Exuberance in a time that calls for prudence

Cogitation 18 Friday 1 May 2020 Dancing around the Maypole today, regrettably, must give way to prudence. Having dancers intertwine ribbons around the pole just would not do in the scramble to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Maybe the Mayday tradition of making cone-shaped May baskets out of colored paper, putting flowers in them and leaving the bouquet on a friend or neighbor’s doorstep, would be the way to exercise unrestrained exuberance today.

Prudence: The times call for “the ability to govern and discipline oneself by the use of reason . . . caution or circumspection as to danger or risk.” (Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary).

People who are champing at the bit to remove lockdowns and stay-at-home orders and return to work and other activities seem to be oblivious to the exponential way Covid-19 spreads. I’d hate to think they’re in favor of “herd immunity,” where the level of resistance to a disease depends on immunity achieved either through previous infection or vaccination. Open exposure to such a contagious disease is foolhardy, to put it mildly, and vaccination is still some ways off. We’ll get there, but not by prematurely removing the protections in place.

Exponential means rapid spread. A person infected with the disease spreads it to others. At the start of the infection in the UK, without any controls in place, reports suggest that Covid-19 spread from one person to two to three others, wrote Rom Preston-Ellis in CornwallLive (30 April), meaning “the virus spread exponentially and terrifyingly, doubling in the community every few days.”

Mathematics, medicine and science tell us that if we want to contain the virus’s rapid spread then we stay at home, take the proper precautions when we go out, and however stressed, sad or angry we may be, we support each other and all those working on our behalf around the clock in 2020, as did heroes in modern medicine, science, technology, economics, governance, and social order in the past. Hasten the day when Covid-19 is history.

Exuberance grows here

Our walks this week have been from our front door, plus one in a county park on the day we went to a pharmacy. The photos below are from the Greencroft Goshen campus.

Exuberance drives pedestrianism

In the days before piston-fired engines transported people to places near and far, humans moved about on foot, or by carriage and boat. For all the obstacles to distance travel on foot, some, we might call them brave souls, nevertheless managed to make pedestrianism a way of life, and to amazing effect.

One such was John Steward (1747-1822), nicknamed, Walking Steward.

Steward was the son of a London linen-draper. He secured a post in the East India Company in Madras. Embroiled in disputes with his superiors, he resigned and set out to travel. For 30 years he wandered on foot from Madras, India through Persia, Arabia, across Africa and Europe and from Constantinople to England. In 1791 he crossed the Atlantic to walk through what was then known of Canada and the United States.

A contemporary, the English essayist Thomas De Quincey said of him, “A most interesting man . . . contemplative and crazy . . . yet sublime and divinely benignant in his visionariness. This man as a pedestrian traveller had seen more of the earth’s surface than any man before or since.” The Wordsworth Dictionary of Phrase & Fable (Cassell &Co. Ltd, 1959, 1995).

Another regular walker was William Wordsworth, the English poet (7 April 1770 – 23 April 1860).

Wordsworth’s life and livelihood revolved around walking. In 1792, he made Steward’s acquaintance in Paris. Steward’s persona and writing became a major influence on the young Romantic poet. Before graduating from university Wordsworth had undertaken a walking tour of Europe. Most of the poet’s inspirational communing with the natural world, however, took place in regular walks close to his home in England’s Lake District.

Wordsworth’s poetry reflects the natural world, ordinary people, the human relationship to nature. One source calculated that Wordsworth’s literary output of almost 400 poems issued from walking 175,000 miles, sometimes in the company of his sister, Dorothy, also a poet, and a few other poets.

I came across a poem that Wordsworth, for whatever reason, did not include in his published works. I saw a reference to it in an article by Alison Flood in The Guardian online (27 April). The poem, St Paul’s, was first published in 1947. In it the troubled poet reflects on leaving the company of a friend in London for a wintry pensive, troubled, self-absorbed walk through an almost deserted urban wilderness. His mood brightens as he comes into view of St Paul’s Cathedral, sheathed in falling snow.

St Paul’s

by William Wordsworth

Pressed with conflicting thoughts of love and fear
I parted from thee, Friend, and took my way
Through the great City, pacing with an eye
Downcast, ear sleeping, and feet masterless
That were sufficient guide unto themselves,
And step by step went pensively. Now, mark!
Not how my trouble was entirely hushed,
(That might not be) but how, by sudden gift,
Gift of Imagination’s holy power,
My Soul in her uneasiness received
An anchor of stability.—It chanced
That while I thus was pacing, I raised up
My heavy eyes and instantly beheld,
Saw at a glance in that familiar spot
A visionary scene—a length of street
Laid open in its morning quietness,
Deep, hollow, unobstructed, vacant, smooth,
And white with winter’s purest white, as fair,
As fresh and spotless as he ever sheds
On field or mountain. Moving Form was none
Save here and there a shadowy Passenger
Slow, shadowy, silent, dusky, and beyond
And high above this winding length of street,
This moveless and unpeopled avenue,
Pure, silent, solemn, beautiful, was seen
The huge majestic Temple of St Paul
In awful sequestration, through a veil,
Through its own sacred veil of falling snow.

