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Issue #28 - The Misc. Adventures Digest
An intentionally slow solo walk...
Hello again! How has your week been? This week’s Digest is a bit of an experiment. I set myself the task of going for a deliberately slow walk, with the intention of cultivating a heightened sense of awareness of the landscape and of noticing connections along the way. I recorded some voice notes as I went - which is not something I’ve done before - to help me remember the things I saw and the way they made me feel. Below is a kind of transcript of the recordings, although embellished a little here and there where necessary. It ended up being pretty long, so sorry about that if that’s not your thing, or you’re welcome if it is.
I’m on my own this weekend. Emma and Benji have gone back to Sussex to visit family. I’ve decided to head out to one of my favourite spots for a quiet, early morning walk with the intention of taking things deliberately slow, to focus on the details, to let myself settle in to the gentle rhythm of the late spring and I suppose, to seek the sense of peace and calm that comes from letting yourself become intertwined with the land. Hiking with Benji, and with Emma is always a joy, but it’s not always easy to take it slow. We are always attentive to detail, with one eye and ear trained to Nature’s happenings, but we have the others trained to the needs and whims of a talkative six year old. We undoubtedly miss much, although we receive something else in return. So today is about indulging in Nature’s goodness, and I head out on a familiar path with the idea of seeing things clearly for the first time.
The air is cool, fresh and clear. My fleece is in my bag, and the chill gives goosebumps to my bare arms. I love to be out early like this. I’m sure I won’t pass another soul. I find it hard to slow down to begin with. I have to remind myself to tread softly and to clear my mind of any sense of urgency or intent. I often think that Nature can sense intent - if I go out with the intention of looking for something in particular, you can be sure I won’t find it, although I may find something else. When we used to teach workshops, one of our exercises was to look for fine, dry, sticks suspended off the ground in the branches of other trees to use as kindling. We found that the harder our students tried, the less kindling they would find. Once they started looking up at the canopy for other things, and settled in to the pace of the woods, they could gather handfuls with ease. I’m aware of the paradox here; my intention is to find Nature, so by my own reckoning I will not find it if I try too hard, yet if I don’t set the intention I’m unlikely to find it either. It is hard being a human.
Although my pace has been a little too quick, going solo has allowed me to use both ears and eyes and I find a few neat things early on. There are hundreds of tiny oaklings popping up. It was a mast year last year; a coordinated strategy employed by oaks and some other trees which diverts resources to seed production every few years thought to be an attempt to overwhelm grazing beasts, thus ensuring the survival of the next generation. I hope the strategy works, and I wish them luck as I pass by the oak woodland in miniature. The bright orange glow of bog beacon; a tiny little lantern-like fungus that grows in boggy places. Bog myrtle is now in full leaf. I can’t help but crush a few leaves between my fingers and inhale the fragrance as I walk past; there’s something deeply uplifting and invigorating about the scent. I would like to smell of bog myrtle. I hear the call of a bird I don’t recognise. It’s an alarm call I think. Whoever it is isn’t very happy that I’m there. I feel slightly aggrieved; I thought I was doing a good job of being quiet but the birds would obviously disagree. Bluebells are still in flower. In most places they have gone to seed, but everything at this spot always seems about two weeks behind everywhere else. The slender, tubular flowers of common cow wheat are out now too, painting flecks of yellow amongst the purple and green. This is another woodland plant (like wood anemones) that has ants to thank for their seed dispersal services and a new one for me as it’s not a plant associated with the woods in the south, I don’t think.
A woodpecker drums nearby. The river runs, unrelenting over the rocks, but it’s quieter than usual today. The water level is low, it has not rained in two, maybe three weeks. Yet still the river flows as it has done for millennia, its work not yet done in sculpting out the final shape of the valley floor. I’m pondering how differently you can feel about the same thing in Nature depending on the day. Sometimes the river fills me with awe, post storm, in spate, white and churning, alive with froth and force. Other times, peace and calm, as it burbles and gurgles over the rocks, sometimes sounding like voices in the distance. Other times, not very much at all. Like today. It’s nice to be here, but something is lacking and I wonder why. I can see the river, but I don’t feel it. The clear, calm water is inviting though, and I have my swimming stuff with me but the chill in the air deters me from taking the plunge. Maybe on the way back.
I love this place. I am happy here. The path is rocky and boulder strewn, trees tangle and intertwine, connections are everywhere, some seen, some hidden. I make a point of trying to see the relationships between things, rather than looking at things in isolation. The sunlight and the earth, the lichen and the rock, the tree and the fungi, the water and the moss. I note that any one of these things could be connected to the other in any order. It is impossible to extrapolate the individual.
The tree leaves have lost some of their spring vibrancy, the steady process of senescence has already begun. The bilberry leaves though are fluorescent green, tender and glowing. Everywhere I look, tiny seedlings have taken root. In cracks and crevices micro birches and rowans hope to have found a safe haven. I’m astounded by the sheer tenacity of life, clinging on in places where it doesn’t seem possible. I’m sitting with my back against a huge boulder and I start to get up and move on, but I force myself to stop and stay a while longer. Why is it so hard to stay put? I’m glad I do. I notice the trees swaying in the breeze, their branches overhanging the rolling river. Everything is in motion. A wagtail flits to a fro - is it a grey wagtail? Or a yellow one. I can never remember. It doesn’t matter anyway.
I eventually move on. It’s nearly breakfast time and I know a good spot to sit with coffee in hand. On my way, I realise I’m walking too fast again, focused on breakfast and missing out on the micro bursts of magic that only the attentive are privy to. There is an analogy here for the way we live the rest of our lives; we are perpetually in a hurry, a rush to get everywhere and to do everything, but where are we really going and what for? What are we missing out on along the way?
After warm coffee, sipped as always from my wooden cup, I stay sat on the mossy ground. My hand sinks into the feathery moss and it is dry, warm and soft. The sound of the beck tumbling down a small waterfall mixes with that of the leaves being ruffled by the breeze. I close my eyes and breathe deeply, inhaling the whole of Nature into my lungs. For a brief moment, I am struck by a sense of peace, of clarity and of glorious detachment from myself. It is hard to explain the feeling, but this is what I seek, and sometimes find, when I go into Nature and allow myself to truly become part of it.
I’m thankful for the chance to take it slow today. This walk normally takes me two hours, but today it has taken me nearly five. It was harder than I thought to go so slow at first, but gradually I settled in. I don’t think you need to take a five hour walk to connect with Nature, no doubt you can probably find the same feeling in your garden or maybe even indoors, if you think about Nature in the right way. But, sometimes you need to press the reset button, and try to get back to a feeling that you know you’re missing out on. My purposefully slow wander certainly helped me achieve that today.
I’m acutely aware that being able to take a five hour walk on my own to indulge in Nature’s goodness is a privilege not all of us are granted, but if you can, the next time you’re in your favourite place, I wholeheartedly recommend challenging yourself to slow things down and see what you find along the way. You might get a lot more than you bargained for…
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This week’s Nature Happenings is simply one minute of fluffy goat willow seeds (featured in last week’s issue) floating on the gentle breeze like snow in summer. Enjoy!
That’s all for this week. As always we’d love to hear thoughts and feedback so do drop us a line and let us know what adventures you’ve been on and what neat things in Nature you’ve seen and heard. We’re thinking of setting a challenge for our readers in our next issue, but more on that next time!
Until then, warm wishes from the three of us,
Andrew, Emma and Benji