Saturday Morning Walk

Where does it start? Muscles tense. One leg a pillar, holding the body upright between the earth and sky. The other a pendulum, swinging from behind. Heel touches down. The whole weight of the body rolls forward onto the ball of the foot. The big toe pushes off, and the delicately balanced weight of the body shifts again. The legs reverse position. It starts with a step and then another step and then another that add up like taps on a drum to a rhythm, the rhythm of walking. The most obvious and the most obscure thing in the world, this walking that wanders so readily into religion, philosophy, landscape, urban policy, anatomy, allegory, and heartbreak.

—  Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking (Penguin Books (June 1, 2001)


Photo: Bjorn Breimo, Walking (Norway)

Walking. In Search of my Spirit Bird.

4:25 am. I’m out the door. Dark Sky app recap: 74° F, 100% humidity, cloud cover 89%.

It’s dark. A wafer thin haze hangs below the street lamps.

I walk.

A firefly flickers, gets caught up in a light wind gust, and disappears. And at that moment, unexplainably so, I felt Small, Little, against the backdrop of the World. This flickering, illuminating, little miracle. “What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” (Crowfoot, the Blackfoot warrior, 1890)

Me and Crowfoot?  Crowfoot and me? Crowfoot and I? Oh, for God Sake, let it go.

I walk.

Same route. 5-mile loop. Since May 5th, daily, without interruption. Same camera bag sling, slung over my right shoulder, camera affixed with strap to right wrist. The Autonoman

Raccoon up ahead, picking away at the remains of road kill. He skitters away as I approach. Sprinkler systems fire off at 4:30 am, hissing as water hits the street.

I walk.

I note the silence. This narrow slice of time, before daybreak. Nocturnal creatures and me. Afraid of horror movies, the dark and tripping in a pothole and taking a header, I march through the suburban streets on my way to the waterfront.

I take my first shots of The Cove, high tide.  And 78 additional shots that morning.  Little did I know, that 90 minutes later I would learn that all but 10 photos, would be blurry because of some dial I inadvertently depressed. Fuming, at my desk panning through the photos, rubbing my eyes, thinking it’s my f*cking eyes going, because it just can’t be this expensive camera. I move closer to the screen. It’s not my eyes.  My God. You are an Amateur. What a waste. [Read more…]

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

“In fact, from the first clasped stick and improvised carrier, tools have extended the body’s strength, skill, and reach to a remarkable degree. We live in a world where our hands and feet can direct a ton of metal to go faster than the fastest land animal, where we can speak across thousands of miles, blow holes in things with no muscular exertion but the squeeze of a forefinger. It is the unaugmented body that is rare now, and that body has begun to atrophy as both a muscular and a sensory organism. In the century and a half since the railroad seemed to go too fast to be interesting, perceptions and expectations have sped up, so that many now identify with the speed of the machine and look with frustration or alienation at the speed and ability of the body. The world is no longer on the scale of our bodies, but on that of our machines, and many need—or think they need—the machines to navigate that space quickly enough. Of course, like most “time-saving” technologies, mechanized transit more often produces changed expectations than free time; and modern Americans have significantly less time than they did three decades ago. To put it another way, just as the increased speed of factory production did not decrease working hours, so the increased speed of transportation binds people to more diffuse locales rather than liberating them from travel time (many Californians, for example, now spend three or four hours driving to and from work each day). The decline of walking is about the lack of space in which to walk, but it is also about the lack of time—the disappearance of that musing, unstructured space in which so much thinking, courting, daydreaming, and seeing has transpired. Machines have sped up, and lives have kept pace with them.”

— Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking


Image: rpffm58 with speed

Guess.What.Day.It.Is?

Robyn Davidson, who didn’t exactly set out to write about walking at all, but did so brilliantly in the course of her Tracks, a book recounting her 1,700-mile trek across the Australian outback to the sea with three camels (sponsored, like Jenkins’s odyssey, by the National Geographic Society). Midway in her journey, she explains its effect on her mind: “But strange things do happen when you trudge twenty miles a day, day after day, month after month. Things you only become totally conscious of in retrospect. For one thing I had remembered in minute and Technicolor detail everything that had ever happened in my past and all the people who belonged there. I had remembered every word of conversation I had had or overheard way, way back in my childhood and in this way I had been able to review these events with a kind of emotional detachment as if they had happened to somebody else. I was rediscovering and getting to know people who were long since dead and forgotten. . . . And I was happy, there is simply no other word for it.”

— Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking 


Notes:

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

Sometimes now I envy those people who are at the beginning of the long road of the lives they’ll make, who still have so many decisions ahead as the road forks and forks again. Imagining their trajectories, I picture a real road, branching and branching, and I can feel it, shadowy, forested, full of the anxiety and the excitement of choosing, of starting off without quite knowing where you will end up…

I have no regrets about the roads I took, but a little nostalgia for that period when most of the route is ahead, for that stage in which you might become many things that is so much the promise of youth, now that I have chosen and chosen again and again and am far down one road and far past many others. Possibility means that you might be many things that you are not yet, and it is intoxicating when it’s not terrifying.

