Walking has been a part of a daily practice for some time. It has required an openness to go slower, to engage more fully in my surroundings and to keep expenses to a minimum. I am walking off my angst in a difficult year. Whether it be the streets and beaches of Fremantle, the fence lines of the Great Southern, the hidden alleys of London or the slopes of Iceland’s volcanoes, I have been walking them.
While walking the body and mind can work together, so that thinking becomes a rhythmically physical act. A sense of spirituality and sensuality emerge as the act of walking through urban and rural scapes offer the opportunity for the same gait. Past and present are brought together as if a previous path is being retraced to find the present step. And each step traverses space, like the threads in the fabric of a continuous experience.
We involve the whole body in walking as in a practice of yoga. One leg holds the body strongly upright in its frame, while the other swings like a pendulum. The ball of each foot and big toe are active in making the landing secure and from here, the spring from the ball to push off is tailored so the weight is delicately balanced in the next step. As each step informs the next the rhythm of walking sets a pace, slowing and adapting to the terrain laid out; negotiating the curves, potholes and oddly placed persons encountered!
Walking forms the base of my art practice; it has become an investigation, a ritual, a meditation, and a practicality. It has become like breathing; it exists between being and doing. The ability to create is being shaped by it, the words come to mind from it and contented observation arises through it.
I sat down to write next to the sea in SkagastrÖnd, Iceland. I write and I draw, then I get up to walk, to make images, then I sit down again to revisit those images. I went walking to the mountain behind the little town of coloured houses. The clouds play between the slopes, but mostly the sky is blue, the air is chilled. It is called Mt Spánokufell, Prophetess Mountain, and it’s fortune-telling powers are well known in Icelandic folklore. I follow the fence line to the ridge, pocketing cotton flowers along the way; below, luscious grasses grow atop muddy mounds with skirting streamlets, while above a crowd of steely grey boulders parade with a provocative air. The weather holds despite the hour, because this is Iceland, where day and night are seamlessly light. I walk on, the feet proceeding with their own knowledge of balance, of sidestepping rocks, of pacing, leaving me free to look to the distant Western Fjords and the sprinkling of the dryas octopetala close up. Beyond the crowd, I see the vague apparition of a top and then as I walk, the line of sight alters and another crowd appears, the top is no longer there… I turn back, after all, I walk alone. A shout from above and I turn. Another lone hiker could see something I could not see. I navigate the crowd, eagerly stepping between and around and sometimes on top of (sorry); moving like a crab – sideways, forwards and backwards; steps to choose the best footings on an increasingly steep ascent. A nip of a breeze, a nod to my bleating friends, and I arrived on the saddle with a view that warranted a long seat. Henry David Thoreau, who walked vigorously, wrote “An absolutely new prospect is a great happiness, and I can still get this any afternoon. Two or three hours walking will carry me to as strange a country as I expect ever to see…..it will never become unfamiliar to you”.
Walking is a state of mind where the body, the mind and the world are in conversation together, striking the same chord. The rhythm of walking generates a kind of thinking rhythm and the passage through a landscape echoes or stimulates the passage through a series of thoughts. The mind is also a sort of landscape. Walking allows us to be free in our thinking strategically placing each step without getting lost in our thought. It can be a part of everyone’s experience, that is, where legs are a fortunate addition to the Whole.
There have been surprises, liberations and clarifications from walking around the block in a familiar place, as I will do many times here in Iceland, as I have done before in other homes in the world. It is in the act of the body moving in gait, in dance, in yoga that the visual thinking becomes the assimilation of the new into the known.