This post is part of a collaborative natural dye and mapping project with Annie Cholewa called Waysides: Local Colour from our Home Grounds. Waysides: Walking is the first of two reflective posts that Annie and I would like to share with you, written in response to our experience of the Waysides project. Please pop over and read Annie’s response to Waysides: Walking.
When Annie and I first started building this collaboration, one of the things that resonated most strongly for me was that this was a walking project, a colour map of the ways I walked through my neighbourhood.
Walking builds knowledge of the landscape around us and it does so through acts of our own creativity as we decide where we will go, when we will stop, what will hold our gaze. Walking enables us to experience the world through our eyes, ears, nose and limbs. It can be slowed and quickened according to need. It can be easily paused to explore, examine or interact. It enables vast amounts of information about our surroundings and other beings to be effortlessly accrued. By these means, we transform places on maps into meaningful spaces where our lives are lived.
But we don’t really come to know the whole place just the bits we walk, the paths, the shortcuts, the ways to places, the destinations and of course, those liminal spaces that border the paths, the waysides.
I had assumed in the beginning that I would gather from the waysides as I walked on my way to various places but then noticed that nothing was being gathered. I had to plan special journeys to collect leaves or forage for spent seed pods. I would ride my bike as it was quicker. Ride, collect, go home.
Where was the walking? Somewhere along the dye journey, I realised I wasn’t walking much anymore. We no longer had a dog to walk and the children, whose preschool days were spent ambling very slowly to nearby places, were riding bikes now. I was either striding purposefully after them or riding my own bike to keep up. I would ride to the shop now, it was faster. Ride to school and home again.
Riding is faster but it doesn’t create the same opportunities for chance encounters and side by side conversations. It is harder to stop and look, gather or chat. Perhaps then, these colours I have made of the waysides are artefacts of my walking days? Actually, I think they are more active talismans embued with the enduring creative power of walking. Whilst I walk much less at this particular stage of my family’s life, I retain all the knowledge and experience of my neighbourhood gained through walking. Just as walking creates a meaningful neighbourhood, the meanings do not diminish when the walking declines. The meanings endure. They can be recalled and retold and remade. Active walking of course adds more layers, creates more opportunities for making meanings, connecting, imagining, looking, collecting, talking…
Recently, I have noticed that I have been choosing to walk more. I might let the kids ride ahead and walk at my own pace, or walk to the shop instead of riding. Life slows a bit, I notice more, I feel less urgent.
References (if you fancy reading more):
Horowitz, A. (2013) On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes, Scribner International, New York.
Certeau, M. (1984) The Practice of Everyday Life, University of California Press, Berkley
Demerath, L. and Levinger, D. (2003) “The social qualities of being on foot: a theoretical analysis of pedestrian activity, community and culture”, City and Community, Vol. 2, No. 3, pp 217-237.