, with attention to detail, we are provided a glimpse of what the author experiences. We learn about the trees and flowers, the animals, and the stars above. He also draws us back into time, as we are seldom the first person to walk a particular path. Walking paths require a history. Macfarlane searches out this history as he walks. He walks even out on a spit of land at low tide, a dangerous trek as he must make it back before the tide returns and the spot is often foggy, making the journey back even more difficult.  

And while this is a book mostly about walking, the author to my delight, had a section about sailing from the Outer Hebrides to points south and west. While walking has been important, in many areas, such as the British Isles, sea travel allowed humans to travel more efficiently. He takes these trips in older style boats, navigating by the stars.

As he tells about old paths and walking trails, Macfarlane introduces other authors. He brings these authors into the dialogue. Edward Thomas, an English walker and poet killed in the First World War receives the most attention. I didn’t realize he had not only been a friend of Robert Frost, but Frost wrote his poem, “A Road Not Taken” for Thomas. Thomas was notorious for not making up his mind and Frost later regretted sending him the poem, for shortly afterwards he joined the army and died in France. He also spends time talking about his grandfather, a British diplomat, who loved to walk and climb mountains. Toward the end of his life, his grandfather’s adventures shortened, but he continued to shuffle around. 

While I listened to this book, I plan to add a paper copy to my library. There are sections I would enjoy reading over and over. 

Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking

(New York: Penguin Books, 2000), 326 pages, notes and some photographs. 

The title drew my attention. I’m a wanderlust and this book is a delight. I don’t really know how to categorize it. It’s a kaleidoscope of many parts: anthropology, science, history, adventure, exploration, philosophy and poetry. There is a little of something for everyone, which may make the book overwhelming for some. But I found it wonderful.  

Solnit begins by taking us on a walk near her home in the San Francisco Bay area. Soon, she is exploring philosophers who think while walking and then she’s off discussing how we began to walk and how it helps us see the world. She discusses the idea of the garden and the British walking tradition, especially as it was experienced by poets like Wordsworth and Keats. There are pages devoted to private property and the battles, especially in the UK, over the battle of the right to walk across private property. As she expands walking, she focuses on the French Revolution and the role mass “walking” has played in protests. From France, she explores walking in the Civil Rights movement to the Tiananmen Square revolts in China in the late 1980s.

I was surprised at the beginning of chapter 10 (on Walking Clubs and Land Wars). She was at the breakfast table of Valarie and Michael Cohen’s cabin in June Lake, California. I’ve been there! I know Michael from when he taught at Southern Utah University and one summer, when I was completing the John Muir Trail, Michael joined me for the Yosemite section. Michael wrote a biography of John Muir, which allows her to discuss Muir role in American walking. Before going west and establishing the Sierra Club (of which one of their missions was to take people walking in the mountains), Muir took a 1,000 mile walk from the Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico (he even travelled through Savannah and camped out in Bonaventure Cemetery. Click here to read about my hike with Cohen and a review of his latest book.

In later chapters she discusses how the city began to destroy the need for walking, but then has provided a haven for walkers in places like Central Park. She also discovers the “underside” of walking such as women “walking the streets” to find clients as prostitution and how, in centuries past, women alone on the streets were assumed to be of that profession. She even discusses walking on a treadmill, which doesn’t allow you to see much of the world but does allow for needed exercise.  I must confess to having listened too much of this book while in the gym.

While I listened to this book instead of reading it, I was so enamored with the quotes and insights that I picked up a hard copy for my library. When listening to the book, the reader starts out with quote after quote, which goes on for several minutes. It seemed weird to have so many quotes. At the beginning of each major section of the book, the reader goes on for some time with more quotes. This didn’t make sense until I purchased the book and realized that running along the bottom of the pages of the book are the quotes followed by the name of the author of the quote. The person reading the book would read these quotes for each section, then return and read the text. It was the only way to do this to make any sense. Otherwise, the reader would have only hit part of a quote that appeared on each page. While the quotes at the bottom of the page gave an artistic flavor to the book, I am not sure they added to the story. 

If you’re a wanderlust, you might find the book enjoyable. But I am afraid that many readers may be overwhelmed in the variety of worlds that Solnit explores. That is both a strength and weakness of her book.

