Untangling: Sharing the Words From a Walking Diary

The following blog post is taken (almost) word for word from a notebook that I took with me on a walk today. I’ve been thinking a lot about what we need let go of at this time of ecological collapse, and what we should hold on to when the pandemic passes and lockdown loosens its hold. I may come back here to write a more considered version, this time I wanted to just let it flow.

After I took my walk I listened to David Abram’s podcast for Emergence Magazine, ‘In the Ground of Our Unknowing, on the need for continued/deepending awareness of our place within ‘the living body of this biosphere’, which really connected with me and I’d recommend it. In it he talks about how the pandemic is forcing us to recognise that ‘our deepest insurance against disaster is by going local’, that we won’t be saved by top-down governance, but need to maintain a thread of ‘direct sensorial contact‘ with our ‘locale’.

I’ve also been reading a lot about the relationship between the pandemic and climate/ecological breakdown. The best place to consider this subject is via this piece from Climate Museum UK on Medium, which is gathering together multiple sources and viewpoints on their interwoven origins and what might change as we move into the future.

In this current situation I am lucky compared to many. I have a home, a family, and space around us to walk safely. I am well and so far my friends and family are untouched by illness. This post isn’t about me feeling sorry for myself, it’s an experiment in sharing my thoughts and feelings more directly, and seeing what value that has for myself and others. If you have any thoughts I’d be interested to hear them… ‘be kind’.

I took the dog for a walk before this walk. She’s 16 and keen at first, but can’t get past a slow crawl, so I wandered down the road and then back home to drop her off again, so I was free to get out for a longer, faster walk by myself.

While I walked her I started to think about what I wanted to write, what I needed to write. I was thinking about how having time like this (outside of the house, away from home schooling and from the cabin-fever feelings I’ve been having) was like holding the end of a thread protruding from my head, and pulling it, so it unravelled as I walked, a tangled thread pulling away from the knotted, dense mass of worries and whatever else is jumbled up ‘in there’.

It’s a nice idea, as I walk my thoughts unravel and get aired, leaving a neat and tidy unwound thread behind me, laid out across the field. Then I get to walk back home again, empty and serene, less likely to snap at the anxious boy inside, or my husband, all of us trying to carry on ‘as normal’ at home rather than out in the world at our different places of work.

But the muddy track before me is more like the reality – different animals leave their imprint in the mind of the world, and mine is in there too, all mixed and jumbled, squashed and trampled.

Normally my blog posts have a clear purpose, something to share, an event, a thought, a conclusion of some thought. Today I just need to do it. Lockdown is leaving me stewing in my own thoughts and worries, and home schooling tangles those up together with my son’s. Watching the news convinces me more and more of how lost we are and what a mess this is. Where are we heading? Where are the familiar markers of my life, so I can see what way to go, and at least get a sense that things will be okay one day?

Work, friends, family all disappear, together with routine, money and space to think. All gone. So I walk to escape, to try and flush myself through, to see more clearly again, to look for a pattern that can reassure me of a way through all this.

Sat on a fallen tree, perched between sprouting branches, looking back towards my village where my husband and son go though the motions of school work.

And my work? I have some, but no room to do it justice, no space in the house, in the week, in my head or heart. Even my sleep and my dreams aren’t my own any more. Where the hell are we going? What have we done?

Clapping for the NHS seems so futile right now. Clapping while the world falls apart, clapping while a government trips and stumbles through a pandemic, lying and spluttering, covering its tracks.

So… I’m emptying my head a little, and the thread I saw falling neatly on the path behind me to mark my way home, falls onto this page. As the tracks merge and muddy on the path, the thread forms spidery words across the page, words that pull the dark, mucusy blobs of feeling and worry out to plop, wiggle and leak.

My worries were festering, my hopes deprived of light or oxygen, my identity denied and depressed, hardly there any more. I was starting to wonder what the point was in work, what the point was in caring, or in being the one who cares enough to keep trying. Why not let it all fall apart?

All that driving, all that pushing, rushing, shopping, buying, driving, testing. All that writing and campaigning – all for what? To feel a sense of purpose while the world dies – while we die.

Well, now there is no pretending, no normal, now the slate is wiped clean, smashed to pieces and we scramble in the wreckage to find pieces of our daily lives.

Shall we drop the pretence now? Let it all go? Be the deer in the field, the boy in the garden. Let go of expectation, let go of the thread. Go native, go wild, get down into the dark and the earthy, go inside to the wet, bloody real of body and stick and wet and everything that has always been.

As the surface shifts and shatters, breaks and slides away, I need the courage to let go, to hold my family close and go with it, to align ourselves with what we know to be real through our bodies, our mouths, our running and climbing, feet and hands.

Let it ALL fall away, don’t try so hard to be normal if you want to survive this.

And how to have the courage to let go when it feels like everyone else is carrying on as normal? When school sets the agenda, how to let my son off the hook and bring him to the woods instead?

Choose with your heart and your art. Simplify – free yourself. It’s not a normal situation, so let go of normal expectations.

And the future? We can’t know. Let go of what feels wrong, get more exercise, make honest, earthy, stripped down work. Make it for yourself, give yourself what you need to survive and it WILL connect with someone else, somewhere.

It’s not about eloquence, it’s about survival, not about others expectations, but your own wellbeing. Don’t please, lead. Don’t diminish yourself to fit in, act from the position of your body and the earth-mind that you KNOW is the source of all truth.

One thought on “Untangling: Sharing the Words From a Walking Diary

  1. Hello James,
    I’d like to share this link with you in case you haven’t come across it before & might find it interesting – it reminded me so much of your work. It’s about collective grief, historical rituals and the creation of new practices that reflect individual & shared experience. (I follow Alex Evans on twitter)

    Click to access This-Too-Shall-Pass.pdf

    I read your post last night at work, and then this piece this morning now I’m back home & more free again; both really helped to give a bit of shape & structure to things, so thank you.
    The richness of your included photos was startlingly strong, I think because of not being properly out for two months really. I haven’t been using my daily exercise outside due to anxiety about protecting others, but I’ve decided to start again now on my non work days for my own wellbeing.
    Your post was moving and helpful, there’s so much value in being able to share moment to moment experience. I think it’s enough in itself.

    Be well James xx


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