dye | look | spin

Waysides: Walking

October 2, 2015

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.

IMG_1236Walking 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.

IMG_0149Where 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.

IMG_1248Riding 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…

IMG_0466Recently, 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.

You can follow my Waysides journey here and that of Annie Cholewa, my comrade in dye-pots here.


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.

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  1. I often think that deliberate collecting – I need plant x for colour y, even if colour y is to a degree an unknow – is quite different to the serendiptous, ‘Ooh, what’s that and what colour will it give?’ Do we lose out on the latter I wonder if we walk less?

    I have so enjoyed our collaboration, despite it being the dyeing rather than the walking that’s been limited in my case.

  2. Nice dissection of your life! I cannot ride a bike…NO balance so I am walking or in the car. But if I am walking I am walking quickly for exercise or watching…. WHAT are the dogs doing/into now?
    Odd how. Thank you for pointing out your/our ways that we sort of morph into without really realizing.

  3. I think you build up a repository of a place by travelling through and around it over time – and it is the repeats as well as the over time that are just as important as the slow walking. This has been born out for me by a recent visit to a rural park in Devon where I walked my children in pushchairs, played with them as young school-kids, and in later years walked while conducting philosophical discussions with my student kids, and even walked solo while coming to terms with my divorce. Interweaved with all these events, these different views of the park influenced by the different ages of my accompanying kids, are the natural observations – the birds, the particular trees, the times of year, the sheep. All builds together to a rich and deep weave – something so precious and so valuable – but you don’t realise that til you have occasion to stop and take stock as you with your blogposts and I with my recent trip have just done. You’re still there, bicycling now, but still building up new colours, new memories – hope that continues so richly for many many more years for you!

  4. Now that the beastly heat has finally gone from here I plan to do more walking. Although I don’t think there is anything exciting in my neighborhood, I could be overlooking the hidden treasures!! Slow walking is good and I can pretend I’m talking to the squirrels whilst I look for treasures on the ground!!

  5. Walking became such a huge part of my life since we got a dog. It’s something that soothes me after a long day, that clears my head and where fresh ideas come to mind. It’s really a form of meditation for me. Happy walking, dear Rebecca!

  6. I started following along with your Waysides project in a small way imagining myself wandering through meadows with my skirts hitched up, butterflies in my hair, and a wicker basket full of native dye-producing plants. Nope, not there, out-of-season, or not enough materials to collect the recommended bushels required to dye a thrumb of yarn.
    Never mind, as a reader of your Waysides project I had glimpses of your urban environment, Australian plants, spinning, the beige perils of natural dyeing (lots of sympathetic smiles there) and the splendid Waysides shawl.
    In addition, As Susan mentions, it is funny how ways morph, because my project became a daily morning walk and I am looking at my local landscape with more attention. Maybe the colour around us slowly rubs off like a local accent. In addition the Pup and I are healthier and happier, and I realize that the same path taken is never the same journey experienced. Your thoughts in today’s post give another dimension to some of my recent thinking and reading about walking. Many thanks, Rebecca.

  7. To be conscious of how influences come into a life is not an easy practice and yet here you are laying out the most solid of thoughts.

    My little city of full of tiny streets. If I make the time then they make the time. Off the beaten path has new meaning after reading your post.

  8. How interesting the way our lives change from day to day in such subtle ways. Walking with small children is so precious and yes, gives us time to notice what is around… with the added benefit of being very good for our bones. I now have lots of grandchildren who like to walk a little – my dog is sadly too old and we usually enjoy a walk with me carrying her.

    Dogs certainly get you out and about and I notice all the trees, flowers and gardens around where I live in Fremantle. Mostly I am astonished at how little people care for their surroundings let alone the trees and plants… this is Fremantle after all home of the greens!

    I have been rather inspired by your wayside walks and collecting – I am fortunate to spend half my time in the bush where there is a lot more going on leafy wise…. wildflowers everywhere. Thank you for your thoughtful prose – I am planning a project around my walks….. Enjoy your walks too and I look forward to hearing all about where your path will lead.

  9. A very interesting and personal journey, thank you for sharing. You are fortunate that your meanderings bring you in contact with some of the beautiful indigenous species that are so colourful and varied (although each and every neighbourhood has its own flora and fauna). I too have started to try and take a short walk a couple of times per week as most of my journeys are, of necessity, by car. I find it intriguing to ponder that if I were to choose an alternative path to the one I usually take, would I discover anything different? Autumn, with all its beautiful russet hues is coming on apace in my part of the world. If only I could extract and use these, I would be overjoyed.

  10. So apposite a post (as usual). This month I took part in Steptember, walking to raise money for cerebral palsy. As important as the cause is, it was really an excuse to allow myself to walk. Without a set purpose, not for exercise, with no soundtrack, no hurry, no destination. It has been a wonderful month, and yes, it did recall the long of hours of slow exploration with the kids when they were younger.

    It has taken the place of my (extremely haphazard) meditation practice. I think I am much better at walking mindfully than meditating mindfully, now I just have to maintain it now that it really is only for me.

    Just cuts into my knitting time, is all…?

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