An old freighter heading through the Detour passage, heading south. The newer freighters have the pilot house in the back. Notice the limestone loading dock behind the boat. That’s on Drummond Island.

Walk This Way

Jeff Garrison 
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
Psalm 119:1-8
February 16, 2020


We’re back looking at ways for us not to be so SAD. How can we overcome bouts of Spiritual Affective Disease? How can we get closer to our Creator? This series offers us ways, beyond the usual Bible study and prayer, that we can reconnect with God. So far, we’ve looked at meditation, music, laughter, serving others, and appreciating God’s presence all around us.

Today, we’re looking at walking. In a way, the ability to walk is what makes us human. In Genesis, we have that beautiful image of God walking in the garden and wanting the man and woman to join the stroll.[1] According to Bruce Chatwin, in the Middle Ages it was thought that by going on a pilgrimage (which meant walking), you were recreating that original condition of humanity. Walking through the wilderness brought you back to God.[2] As humans, we are designed to move which allows us to experience God’s world, to connect with God’s people, and to come closer to God.

Our two scripture passages from the Psalms this morning have to do with walking. Our third passage, which we heard earlier from the Gospel of Luke, about following a path set forth by God, is about a metaphorical walk. As we journey through life, we need to follow God’s path and use the legs God’s given us to connect with one another and with God. And even if we can’t get up and walk, we can use our bodies in whatever way we can, to move and to delight in God’s creation.

Before reading our last passage, from Psalm 119, let me share a bit about this mega-Psalm. You might know that this Psalm is the longest chapter in the Bible. There are 176 verses to the 119th Psalm. It’s way too much to preach on in one sermon! But it’s also a unique. I know you’ve heard me speak of acrostic Psalms… This is a type of poetry where every line begins with the next letter in the alphabet. In English, it would be like writing, “Apples are red, Berries are blue, Cats are cute… etc. Using an acrostic method helps in memorization. I’ll come back to this later in the sermon.

Psalm 119 is an acrostic poem on steroids. Each letter in the Hebrew alphabet receives eight lines, and each of those lines starts with a word with the same letter.[3] Unfortunately, this doesn’t translate well across languages. Since Hebrew has 22 letters, you multiply that by 8, and you get our 176 verses! Be thankful I’m not reading them all!

The late Kurt Vonnegut once informed his wife that he was going out to buy an envelope. This was what ensued:

“Oh, she says, well, you’re not a poor man. You know, why don’t you go online and buy a hundred envelopes and put them in the closet? And so I pretend not to hear her. And go out to get an envelope because I’m going to have a heck of a good time in the process of buying one envelope. I meet a lot of people. And see some great-looking babies. And a fire engine goes by. And I give them the thumbs up. And I’ll ask a woman what kind of dog that is. And, and I don’t know. The moral of the story is – we’re here on Earth to play around. And, of course, the computers will do us out of that. And what the computer people don’t realize, or they don’t care, is we’re dancing animals. You know, we love to move around. And it’s like we’re not supposed to dance at all anymore.”[4]

It’s very easy today for us all to become couch potatoes, but that’s not why we’re created in this fashion and with these bodies. If these bodies are still working, we need to use them, even if they don’t work as well as they did when we were younger!

“Travel by its very nature demands simplicity,” Rolf Potts proclaims in his book, Vagabonding.[5] This is even more so when walking, as one is limited to what one can carry. Walking simplifies things further by slowing us down and forcing us to look around. After all, we want don’t want to trip on a crack in the sidewalk or step in a mud puddle. As we start looking around, we become more aware and notice more about what’s happening. We appreciate the flowers that throw off a scent in the spring. Don’t you love it when the oleander and jasmine are in bloom? We can stop and meet our neighbors. Or perhaps we might catch a neighborhood battle that we’d missed as we speed along on asphalt in a car with the windows up.

Have you ever seen an eviction? It’s something to behold. You wouldn’t want to miss it, would you? Now that I have your attention, let me tell about a walk I took a few months before moving from Michigan.