What are we to make of such journeying on foot? Only that many of us, too, have the freedom to dispel our tangles and troubles, and celebrate our freedom, by simply lacing up and going for a walk. At home, we can be informed, inspired and entertained by reading the fascinating tales of those who blazed or followed footpaths. And, especially right now, we can celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of William Wordsworth by getting out, even if only for a few steps, to let ourselves become immersed in nature’s exuberance.

Exuberance swells in a county park

We walked in Oxbow County Park as part of a trip to a nearby pharmacy.

Exuberance rocks a meal

The best main dish meal of our week was Rockin’ Moroccan, a recipe niece Amy Harder introduced us to when she and her sister Rachel, some years ago, spent two weeks with us in Cornwall, UK. This week I chopped the vegetables, Marty did the rest.

Rockin’ Moroccan

2 tsp olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup each, celery and green pepper

1 clove garlic, minced

3 cups vegetable broth

3 cups pealed and cubed sweet potato

1 can (19 oz) chopped tomatoes

1 can chick peas

1/2 cup, or more, peanut butter, smooth or chunky

1/4 cup, or more, raisins

1 T. lemon juice

2 tsp grated ginger

1 tsp each of cumin, curry, chili, coriander powder

1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, fresh cilantro chopped

Saute onions, celery, green pepper and garlic in hot olive oil. Add other ingredients, except peanut butter, raisins and cilantro. Bring to boil. Simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in raisins, peanut butter and cilantro. Simmer 5 minutes more. Serves six.

Exuberance lives in memory

Decades ago I received a lasting gift in a winter visit to my parent’s home on the farm where I grew up. My father wanted to take a walk so we bundled up, took his walker outside and proceeded in a slow, measured pace over packed snow and ice to the end of the lane and back. My mother may have had a cup of tea and snack ready on our return, that would have been typical of her. The gift is a memory, an inward treasure of how my parents walked with us siblings over the course of our lives, to the end of their days.

“It cannot be said too often: there’s no need to go far to walk. The true direction of walking is not towards otherness (other worlds, other faces, other cultures, other civilizations); it is towards the edge of civilized worlds, whatever they may be. Walking is setting oneself apart: at the edge of those who work, at the edges of high-speed roads, at the edge of the producers of profit and poverty, exploiters, labourers, and at the edge of those serious people who always have something better to do than receive the pale gentleness of a winter sun or the freshness of a spring breeze.” Comment by author Frederic Gros in a chapter, “Conquest of the Wilderness–Thoreau,” in, A Philosophy of Walking, translated by John Howe (Verso, 2014, 2015; Marcher, une philosophie, 2011).

Exuberance multiplies

Captain Tom update. Captain Tom Moore turned 100 on April 30. Some weeks ago he completed 100 laps in his garden to raise funds for the National Health Service Charities Together. His goal was 1,000 Great British Pounds. The response has been overwhelming, with thousands of cards received and donations now topping 30 million GBP ($40 million). The Queen has made Capt Tom an honorary colonel and he was also made an honorary member of the English cricket team.

Be safe. Be well. Be kind to yourself, mindful of others, and throw caution to the wind and dance around your kitchen counter. Long live exuberance!


6 thoughts on “Exuberance in a time that calls for prudence

  1. Walking is free and a wonderful way to get from a to b in many cases. When walking breathing in the fresh air and taking in the scenery in whatever form that is a new sensitivity awakens within and you find yourself more inspired and better able to intuitively sense the next step on your path both literally and figuratively. I wonder who lives behind the little door by the tree?


    1. Rev up foot power, set off in good pace, breathe in fresh air, breathe out, return home, put the kettle on. No matter that you’re out of scones, clotted cream and jam. A biscuit will do.


  2. Hello John!

    Yes, spring is the season of exuberance! The Magnolia Tree blossoms are beautiful! We will have to try the Moroccan dish sometime…it sounds delicious! England has always been more observant of May Day and the Maypole than America. Due to the virus you came back early and neither country were able to have the proper celebrations! Now that your quarantine has ended and the weather warmed up, may you find many footpaths to delight you in your walks!


    May the God of Wonder be with you, delighting you with the beauty of sunrise and the majesty of sunset, with the song of the bird and the fragrance of the flower.



    1. Thanks, Monty, beauty bursts forth in silence, contrary to the noises of those who clamor for beach time and other “return times” before tidings of great safety.


  3. Is that third picture of the yellow flower marsh marigold or lesser celandine?
    Loving the spring flowers!


    1. I’m not sure. I need an app, or good plant book to get up to speed. Probably a marsh marigold, such as we see at Marazion marsh in Cornwall.


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