Monday, July 9, 2012

Examining the Walking Stick

The other day Donna and I went for a walk and I dutifully grabbed my walking stick. A few steps out the front door she asked me why I always walked with a walking stick – even in town. It’s a great question that honestly has a lot of answers. Somewhere along the way, carrying a walking stick became instinctive and I had never really thought about why. So today I want to examine the walking stick – what they’re for, what they represent, and numerous reasons why you can and should carry a walking stick on your journey down the path of life.

My first memories of using a walking stick were when we would go for hikes as a child on the Bee House Creek back in Texas. My dad almost always carried a walking stick. He would usually find one laying on the ground somewhere and break it down to the perfect size. When we were done he would simply discard the stick, with it having served it’s purpose.
Those impressions stick with you (no pun intended), so I have carried on that tradition. To begin with, using a walking stick is very practical. Obviously, it’s a point of balance. It steadies you while stepping over rough terrain, curbs, ditches, railroad tracks, etc. If you walk at night, it’s easy to miss impediments that might trip you up were you not steadied with a walking stick.
Walking sticks are also great for poking at things. The list of poke-able items is endless: cobwebs, mud puddles, unidentified objects, tree limbs, rocks, snakes, fish, plants, ant piles, etc. Just the other day, as an example, Hart and I happened upon a possum lying in the road. I couldn’t tell if it was actually dead or just playing possum. A few healthy pokes with my walking stick - and then a complete flip of the possum - revealed it was dead. Stiff as a board. This is not something I would do with my bare hands but the walking stick was the perfect tool for it.
Walking sticks are also great self-defense weapons. If you carry a sturdy stick that’s five or six feet long, you could easily swat a menacing person from that far away. If you don’t think that’s an effective self-defense, try letting one of your friends whack you in the side of the head with a giant stick and see how it feels. It’s very effective. I have never been accosted by someone meaning to harm me - but I have had a menacing dog circle around me while walking at night here in our neighborhood. It’s reassuring to have that solid walking stick in your hand because the thought of fending off a dog or mugger bare handed is not very appealing.
Wikipedia also has a pretty thorough description of walking sticks:

Walking sticks, also known as trekking poles, pilgrim's staffs, hiking poles or hiking sticks, are used by hikers for a wide variety of purposes: to clear spider webs, or part thick bushes or grass obscuring the trail; as a support when going uphill or a brake when going downhill; as a balance point when crossing streams, swamps or other rough terrain; to feel for obstacles in the path; to test mud and puddles for depth; and as a defence against wild animals. A walking stick can be improvised from nearby felled wood. More ornate sticks are made for avid hikers, and are often adorned with small trinkets or medallions depicting "conquered" territory. Wood walking sticks are used for outdoor sports, healthy upper body exercise and even club, department and family memorials. They can be individually handcrafted from a number of woods, and may be personalized in many ways for the owner.

Aside from the practicality of walking sticks, they also have symbolic meaning. I have heard of stories of people crafting walking sticks with symbols, names, or dates, to commemorate the death of a loved one or celebrate a meaningful event in their lives.

The stick I use (seen here) comes from the Red River.

On the Red River here in Shreveport is a series of jetties. In the pockets formed by these jetties on the upriver side close to the bank, debris always piles up. After a flood, these piles of debris stay there, and the water softens the bark and after a time the bark falls off leaving the bare exposed wood. Usually in these debris piles you can pick and choose the perfect walking stick - as there are many to choose from. This particular stick still has teeth marks on it from whatever creature was gnawing on it when it fell.

I brought it home and sanded it, drilled a small hole in it in case I ever want to add some adornments. I also used a wood plane to shave off the knots to make it uniformly smooth. Now I have a pretty descent walking stick that I try to take with me every time I walk. 

Many famous people throughout history have used walking sticks. Just off the top of my head there's: 

Johnny Appleseed 

Notice the bunnies admiring the walking stick. 

Ben Franklin

Ben Franklin reading about walking sticks

Dr. Watson (of Sherlock Holmes fame)

Dr. Watson with his fancy walking stick. 
And of course Moses

Moses parting the Red Sea with his walking stick. 

When it comes to walking sticks you are only limited by your imagination. When you pick up a walking stick, remember you're carrying on a tradition that dates all the way back to biblical times. Next time you go for a hike just make sure you take a walking stick - the world’s first multi-tool.

Thanks for reading....Until next time! 


  1. Awaiting another update, Winston! I like reading about things that are brown and "sticky".

  2. i am really happy to buy this product, it seems great!
    walking poles