I was walking down Green Street in the early spring and heard all this commotion in the maple trees that lined the road. It was in the evening. Looking up, I saw an owl sitting in top of the trees. The feathery neighborhood association, all of which had eggs or babies in those trees, weren’t too happy. They knew what that owl was up to no good. A dozen or so birds, of all varieties, worked together to encouraged the owl to move on. One would fly close by and as the owl followed it, another bird would come in on its blind side and peck the owl on its head. I stood and watched for a good twenty minutes, until finally the owl had enough and moved to another tree. Think of all we miss as we huddle inside our climate-controlled homes and cars.

Of course, we’re not just to walk for walking sake, even though it is good for our physical being. Scripture tells us repeatedly to walk in the ways of the Lord. Psalm 119 is a meditation on God’s law. Throughout this passage, we’re encouraged to walk in the law, to walk in the ways of God, to let God’s law light the path for our feet.

This Psalm opening section, which I read this morning, speaks of how those who walk in God’s ways are blessed. And so are we, if we do our walking with God at our side, using our time out when alone or with others, to be delighted in God’s creation and to appreciate God’s providence. You see, walking can benefit us, spiritually and physically. When we move, we can connect with others and with God. So, this week, ponder this passage as you take time each day to take a walk. Let’s get moving and enjoying where we live.

But I also want you to join in on another walk, one that will involve all the congregation. As you know, next Sunday we’re going to lay out a new Strategic Plan for our congregation. We want to be a “joyful, thriving church reflecting the face of Jesus to the world!”  Our mission is to “Love God, Love our Neighbors, and to Change the world.” We have set up core values (using an acrostic formation-kind of like Psalm 119-that spells out WORSHIP). These core values demonstrate God’s love by Welcoming, Offering, Respecting, Serving, Helping, Investing, and Praying.  All this is supported by four pillars, which we as a church need to walk within. These pillars will require each of us to commit ourselves to excellence, and we if bind ourselves on this journey together, we will live into our Vision and Mission.

What are these pillars?

  • A joyful worship experience.
  • Grow our membership.
  • Improve our financial sustainability.
  • And increase our community outreach.


In each of these four areas, there are ways for you to walk with your friends here at Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church.

We’re all needed in worship, to lift our praises to God and to focus, first and foremost, on the Lord. Also, we need those of you who have special talents to help with music, with drama, in the sound booth, or with the liturgy. As we continue to work on creative worship, we’ll need to draw on everyone’s creativity.

To grow our membership, we need you to invite friends and family members to experience our church. And once someone visits, they need to see what a caring family we are. We need to love one another in a way that will make others want to be a part of our family.

To improve our financial sustainability requires us to look forward to the future. Past generations built and paid for this wonderful facility. Those of us who came here later received it as a gift. As we move forward, we need to sustain our ministries in a way that finances won’t be such a burden. We need to build endowments and to encourage everyone to be generous as God has been generous to us. What kind of gift can we give to those who follow us?

And finally, we need to increase our outreach into the community. We’ve been doing this with Civility Forums (the next one is March 4th), with the Calvin January Series, and with the very popular sunrise service. What other ways can we reach out and provide a home for those in our community who want to come and to learn and to be a part of changing the world?

It’s time for a long walk. Will you join us? Be here next week for the town hall meeting and between then and now, take a walk or two and ponder what you can do to further the gospel in the world. Amen.


A note about the photos.  All but the photo of the owl (which came from and the one of Kurt Vonnegut are mine. The first one of a two-rack road was taken in Spooner Summit in Nevada (on the west ridge over Lake Tahoe). The lantern was my grandfather’s. The next images were taken on a backpacking trip in the Porcupine Mountains of Michigan. The last photo of a two-track road was taken on Cumberland Island, Georgia. 

[1] Genesis 3:8-9.

[2] Bruce Chatwin, Songlines as quoted by Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred (New York, MJF Books, 1998), 18.

[3] This is easily seen by looking at a Hebrew text. For more information see James L. Mays, Psalms: Interpretation: A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, JKP, 1994), 381-382.

[4] I am not sure where this came from. I read it a month ago, cut and pasted it and saved it without providing the source. When I looked on the internet, I realized it’s been a quoted a lot over the last 15 years…  I cleaned up the text a little for the sermon, replacing hell with heck and play for fart.

[5] Rolf Potts, Vagabonding (New York: Villard, 2003), 32.