— Rebecca SolnitRecollections of My Nonexistence: A Memoir (Viking, March 10, 2020)

spoken words could be a little fire at which you warmed yourself

These elders were not in a hurry; they were country people. They kept an eye on passersby, greeting the people they knew, sometimes calling out to a child who seemed out of line to them. It was they who taught me that a conversation even between strangers could be a gift and a sport of sorts, a chance for warmth, banter, blessings, humor, that spoken words could be a little fire at which you warmed yourself. Many years later when I spent time in New Orleans and other parts of the South, they felt oddly like home to me, and I realized that this bit of the West Coast had been an outpost of the black South in those days.

Rebecca Solnit, Recollections of My Nonexistence: A Memoir (Viking, March 10, 2020)

I’m always in quest of the holy grail of books

I’m always in quest of the holy grail of books, the perfect book that explains it all, the book whose beauty is as fierce as lightning and whose meaning points to true north, so I dip into thousands of books for a moment and note that this, too, is not it.

~ Rebecca Solnit, in “Rebecca Solnit: By the Book” (NY Times, August 16, 2018)

 


Portrait: sfweekly

We need a litany, a rosary, a sutra, a mantra

morel-mushroom

After a run of darkness (Orlando, Baton Rouge, Dallas, Minnesota, Nice), Rebecca Solnit writes an essay for The Guardian titled “Hope is an Embrace of the Unknown” on living in dark times. I’ve shared a few excerpts below.


After a rain mushrooms appear on the surface of the earth as if from nowhere. Many come from a sometimes vast underground fungus that remains invisible and largely unknown. What we call mushrooms, mycologists call the fruiting body of the larger, less visible fungus. Uprisings and revolutions are often considered to be spontaneous, but it is the less visible long-term organising and groundwork – or underground work – that often laid the foundation…

…our hope is in the dark around the edges, not the limelight of centre stage. Our hope and often our power…

What startled me about the response to disaster was not the virtue, since virtue is often the result of diligence and dutifulness, but the passionate joy that shone out from accounts by people who had barely survived. These people who had lost everything, who were living in rubble or ruins, had found agency, meaning, community, immediacy in their work together with other survivors…But people return to those selves, those ways of self-organising, as if by instinct when the situation demands it. Thus a disaster is a lot like a revolution when it comes to disruption and improvisation, to new roles and an unnerving or exhilarating sense that now anything is possible…

Together we are very powerful, and we have a seldom-told, seldom-remembered history of victories and transformations that can give us confidence that, yes, we can change the world because we have many times before. You row forward looking back, and telling this history is part of helping people navigate toward the future. We need a litany, a rosary, a sutra, a mantra, a war chant of our victories. The past is set in daylight, and it can become a torch we can carry into the night that is the future.

~ Rebecca SolnitHope is an embrace of the unknown’: Rebecca Solnit on living in dark times


Photo: Morel Mushroom by Kim Fleming

 

I fear their false urgency, their call to speed, their insistence that travel is less important than arrival

walk-beach-wind-breeze-hair
Where does it start? Muscles tense. One leg a pillar, holding the body upright between the earth and sky. The other a pendulum, swinging from behind. Heel touches down. The whole weight of the body rolls forward onto the ball of the foot. The big toe pushes off, and the delicately balanced weight of the body shifts again. The legs reverse position. It starts with a step and then another step and then another that add up like taps on a drum to a rhythm, the rhythm of walking. The most obvious and the most obscure thing in the world, this walking that wanders so readily into religion, philosophy, landscape, urban policy, anatomy, allegory, and heartbreak. […]

As a member of the self-employed whose time saved by technology can be lavished on daydreams and meanders, I know these things have their uses, and use them — a truck, a computer, a modem — myself, but I fear their false urgency, their call to speed, their insistence that travel is less important than arrival. I like walking because it is slow, and I suspect that the mind, like the feet, works at about three miles an hour. If this is so, then modern life is moving faster than the speed of thought, or thoughtfulness.

― Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking


Don’t miss Brain Pickings entire post: Wanderlust: Rebecca Solnit on Walking and the Vitalizing Meanderings of the Mind


Image: Sweet Senderipity

But there is no going back

woman_back_black_and_white

“But to preserve something is to delay that act indefinitely. Maybe preserves are where a historian’s urges meet a cook’s capacities. I wish that I could put up yesterday’s evening sky for all posterity, could preserve a night of love, the sound of a mountain stream, a realization as it sets my mind afire, a day of harmony, ten thousand glorious days of clouds that will instead vanish and never be seen again, line them up in jars where they might be admired in the interim and tasted again as needed. My historian’s nature regards with dismay that all these things arise and perish, though there will always be more clouds and more days, if not for me or for you. Photographs preserve a little of this, and I’ve kept tens of thousands of e-mails and letters, but there is no going back.”

—Rebecca Solnit, from The Faraway Nearby


Notes:

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