Yesterday I took a walk along the River Avon again, this time starting from the Co-Op supermarket in the centre of Pewsey, through a small village centre reserve called The Scotchell, and on towards Jones’ Mill, a Wiltshire Wildlife Trust reserve just outside the village.
Between the two reserves I took an occasional photo of the river’s path as it crossed under roads and bridges, through a tunnel under the railway, and of a sign that warned of flooding.
I had talked with Kathy Skerritt (my Blank Twins Water Bodies collaborator) the evening before and we had agreed that I would spend time with the river without using my phone/camera to document. To just notice, without the need to share. So when I got to the first reserve I put my phone away.
It was hard. I wanted to share it, I wanted to record the amazingly loud song of the wrens, the delicate shadows of plants on the path, the lush greenery that bathed me in green light as I walked. The collaboration with Kathy was planned originally to happen on her patch in Cleveland, Ohio. We would walk together, make together, eat, talk, laugh and hug.
I tried to remember that I was an integral part of the river and the woods, and that I was connecting that way, and not virtually via my phone. All the same I felt a sense of loss. A space opened up and I was lonely. A space that I think I’ve been trying to avoid accessing recently, because of those very feelings of grief and despair that Kathy and I each feel at the developing ecological crises.
I generally use my phone as a way to document, and to share. We tell ourselves it is about connecting, but is it really, or does it serve to disconnect us from the wider, more than human community of which we are a part?
I was happy to bump into my Mum-in-law a couple of times on the walk, and talk to her and other walkers about the river, dogs and weather. In the meantime I had also started to make a Walking Bundle.
But the bundle didn’t capture the green light, the fluid birdsong and the clear, rippling river. It was brown and dry and felt static, dead. It also felt like I was cheating, finding another way to opt out of my ‘challenge’ from Kathy.
So I stopped, knelt down, got a pair of scissors out of my bag, and cut the twine that held the bundle together, laying each piece out on the edge of the riverbank. I then put the plastic and the metal and the cut pieces of twine back in my bag, and filmed myself returning the other bundle elements to the river, one by one.
So yes I made a bundle, and then I made a film, but it felt different to just snapping and posting photos. It felt like a valid ritual, a letting go, a surrender to connection.
Often making a Walking Bundle helps me. They slow me down, they help me to connect, as I notice, reach out and touch. And they do capture something of the essence of my experience of a specific place. But yesterday I needed something different.
Afterwards I sat in a small orchard, on a stump and ate my lunch. I felt the sun on my face, the breeze on my arm and let a fly crawl about on my fingers. By letting go of the need to ‘do something’ something else had happened. Things had slowed down. I felt calmer, less pressured. And I started to write.
Here’s some of what I wrote, Again I’ve not edited it so it may make a lot more sense to me than to you, but essentially I was focusing on what I felt letting go and opening up can offer me, in a time of ecological grief and despair:
The world needs me to be me. And yet I can’t see the effect I have. I can’t be the whole change – in fact I need to not change, but to be fully me. As we all do?
I need to look after myself more, my anxiety can cloud my vision, tell me to rush about, push back… change everything or slow down so much that nothing changes and I hide. I feel a loss of purpose, identity and agency.
Kathy says waiting is action. Abiding. Then bodying forth.
I need to be keep being me and be confident that I did and I do know what I am doing.
The river tells me to keep going. I can’t do anything else. Apart from rewild myself, uncover myself – open up and be an example – open up to notice what comes next, and then again, and then again.
Realising what is already true (what already is) – that’s what noticing is about, and asking questions (don’t worry about answers) – maybe asking with an action? Offering up to receive instruction, to develop identity through relationship – let your not knowing bring you into relationship.
Not predicting the future, noticing and acting through being here and now.