In the late afternoons I often make myself a pot of tea and take a little pause in my work. On just such a moment last week, I was reclining on the sofa, drink in paws, my eyes feasting on the greenness of the new leaves bursting from the branches of the trees outside the window, when my ears tuned into a programme on the wireless.
It was about a ramble and it delighted my heart.
Uncle Ratty was the one who first introduced me to the delights of walking; not just putting one paw in front of the other, but noticing and imagining, and showing me how every single being experiences the landscape in a different way. Uncle Ratty’s sensibilities lead him to sniff out waterways, remember picnics and romanticise ports of departure. I, though, am more attuned to what is beneath the surface. As I scamper over fields, my mind’s eye traces the labyrinthine tunnels of other moles, I feel the dewy grass, and the contours of daisies, dandelions, coltsfoot and buttercups beneath my paws and, less often than perhaps it should, a shadow overhead reminds me of the perilous, nay fatal, adventure of the ancestor who was taken by an eagle.
In cities these layerings become more dense – so dense that they could become knotted and confused. But to me they are like an archive, a delicious trunk of papers – all muddled at first, but pick one paper, one thread, follow the clues and slowly each layer of the palimpsest is revealed.
Your little eyes re-imagine earlier inhabitants. Your little ears fade out traffic, and telephones, and aeroplanes, hydraulic drills and canned music, and take in older sounds the metal against cobble of horseshoes. Your snout exchanges exhaust fumes for the stench of horse manure.
In a strange place (or even a familiar one) I love being guided by a creature with a passion for a particular subject, and then again cover the same ground with another guide whose passion is utterly different. I have walked and re-walked the streets of Bern, guided by aficionados of diplomacy, folk musicians, espionage, migration, prostitution, literature, football, drainage, domestic service, landscape design and crime fiction. And after a while, solitary walks take on a a richness. Your little body feels it in its bones. The ground beneath your paws hums with those passions.
The programme I was listening to on the wireless the other afternoon followed a group of ramblers walking through Warnscale in the Lake District.* The guide has chosen this rugged landscape to create a walk that will provide deep nourishment to beings who are mourning their childlessness and the absence of a life event that they had anticipated. She has absorbed visual metaphors suggested by the landscape: a stand of dead trees, a fork in a stream, a cleft in a rock. She has fossicked through the diary entries of Dorothy Wordsworth, listened to the lore and language of locals, made connections between laboratory images of fertility and the minutiae of plants. She has drawn together features from personal maps created by childless participants. Each feature invites contemplation like the shrines along a pilgrim way where the walk’s duration, not just the features is a crucial element. The time taken and effort involved allows for the evolution of memories, feelings and thoughts of the future.
Listening to these ramblers, I felt something akin to a new dimension being revealed to me. The pause I was having in the late afternoon ventured into early evening. The green spring leaves might have ventured into autumnal brown if I hadn’t realised that my tea had gone cold.