“When you have no companion, look to your walking stick.” – Albanian Proverb
Since men and women began walking, hunting, climbing and fighting, the walking stick has been a popular, useful and necessary companion. Despite vast socio-economic changes in man’s history, the walking stick has endured as one of man’s favorite, silent tools without fanfare or modification.
Since man first used a walking stick, it has served many purposes, including effective weaponry, clothing accessory, to help the infirmed achieve mobility and to represent authority. These uses still survive today.
The first culture to thoroughly embrace the walking stick was Egypt. All Egyptians possessed walking sticks, which not only helped for practical purposes but were actually status symbols that typically depicted an individual’s occupation.
For example, the staff of a shepherd was much less sophisticated than the walking stick of a merchant. The Pharaoh’s stick was usually the most ornate in the land but sticks used by priests often rivaled the Pharaoh’s. In Egypt, all Pharaohs and many of the upper class requested that their walking stick be buried with them.
In tribal times, the walking stick was a symbol of the holder’s strength. The bigger the stick, the stronger the possessor was thought to be. As time passed, walking sticks became weapons with stones and even hatchets carved or attached to the head.
By the middle ages, walking sticks were closely connected to the church in the form of bishop’s crosiers. Some walking sticks were even designed to hold precious stones and secret weapons.
Yes, the walking stick has been around a long time. And, it is with good reason that they are still popular today.
Basic Construction of Walking Sticks
For the most part, the basic walking stick consists of three parts;
- The Handle – This is at the top of the stick and is the area that fits into the grip.
- The Shaft – This is the long, straight portion of the stick
- The Collar – The collar is that section that merges the handle into the shaft.
Elaborate walking sticks often have two other components:
- Ferrule – This is the tip of the stick which can be carved, whittled or otherwise shaped to serve a purpose. The Ferrule can be metal but in earlier times was most often made from ivory. Early ferrules were approximately very pronounced and three to four inches in length.
- The Wrist Cord – This cord attaches the stick to the bearer’s wrist.
The Walking Stick Becomes Decorative
Somewhere in the 19th century and carrying forward into the 20th century, the walking stick became a popular fashion accessory. The range of materials used to build these accessories was broad ranging from ivory, silver and porcelain to wood or glass. Typically, the animal figures or flowers adorned the handle.
One of my favorite walking sticks has a brass replica of a mallard as the grip. Along with the brass ferrule, it was a striking piece although not very practical. Into the 20th century, many of the wooden walking stick handles were hand-carved, making the stick a handsome keepsake.
Leaning Toward Practicality
Today, I take my two unsophisticated walking sticks very seriously. I use a shorter, stouter stick with three pronounced prongs as the ferrule to help me navigate the snowy, icy winters. Many times, this stick has kept me upright and ensures favorable footing in slippery weather.
But, when I am climbing a hill, mountain or hiking trail, my walking stick is longer and narrower but a very sturdy stick. I find this helpful to keep balance when moving from a lower landing to a higher one.
When enjoying nature, I am never without a walking stick. Not only does the stick help me navigate but it comes in very handy to fend off a few of nature’s pesky critters, like snakes. If you are not into walking sticks, no problem. There’s still time to discover and benefit from one of man’s first innovations… the walking stick.
“Walk softly but carry a big stick”