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In Praise of Paths is an ode to paths and the journeys we take through nature, as told by a gifted writer who stopped driving and rediscovered the joys of traveling by foot.
Torbjørn Ekelund started to walk – everywhere – after an epilepsy diagnosis affected his ability to drive. The more he ventured out, the more he came to love the act of walking, and an interest in paths emerged. In this poignant, meandering book, Ekelund interweaves the literature and history of paths with his own stories from the trail. As he walks with shoes on and barefoot, through forest creeks and across urban streets, he contemplates the early tracks made by ancient snails and traces the wanderings of Romantic poets, amongst other musings. If we still “understand ourselves in relation to the landscape,” Ekelund asks, then what do we lose in an era of car travel and navigation apps? And what will we gain from taking to paths once again?
While I wrote a book review for In Praise of Paths over on my new blog, I wanted to talk with Ekelund some more about walking, nature, sustainability and his story. So, I hope you enjoy!
Tell us a little bit about yourself, Torbjørn. Where are you from? What do you do?
I am 49 years old and live with my partner and our two children in Oslo. I am an editor in an online magazine called Harvest, which publishes articles about our relationship with nature and the environment. I am also a writer, and I am delighted that my books have been translated into English. First In Praise of Paths, which is out now, and then A Year in the Woods, and The Boy and the Mountains, which are scheduled for release in 2021.
How did the idea of In Praise of Paths come about?
Four years ago I was diagnosed with epilepsy. Out of the blue, I had a serious seizure, and when I was sent home from the hospital three days later, the doctors told me I could no longer drive a car. So I started to walk, and I just kept walking and haven’t missed the car since. I have always walked as much as possible, but now I walk everywhere and all the time.
Do you feel walking changes us? How?
Yes, or rather: Walking takes us back to who we once were. We used to be nomads, explore the landscape, follow the game. It’s easy to forget, but as soon as you start walking it makes perfect sense. Walking is the most natural thing in the world, it is our basic means of transportation. It not only gives us exercise, but it stimulates the mind, I would almost say that it frees the mind and let the thoughts wander as well.
Do you wish to see more people choosing to walk places?
I really do. I wish more people will decide to try it out. Leave the car at home, and try to walk to places they would normally drive. To work, to the supermarket, to friends. In the beginning, it can be difficult because walking takes time, but after a while, it becomes a habit, and you start planning things in a different way.
How do you think people who live in areas that are more spread out can put the concept of walking more places into practice?
If you have a long distance to work, or to the supermarket, for example, it will be more difficult to start walking everywhere, than when you live in a city, as I do. But it’s still possible to walk more and more often.
Let’s say that the supermarket is 6 miles away from where you live. At normal speed, it will take about 1.5 hours to get there, and another 1.5 hours to go back home.
So you put on your backpack and walk, do the shopping and walk back. It takes four hours, but it gives great exercise, and you will notice all sorts of things along the way.
As someone who can be found often barefoot ever since I was a child, I was drawn towards the fact that you often walk barefoot? What is your reasoning for this?
In my spare time, I start walking barefoot in May, and do so until the end of September, as long as it’s not too cold. Not always, but as often as possible.
First you notice that the skin beneath your feet gets thicker. It no longer hurts when you step on small rocks. Then you realize that wearing socks actually can be very, very uncomfortable.
So I walk barefoot every time I have the chance, just because it feels like the most natural thing in the world.
What’s your favorite path you’ve ever taken?
I must say the path behind my family’s cabin, the one I write about in my book, that we always walked when I was a child. I have a perfect memory of it, the turns, the hills, and the landscape that surrounds it. For me, it has become the measurement of all paths I have walked.
Do you think, given current global events, that more people will be drawn towards walking more?
I am convinced that we will, in fact I noticed that is is already happening. In Norway, I see more people walking than I have ever seen before. For excersise, of course, but I think that first of all they do it because it feels meaningful. Maybe that’s how we act in a time of crisis; we seek out something to do that is fundamental and meaningful in a very simple way.
Have you ever thru-hiked before? Would you?
No, but I’ve always dreamt of it as the ultimate way of walking. One day, when the kids have grown older, I hope I can start on my own doorstep and walk 1500 miles to the northernmost point in Norway.
Do you think the act of walking is more important or where you walk?
Definitely the act of walking, and that’s what makes walking so great. It doesn’t matter where you live, in the city, in the suburbs or in the countryside. You can always walk, and you will always see all sorts of landscapes and places that you didn’t know existed.
Anything else you’d like us to know about your book, walking, or anything else you’re working on?
I think and hope that In Praise of Paths is a book that can give meaning and inspiration to everybody, no matter where you walk, how you walk, or why you walk.
It is a book about paths and walking, but it’s also a book about seeing things in a new and different way, noticing the landscape that surrounds us, and how we can make life more meaningful when we leave the car in the garage, go back in time and start moving again on our own two feet.
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