Saturday, 28 May 2011

A Sense of Arrival

Glancing over the advertising in the newspapers and through the windows of the local travel agents the mind is flooded with offers and bargains. Exotic locations for cut prices, last minute special deals or once in a lifetime offers. By road, rail or air we can cocoon ourselves in sleek metal vehicles to carry us at high speed to those special places. You can go anywhere for the right price and be whisked away like royalty or shoe horned into budget class for a few uncomfortable hours.

I have often wondered if some of the people of this island have lost the meaning of travel and journeys. The miles we travel are eclipsed by the perceived destination, and monuments and countries become a check list of must see places. To travel by your own means and power can change your perspective of the world. A geographical destination becomes a pleasing stopping point towards the end of a valuable journey and is part of the new sights and experiences gained along the way. But for me it is the journey that helps to tune us into our surroundings and offers insights as to the evolution of land, history, geography, biology and botany. It draws together as a whole spirit and speaks to the soul as a wanderer passes by. I have found my destination is not the monument or the grand vista from high on a hill side. It is those moments when you rest. Memories and experiences flood back to you as you sit by a fire or unwind to ease the aching limbs earned during the miles. The destination is the assembly of experiences, sights and emotions as mind and body finds rest, and the spirit draws it together as a whole.

Travel well and enjoy the peace before the wanderers sleep. With the healing of body and mind, the tracks of your next journey can carry the spirit to new highs. Perhaps we will meet on the trail and share a tale or two which will go far deeper than the holiday snap shot.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The Chittering Tree

The setting sun bathed the raised track before me with a warm light. Like many of the tracks through the clearings it had been formed by the passing of walkers taking best advantage of the lighter undergrowth. Beside this narrow green way the ground had sunken deeply and the light undergrowth covered deep ruts caused by arboricultural machinery from the past years harvesting of the trees. Where the ruts drew closer to the track it became extremely narrow forcing my foot falls into line to prevent turning an ankle by a misplaced step.

As I walked this natural tightrope I became aware of short sharp calls from the trees at the edge of the clearing. I cast my gaze into the dappled and lengthening shadows of the tree line to see a small shape flitting among the branches. The call was reminiscent of little owl calls I had heard in the past, I decided to push through the undergrowth of the clearing to investigate, careful to check the positioning of my steps as the ground was well suited habitat for the adders which on rare occasions grace these parts.

Closing on the tree line I approached a single standing dead wood. Continual chittering calls echoed loudly around the trees. The calls were relentless and quite hypnotic with their regularity and persistence, only the occasional call from the wandering bird broke through their repetition. With the last of the sun on my back I stopped for a few moments to try and find the cause of the cacophony. Close to the top of the deadwood I could see well chiseled holes on the bare wood of the tree. With a flurry of movement a bird appeared from the surrounding branches and closed on the deadwood. It appears the woodpeckers have created a nest overlooking the clearing and the noisy demands of the chicks would be keeping the parents busy while they remained.

I turned and left the young family to their evening as the sun set behind the horizon. I soon found myself back on the narrow trail and followed it along the western tree line of the clearing. In the twilight I looked into the silence and gloom of the wood to see another standing deadwood. Perched on the top was the sight of a tawny owl, motionless for a moment holding me in a gaze of quiet regard.  In an instant the bird turned and glided silently into the woodland. The deadwood stood silent as if the tawny had never been there.

With a smile betraying the enriched moments and experiences I had just added to my life I continued, following the trail until I also turned and vanished into the darker woods.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Embrace of the Oak

Another stumble along the trail began to reveal the effects of long work hours. As I walked I could recognise the signs of fatigue creeping over me. From an occasional missed footing to the jumble of thoughts within my head turning relentlessly and refusing to stay still as I try to piece them into a coherent order.

I lifted my hand to relieve the discomfort in my shoulders, a sensation of heaviness seemed to run from my aching shoulders down though my arm like a stream and pooled in my fingertips. I allowed gravity to carry my hand back to my side and looked around. My vision seemed to be following behind the movements of my eyes and head as I glanced around the clearing leaving me checking my balance and breathing deeply to recover what oxygen I could to tired muscles.

A head of me I could see the shape of an old oak tree set a short distance from the track, its roots spread among a blanket of rough grass. I drew breath and made my way over to seek rest for a while within the trails of the roots. Easing myself down to the floor I was relieved to find the grass dry and the earth warm, I leaned back against the trunk and closed my eyes for a moment. It was as if time itself had slowed or I had gained a synthesis with the long slow years of the tree. The wind drifted by carrying the clouds across the late evening skyline and the gentle rustle of leaves ushered them away to to horizon. Each blink seemed to take an eternity until I was aware of reaching a shallow sleep and the passing of time seemed to stop for a moment.

I opened my eyes to the gentle pattering of light rain on the oak leaves. I did not care to try and guess if my sleep had been moments, minutes or longer, but I remained warm and comfortable on the lea side of the trunk to the passing breeze. My dogs had stayed as sentinels by my side during my rest but their eager eyes displayed their desire to continue. Feeling my burden lifted by my rest I climbed back to my feet and stretched. Our journey would carry us a few more miles yet, but to enjoy such a rest by a fine oak would make my steps lighter and my mind sharper to enjoy the pathways to come.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Colours by the Lantern

With the growing fullness of the moon there seems to be little reason for the lantern on my wanders. To be honest there are times when it is left at home when I am treading familiar paths well away from roads and people. However there is a fine quality and perspective to be gained with the wandering light.

