It is my hope that putting this voice out into our world has value, not only for me, but for others, as well. I admit to sometimes entertaining dreams of it going viral, of infecting the world with my vision. But most of the time I am content to be motivated by Gandhi's assertion: whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Giving Voice to Walking

On the 19th of March 2010 my friend Galeo and I did a presentation at the wonderful but too brief institution that was the annual Freewheeling Festival, held at Stanford Valley. Our idea was to share, through words and images, the inspiration and importance of the simple act of walking. Among other things we read alternate pieces of our own writings, that had been inspired by walking. Between us on a screen ran a continual set of images from our various walks, mostly of mountains. Black and white, fading into each other. We called the presentation, Giving Voice to Walking.

These were the pieces I read:

It was just a walk. A short walk. And yet something perhaps about the low angle of the sun’s light from behind the clouds, and the response it invoked in the landscape, and in the scrubby vegetation at my feet,
something perhaps about the power of the wind’s steady scent off the ocean, something about following the curve of the coastal cliffs, in and out of coves and headlands that the waves had shaped over ages, something perhaps about sensing companionship of place, that brought it all together, so that in walking there, I was translating pure inspiration into motion.

It was just a walk. For an hour or two, alone one afternoon, in early summer, with the passing of a cold front.


What has been my walk in the world? Where has walking taken me? What has been solved for me by my walking?

For 40-odd years I have walked. And most times now that I visit my father in the place where the very first steps of my walk into life began, where for seven years I walked each day between home and school, where I walked my first solo forays into the mountains, and where a long relationship with walking became ingrained into my body and my being. Most times now that I revisit this place, I make a short walking pilgrimage. Through the familiar streets of my youth down to the bench, and out beyond it to the promontory, to walk the memories among those stones. From the bench, with my mothers name on it, I can look back, and I can look out across the long stretch of low tide sand, beyond the black rocks. Though their footprints there have long been obliterated by the tides, in my step and its desire within me, something of them remains, to follow. My parents were walkers. They walked almost every day of their life together, until the day my fathers spine snapped and his legs no longer balanced both his body and his will and he walked no more. Now I bring him stories of where I have walked and where his grandchildren have walked, and I think he is proud of us, for walking.


What has been my walk? Where has walking taken me?

I have been changed by walking, by the lift in spirits of a brief walk after a constraining and frustrating day, or the dawn inspiration to a new one, by the cumulative effect of 12 days on the path, or the growing awareness of half a life time’s engagement with walking.

I have conversed with the land through walking. I have walked with purpose and I’ve wandered. And each has brought me different things, and taken me places that I would otherwise not have reached.

Inevitably walking takes us to good places, along good ways of getting there.


In the past I have often walked alone. Now, more often, I take others on my walks.

As we approach the mountain, in silence, it is as if this valley, in welcoming us, draws us in, so that what appeared from below and outside, to be merely part of the slope of the mountain above, reveals instead a space that holds us, a space and a passage into these mountains that inspires us to look and discover and explore further and deeper.

And then at the end of three days in these mountains suddenly everyone is gone and I am alone and it is silent. I am left with my belongings scattered around the cave and the deep after-glow of the experience inside me. I don’t want to rush. I want to immerse myself in this space and hold it closely to me like a beloved for a while. I pack deliberately, steadily, consciously. I am profoundly alive, connected, thankful, amazed. It is possible to feel like this. It is possible to achieve this level of connectedness to life.

One of my last steps in my solitary farewell is always to move slowly across the length of the cave, looking carefully for anything left behind, that may desecrate in some small way the sacred integrity of that beautiful space. Then finally I lift my pack and I pause, standing for a moment to take it all in one last time – the space, the silence, the shape of what has just transpired, and then I step out from the cave to follow the others. I must catch them on the path below and see them safely down and then away, away onto each individual’s walk from this magical mountain.


A good path is the accumulated collective wisdom, of the best route to follow, but it is only one way to cross a landscape. There are many others.

Once following a route to a peak in the pre-dawn light, on a trail that I needed for speed, I reached a point where it faded and I lost it. I followed the direction it seemed to be going, but there was no indication in the plants or the land that it continued that way. Odd. It seemed to have ended. And so I paused. And it was in sensing where I would go, if I were not following a path, rather than looking for it, that I found it again.

When I have no desire for paths, then I let the land simply direct where I should walk and then walking becomes moving in response to the earth’s pull. It becomes an intimate conversation between my being and the earth, conducted below the frequency of the rational mind.

Walking frees us to do that. To take action based on the knowing in our bodies rather than the thinking in our minds. When I really walk, my whole body knows which way to go, and can take me there.


I remember one grey day I tried to walk away from myself into a brewing storm and into the pain and discomfort it offered to unleash on me.

The murky light with which that storm smothered the mountains, and the cold wind forcing down on them, seemed to strip them of beauty and there was an ugliness in the rocks and the plants and the land that I had not seen before in these mountains, and in different storms I’d walked before. It took some time and distance in that harsh place to realise that because I could see no beauty within me, I could see none around me either. How clearly in walking the internal is reflected in the external.

But somewhere in even all that gloom, there was a clear, core beauty in the walk that I could only see much later, only long after I had returned. And I was reminded once more of one of the gifts of walking: to unearth again something of our richness that we may have lost within us.


I have walked best when I have walked furthest. When consecutive days have been devoted to walking, when walking has been the purpose with which I have arisen each morning, and walking has carried me through each day. And I have walked best especially into those particular mountains whose boulders lie strewn across their slopes like scattered parts of my soul. Then I have really walked.

Walked into cold and rain with the peaks hidden in cloud, but as we walked things slowly warmed and opened up before us. Walked many valleys where I used each heartbeat to the full and where with ease one impossibly bouldered and beautiful valley opened to the next, in testimony to old path makers. Walked the rich tones of browns that are painted into restio vlaktes framed by rock. where silhouetted ridgelines are inhabited by timeless beings. Where fragile floral beauty co-exists with stone.

There I endured the hot, still air of midday valley floors to reach the cooling breezes of the higher ground. In choosing to walk that line I chose all parts of it, both easy and hard, both invigorating and exhausting. But still slipped into the error of wishing, “May it always be like this,” or “Please, when will this end?”

There I found stillness within the rhythmical balance of each next step. There I really walked.


These wanderings of mine, I sometimes ask, are they a restless search? Where have they taken me? What has been solved for me by walking?

Looking out from the bench with my mother’s name on it, out across the long stretch of low tide sand, I see them walking, out beyond the black rocks. I like to think of them as not looking for anything, other than what is there - this beach, this sea, these rocks, this moment in the slow, incessant rhythm of the tides, and this expanse of white sand, swept clean by wind and water, this expanse of white sand on which to leave the footprints of their walk.

No comments:

Post a Comment