Remember, when you go out, to take a shopping bag, not so you can buy things, but so you can sit down, whatever the weather.
When I take Ruby for her walk, I know where I’m going and where the benches are and the moss-covered rocks and logs. As I get to each sitting spot, I carefully spread out my plastic bag and sit down, always grateful for the excuse to rest.
If I am properly dressed – in other words, warm and dry and following Michael Foot’s maxim, that there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing –n I start to watch the ground. A stranger passing quietly by would probably think I had fallen asleep, but this would be uncharitable, because, in reality, I have simply become absorbed in the beauty and the complexity of the earth.
As I keep telling you, just sit, and stare. You don’t need to search for the world’s beauty; it will come to you if you give it time.
The world is far too proud to come to you if your head is full of human trivia, like sums and fantasies of revenge. But it will come to you, if you pay attention to it. If you think there is something more important to think about than the earth, you will be even blinder than the doctors said you were
This, by the way, is just as true for those who think they can see.
Here, for example, is the beginning of our walk, the path along the canal. This path is sad, because no-one really looks at it. It suffers from the fact that people consider it easy to walk on.
That may be so, but just look at it, not as a path, nor as a photograph that should be artistically composed and executed, but just as a pattern, a kaleidoscope. And, further than the picture, I allow my mind to make connections. The links I make are fanciful, and move this experience away from meditation and into the realm of fantasy and storytelling.
The path becomes the trunk of a silver birch tree, or the back of a basking crocodile!
A little further on, up a stony slope, I come to the first bench. The earth here is soft and bruised. It’s almost black, and the mud that it has become holds water that reflects the trees and the sky. I carefully figure out the line of each branch and twig of this tree-on-the-ground. It’s almost as though the mud is looking at the sky and aspiring to be a tree.
This is what a wood is. It is the earth aspiring to be a tree.
My next stopping place, after I have gingerly negotiated the mud, is a field maple tree that has painted the ground with its leaves. The stems of dead vegetation that pierce the leaf litter are like pins holding it all to the surface of the world. Without these pins, the leaves would rustle to each other, then lift into the air in a fluttering spiral. It would be one of the Wonders of the World!
A little further, and we are under a horse chestnut. The ground here is dark brown, and the big leaves are curled up like cigars. Brown leaf and brown soil and yellow hawthorn.
And then, by the picnic tables and the pinfold, are my beloved black poplar leaves, looking like the two of spades, which I take to be a more positive sign than the ace.
Walks can go on forever like this, and it’s easier in the summer, obviously. And you can do it just as well on a city street.
Every day the weather and the light are different. The pictures are ever-changing. To paraphrase Herodotus, the ancient Greek historian, “No man can step into the same puddle twice”.