It was a bright sunny morning. The world seemed to be going mad, but we weren’t yet into lock-down so the only thing to do was go for a walk.
I had been for a stroll around the lake yesterday, but that was in company. It’s always good to be outside, moving, even in the damp of intermittent drizzle. But it was a stroll. It was a finding out what my cousin meant when he said he “wasn’t much of a walker” these days. It was at someone else’s pace, and the feeling that there should be conversation even when we didn’t really have anything to say.
Today I went back down to the lake, but I went alone, I went the long way, over the field, through the woods, along the river, and then kept on following the river all the way to the mill and back again. Walking alone is a very different thing. Walking alone is the ability to step up the pace or to slow it right down. Walking alone quickly settles into flow. Ebb and flow perhaps, as something catches the eye and holds me transfixed for a moment. Something simple, like the shifting colours of the water, mud-brown, tree-green, sky-blue, cloud-white, the spectrum of earth and air reflected.
Walking alone is scrambling over fallen logs, getting bramble-scratched and nettle stung. It is wondering whose shoes those are, half-buried in the undergrowth, and how did they come to go home without them.
Walking alone is internal silence and listening to the non-human conversations going on all around.
There’s the creaking of the bones of ancient trees as they stretch their limbs across the river, aching to rest on the opposite bank. From deeper in the wood comes the squeak of younger branches caught in the wind, the sound of a rusty hinge, a secret door being opened into an unobserved world.
Ivy leaves rattle against the oaks. Laughter. Or secrets being whispered.
I pause to watch a grebe doing nothing more interesting than taking its own Sunday morning saunter, swimming slowly, trailing its wake. From within the reeds, a moorhen craiks.
A majestic magpie walks slowly along a bare branch, balancing, one foot in front of the other. Only when as it approaches the end does it hop, adding the spring-momentum to its launch.
I’m drawn onwards along the river, trying to catch the magic where the wind scatters handfuls of sunlight on the ripples, dancing like fireflies, that flare and die, like a meteor shower, or an ill-timed love affair.
Back in the woods, I recall a line from an old Billy Joel song: ‘there is a time for meditation, in cathedrals of our own’. Stroking a moss-covered trunk, I realise that places like this are my cathedrals, walking alone my meditation.
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