First steps, pram pushing and the art of walking: 12th December 2012

Hardcastle Craggs meet at the main car park at 11pm and having lunch in the cafe in the craggs, all welcome ( for children and mewe members), we will be walking, talking, thinking and enjoying looking after each other and the children together.

Ice on tree tops, ice on trodden down leaves, ice on rocks, icicles dripping into icy water. Just back from an abandoned walk to the craggs as I took an icy fall into the river, which reminded me to write this introduction.

Sylvia Plath wrote this poem about Hardcastle Craggs:

Walking helps me to make sense of complex ideas, to reflect upon life and art making. When we walk we are constantly in the present. Walking is the closest thing to doing nothing. Walking is meditative.

To walk is what makes us human. Our babies are born unable to walk, unlike the calf or the foul or fox.  First they begin to glide around chairs and tables and before you know it baby is no more and the toddler steps forth through curiosity to move forward to discover further about the world. Sydney crashed with full force into the world walking at nine months, Naoise was a more gentile developer standing up and taking his first steps at fourteen months.

Walking with a pram allows you to think for yourself to move forward to be ever in the present moment. To share things that you see together with your children. To whittle sticks  turn fallen tree trunks into crocodiles, throw bread to the ducks, and make up stories.

I miss walking Sydney to school, the conversations that we would have on the way, the small things that we would point out too each other. Skipping, holding hands, pushing Naoise’s pram together. Running across roads with the lolly pop man. A heron flying up in front of our path. The wall that Sydney would walk then leap off. The cherry tree, the sycamore, the damson, throwing petals, helicopter leaves, and fruit in our path. The kiss and hugs goodbye at the school gates. Collecting Sydney smiling and walking home with all his bags like a pack horse donkey.

Here thinking about motherhood and loss in terms of the school run, I am reminded of Tracey Kershaw’s 2010 video work “Walking to School”

Walking not only inspires thought, a stream of conciousness, creativity, but it can provide the very materials with which to make it. Here are some further examples:

Marina Abromovic and Ulays 1988 Great Wall Walk:

Hamish Fulton:

http://www.hamish-fulton.com

In October of this year, I took part in a DIY workshop with Eloise Forneiles at the YSP which was aimed at creating a performance based on walking. Sadly I only managed the workshop and missed the performance as Sydney fell ill. Which got me thinking about the very nature of motherhood as endurance performance. Within the context of this text Eloise introduced me to a brilliant book “Wanderlust” A History of walking, by Rebecca Solnit. Here is an extract from that book:

To write is to carve a new path through the terrain of the imagination, or to point out features on a familiar route.To read is to travel through the terrain of the imagination, or to point  out new features on a familiar route. To read is to travel through that terrain with the author as guide-a guide that one may not always agree with or trust but one who can at least be counted upon to take one somewhere. I have often wished that my sentences could be written out as a single line running into the distance so that it would be clear that a sentence is likewise a road and reading is traveling (I did the maths once and found that the text of one of the books would be four miles long were it rolled out as a single line of words instead of being set in rows on pages, rolled up like thread on a spool). Perhaps those Chinese Scrolls one unrolls as one read preserve something of this sense. The songlines of Australia’s aboriginal  peoples are the most famous examples of conflating landscape and narrative. The songlines are tools of navigation across the deep desert, while the landscape is a mnemonic device for remembering the stories; in other words, the story is a map, the landscape a narrative.

So stories are travels and travels are stories. It is beccause we imagine life itself as a journey that these symbolic walks and indeed all walks have such resonance. The workings of the mind and the spirit are hard to imagine, as is the nature of time-we tend to metamorphorize all these intangibles as physical objects located in space. Thus our relationship to them becomes physical and spacial; we move toward or away from them. And if time has become space, then the unfolding of tome that constitutes a life becomes a journey too, however much or little one travels spatially. Walking and traveling have become central metaphors in thought and speech, so central we hardly notice them. Embedded in English are inumerable movement metaphors: steering straight, moving toward the goal, going the distance, getting ahead. Things get in our way, set us back, help us find our way, give us a head start, or go-ahead as we approach milestones. We move up in the world, reach a fork in the road, hit our stride, take steps. A person in trouble is a lost soul, out of step, has lost her sense of direction, is facing an uphill struggle or going downhill, through a difficult phase, incircles, even nowehere. And there are the far more flowery phrases of sayings and songs-the lonely street, and the bouelvard of broken dreams. Walking appears in many more common phrases: set the pace, make the strides, a great step forward, keep pace, hit ones stride, toe the line, follow in the footsteps. Psychic and political events are imagined as spatial ones: thus in his final speech Martin Luther King said, “Ive been to the mountaintop”, to describe a spiritual state, echoing the state Jesus attained after his literal mountain ascent. King’s first book was called Stride to Freedom, a title echoed more than three decades later by Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom ( while his former countrywoman Doris Lessing called the second volume of her memoirs Walking in the Shade, and then there’s Kierkegaard’s Steps on Lifes Way or the literary theorist Umberto Eco’s Six Walks in the Fictional Woods, in which he describes reading a book as wandering in the forest).

If life itself, the passage of time allotted to us, is described as a journey, it’s most often imagined as a journey on foot, a pilgrim’s progress across the landscape of personal history. And often, when we imagine ourselves, we imagine ourselves walking, “when she  walked the earth”, an expert is a “walking encycopedia, adn “he walked with God” is the Old Testament’s way of describing a state of grace. The image of the walker, alone and active and passing through rater than settled in the world, is a powerful vision of what it means to be human, whether its a hominid traversing grasslands or a Samuel Beckett character shuffling down a rural road. The metaphor of walking becomes literal agin when we really walk. If life is a journey, then when we are actually journeying our lives have become tangible, with goals we can move toward, progress we can see , achievement we can understand, metaphors united with actions. Labyrinths, pilgramages, mountain climbs, hikes with clear and desirable destinations, all allow us to take our allotted time as a literal journey with spiritual dimensions we can understand through the senses.

Solnit, Rebecca,(2001) “Wanderlust” A History of walking, Verso, pages 72-74

Text by Helen Sargeant December 2012

After the Walk

matted dreads bite

spider web droops

crunching footprints

cakes of solid mud

tearing and breaking heads

carrying stone

close to breasts

curious red robin

fills small hearts

feathers fully fluffed

hands refusing gloves

silent ice teeth

clenching trees

dropping small daggers

sun ignites bare branch

frightening the flight of the heron

upwards

white

back aching

weight builds

looking over sugared hills

strapping you safe in the back seats

car warmth

blowing rasberries

giggling

hot chocolate

playing plastic

homes

Poem by Helen Sargeant (for Iris and Kaye)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *