Solvitur Ambulando – In Praise of Walking

7 February 2023 by Wes Bredenhof

“It is solved by walking” – “solvitur ambulando.”  It’s not clear who said this first, but it’s often attributed to Augustine.  I recently came across the expression for the first time as I was watching a video about a volunteer National Park ranger here in Tasmania.  He noted how he loved walking because it was a way for him to sort out all the problems in his head.  You go for a walk and by the end it’s all figured out.  It’s been my experience too. 

I grew up with a Dad who went for a daily walk (he still does).  I often accompanied him on these 45 minute jaunts back in the day (these days a little shorter).  When we’d go on summer vacations, our family often went on little day hikes in the Rocky Mountains.  But my first experience with overnight backpacking didn’t happen until right after I finished Grade 12.  Our class went on a 2 night backpacking trip into Alberta’s Kananaskis Country.  I loved it. 

The next time I did it I was 18 years old and adrift after being washed out of the recruitment process for military pilots.  Military flying was all I’d ever dreamed of doing.  I had no plan ‘B.’  But I did have a plan for a five day hike in the mountains along the border of Jasper and Banff National Parks.  The problem was that I couldn’t find anyone who could join me.  I didn’t let that stop me.  I went ahead with it anyway. 

It was on this hike through the stark alpine of Jonas Pass that things started coming into perspective.  I had long stretches of solitude to think about my gifts and where God might be leading my life.  By the end, I was committed to attending university to see whether God would lead my life towards the ministry of the gospel.  You see: “solvitur ambulando.”

All these years later and now I’m blessed to live in Tasmania.  One of the great things about this little island state is the weather.  We’ve got mild summers and mild winters.  This makes for easy year-round walking — except at the highest elevations where snow can make things difficult.  Here in the city though, I can walk through the winter without worrying about slipping on icy sidewalks or trudging through unshovelled snow.

Many good ideas have come to me while going on my daily walk.  Many thorny problems have found a resolution while I’m ambling around our neighbourhood.  I have a five mile route I usually take and that gives me plenty of time to roll ideas around in my head.  I find that walking is also a great time for prayer.  My walk is usually the time that I’ll be praying for congregational members and their specific needs.

Last week I did a walk by myself to the highest point in Tasmania.  Mount Ossa is in Cradle Mountain National Park at an elevation of 1617 meters/5305 feet.  I had beautiful weather and the views were absolutely stunning.  It was a two night trek and again I found myself with plenty of time to reflect.  I thought about walking and the saying “solvitur ambulando” and how I’ve experienced that in different times.  My thoughts drifted back to Jonas Pass, where my journey to gospel ministry began in August of 1991.

I remembered that I had to cut the walk short.  It was supposed to be a five-day circuit.  However, at the end of the second day it started pouring rain.  I wasn’t prepared for that kind of weather.  I didn’t even have a camp stove.  I was just planning to cook with a campfire (which worked the first night).  It was cold and I was getting wet and I was by myself.  I knew I’d be foolish to keep going.  Thankfully, there was an easy way off the circuit and back to the highway.  On the third day, I walked out back to the Icefields Parkway and then hitched a ride back to my car at the trailhead.  Today I feel like that walk is unfinished business.  One day I’d like to go back and do the full circuit – this time maybe with a friend, and this time much better prepared.  This sense of unfinished business can only be resolved in the old way – solvitur ambulando.