Drifting gently above the pathways the pool of illuminance floats along side me adding intensity and warmth to the surrounding moonlight. With the light swaying gently as I step carefully to adjust to the undulations and ruts, the shadows of the undergrowth ebb and flow of the lamp movement. Among the undergrowth the blooms of spring burst into colour and fade to shadow with our passing movement. Such a sight serves as a reminder of the seasons within the realm of night.

The moments also serve as reminders to passing time in life, people I have met, sights I have seen and the enjoyment of dwelling for a while in a special place. To catch a glimpse of an aspect of life at its peak fills the soul for a moment with an enlightenment which can be carried along the path to last well beyond the moment itself. It is not just the memory of such moments that is important, but also the sensation of enlightenment. To recall the sensation brings a method of returning back to the essence of being alive and a welcome rest and nourishment for a weary mind.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Turning Time - From Seed to the Mortar

Shielded by canvas from the late afternoon sun the wood turner worked. The pole of the lathe nodding to the beat of his steps and the steady rasp of steel on wood paused only for a fraction as the pole changed direction. Wood shavings scattered to the ground sheet as he worked and the slight breeze shifted those that fell to the rustic work bench. Compared to the rattle of industrial process this was subtle and skillful. The tools themselves looked as though they had been made from scratch or modified to suit his needs.

I cast my eye from the unworked wood to the final products sitting close by. I had little doubt that the wood had been sourced locally, the bowls, cups and a mortar had a glorious rustic charm and presence. My mind turned to the prospect of similar products in stores only a few miles away. Perfectly rounded, all identical in brightly coloured glaze or plastic. Formed, fueled and shipped by gas and oil. Here within reach was an object grown, felled, crafted and presented within a few miles from source to finish. I turned out my pocket to see if I could offer the crafter a good price, sadly the few coins I had on me would have left the crafter short changed for the worth of his work, but they may have bought me an imported product if I so desired. Perhaps next time I will be able to make an offer to suit my conscience.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

The Knowledge of the Peasant

Towering columns of stone, high crafted ceiling and shafts of light from high windows greet the traveller with a jaw dropping effect. Many times I have looked upon the design and skill of the medieval architect and craftsman, the ancient materials are indeed pushed to the limits of height and span by the knowledge and experience of a skilled few. But for all of its splendour I have the feeling I have seen it before but on a much grander scale, both in terms of size and time.

A line of tall pines with intertwining branches forms a living colonnade to the woodland track, with the new moon the stars glimmer through the canopy, with the full moon the shadows deepen beyond the trees and the trail is bathed in silver light. To reach a clearing the last of the trees forms a spectacular vista with the night sky drawing the eyes from the landscape to the heavens.

The changing seasons, the elements and the passing of time herald constant changes breathing new life and experience. For me this truth & beauty, the combination of living energy and elemental forces. Much as I admire the skills of the ancient builder and architect, their work seems quaint against such energies. To see such sights you need only to walk freely with nature and the knowledge of the peasant.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The Flow of Time

An aspect of life I find fascinating is the quality of time. During a regular working week it seems that time is a pressure of schedules & deadlines, but during my wanders it seems time begins to ebb and flow like a river. I learned many years ago to manage without a watch. The constant glances at my wrist to determine the order of tasks had become an unconscious annoyance, I realised that the watch was becoming a shackle to my working day and set limits and constraints to my wanders.

With the shackle removed I felt freer and after a while I began to take more time to sit, think and observe. When things caught my attention I could stay a while and learn. I noticed the pale band around my wrist where the watch used to be had returned to what it should be.

When I wander during more social hours it becomes interesting to see the actions of others who I share the trails with. Some seem to force their way focusing on the immediate steps ahead, others act like flustered shepherds driving children though leisure time to their next appointment, but some seem to be of my mindset. From the walker who stops for a while to drink in the sights to the parent who stands with their child sharing the curiosity of seeing a creature or plant for the first time.

Perhaps next time you look at the designer watch, it will not be so appealing. For all its beauty, precision parts and expensive components, it can hurry you through life and possibly strip you of experiences you could only get to see and share once.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Master of the May Wood

Questioning looks from sullen faces seemed to be the sight greeting me as I arrived at a familiar wood. With the setting sun all of the days walkers were climbing back into their cars for their journey back to the suburbs. Perhaps they had not enjoyed their day or were saddened at the thought of a return to civilisation, but the glum expressions held my eye and tried to influence my mind. As is often the case, I was heading the opposite way. Heads turned with questioning expressions to watch me pass the steel gates placed to prevent vehicles entering the wood and with every step I felt my enjoyment growing.

Once off the wider paths I found myself among the worn earth tracks weaving their way among saplings with the background and canopy of the taller pine trees throwing shadow and depth to the scene of the setting sun. I ducked and leaned around the overhanging branches as I wandered, beneath me I could feel the protruding root structure of the trees on the track reminding me to tread gently to save an unscheduled trip into the brambles.
My lead dog took position on the track ahead, her brown coat standing proud against the deepening greens of the wood. From beside her another brown shaped moved from the undergrowth and took to the air. The silent wing beats carried the tawny owl gracefully down the winding path. I watching in admiration how the wing tips were turned effortlessly to avoid touching the branches I would soon be twisting to avoid. After a short flight the tawny landed back among the low trees and vanished in perfect stillness. We followed down the path and again the tawny took to flight leading the way until we reached a clearing in the low cover. With arcing grace the bird lifted to the higher canopy and vanished among the upper branches of the tall pines.

Whatever had left the travelers of the day with their sunken expressions had perhaps vanished with the setting sun. For me the master of the may wood had shown me elegance and beauty along the most narrow and twisting of paths, as I make my own travels I will try to allow the influence of such qualities into my mind.