Earlier this month I went for a walk with my wife and our dog. We walked in Benthall Woods – a small woodland area on the edge of the Severn Gorge. The woods are peppered with the remains of limestone quarries worked in the 18th & 19th centuries. Paths snake through the trees, dropping sharply, rising steeply. You suddenly find yourself on the lip of a precipice, staring down into a ruined quarry. It is a beautiful and fascinating place. One where Nature has been torn into by Man. Ripped and scarred in the search for mineral wealth. That is what Industrial Man does. Then the years pass and Nature returns, recovers, heals. Makes the wounds into something alive and lovely. That is what Nature does. Walking around this place you realise that, actually, Nature is there all the time. Man is a part of Nature. Man’s wounds and blunders are Nature too. There is green even in the greyest night.
Holly loves woods. Woods are a playground for dogs. She tears about in wild ecstacy. Exploring.
Before the walk, Jo and I had been arguing. Not really about anything in particular. More about our frustration with each other. We are very different people. Jo is Fire Speed Action. I am Cool Slow Reflection. We compliment each other. We support each other. We challenge each other. We drive each other crazy. And when we do, we go for a walk.
We get outside. Outside helps. Provides space. Space to think. Inside, thinking gets bogged down. Goes around in circles. Loses energy. Outside, thinking can free range better. The sun and the wind and the rain and the trees. All provide energy.
We get moving. Movement helps. Walking in particular helps. Something about the rhythm of walking. It seems to help release the road blocks in the brain.
And as we walk, we talk. Walk and talk. Talk and walk. The longer we walk, the easier the words come. The gentle, steady motion of walking soothes and steadies the mind. Gradually, problems are solved, differences reconciled, frustrations melt away. We walk and talk. Friends again. I am very lucky to be married to my best friend. Sometimes I forget that. In order to remember all we have to do is take a walk. It is what we do. It is what we have always done.
I have always found it easier to think when I am outside walking. Inside, it is too easy for ideas to get stuck in a loop. Feeding back on themselves. Unable to grow and develop. My Parkinson’s has made this worse. I find in hard to concentrate. I am easily distracted. I understand why Jo gets frustrated with me. I get frustrated with myself.
This week I will be walking a lot. Jo is away, trekking in Peru. Usually, Jo and I share the dog walking duties. We share according to our commitments each day. If I have a morning tai chi class to teach, Jo does the morning walk. Then I do the afternoon. If Jo has a morning treatment to do (she is a shiatsu practitioner), we swop. The best walks are when we are both free and the whole pack walks together. They are when we dream and plan. The steady rhythm of walking encourages the flow of ideas. For me, creativity is somehow tightly bound to movement. When I eventually sit down to write, it is not then a matter of coming up with new ideas – just a process of figuring out the best order to lay them out. The ideas are all there already – gathered whilst walking. I could not just sit down with a blank piece of paper and come up with ideas. I need to move. I guess that was why I was a Drama teacher – it was always more natural to me to create whilst on my feet, moving.
So, whilst Jo is away in Peru. Walking the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu. Raising money for Parkinson’s UK. I will be walking the dog. Thinking. And writing.
This morning was beautiful. Blue skies and sunshine. Still a chill wind and a touch of ground frost, but Spring is fully with us now. I love this time of year. Life is straining at the leash and it’s so exciting. Suddenly everything is green for GO. The woods are heavy with the smell of wild garlic. The trees are laden with blossom. Blue bells line the side of the wooded path up Windmill Hill. Holly and I walk to the top and we both stand in wonder listening to the cacophony of birdsong. I wish I knew all the songs we were hearing. Wish I could identify each singer. But I cannot. Still, any idiot that takes time to listen can tell that there is a hell of a lot going on. All that song shouting, “I’m here. I’m alive. Hear me!” Later, Holly chases the pair of geese honking low and loud across the field and above our heads. Best of all, the swallows are back. Each year they nest in a brick shed in our garden. Each year they return. Each year they make that awesome journey all the way from Africa to our house. Our house! What a privilege it is to provide them with shelter. To watch their determined progress from bedraggled arrival looking exhausted and half dead. To gradual feeding up and return to glossy health. Then to nest building. Then the feeding. Then the fledging. Of one brood. Then another. Sometimes three – though we always worry that the third batch is too late. Not enough time before Winter comes. As it always does. And they leave. And we wait for them to return again. To signal that, despite everything, all is well. The world is still spinning. The seasons are still turning. The swallows are here. All is well.