Wednesday, June 15, 2011

On not walking, but writing

It's two months now since I was heaved off the tarmac of a tennis court to take up a supine position with a bag of frozen peas. Even now my right leg doesn't quite keep up with the breezy swing of my left, and protests if it goes too far or has to tackle inclines.

Although quite seriously disabled by my torn hamstring, I never completely stopped walking. At first it was only the 200 yards or so from my front door to the Co-op, taken at a literal snail's pace. Normally at this time of year I would expect to be quite active, so perhaps it was fortunate the summer has mostly been fairly similar to winter, except with light evenings (and just about without the snow). Perhaps I have been a little less frustrated than otherwise. I have also learnt a few things from the experience:

If you walk at toddler pace, the world is revealed differently. My eyes have been glued to the ground, alert to impending jolts and slips, and so my observations have been at foot level and in miniature. The discarded shoe lace or shopping list; lost buttons; the postie's trail of red rubber bands; flowers forging up between cracks in the pavement; a beetle poised on the end of a blade of grass. These tiny miracles, these embryonic stories, I would normally overlook.

I've developed a sense of affinity with people who walk with sticks (not the sort who bound along with hiking poles). There are many of them, I've discovered. I want to ask the younger ones about the nature of their injuries; the older ones I've admired for their bravery in taking to their feet at all and joining the unbalancing flow along pavements. That sense of vulnerability is not something I'm used to.

In the initial weeks, my work involved more teaching than writing, and unfortunately this included a day's walking and writing workshop for Edinburgh University Geosciences students, and a week roaming about in the woods at Abriachan with about 100 schoolchildren. (I hope they didn't take my pained expression and mental lapses personally.) After this came the period allotted to writing. You might think this would be a really good time to sit down and get it done. But my pattern of heads-down thought and word-pulling (as in teeth) is usually followed by a walk. It loosens everything up, allows for obvious solutions of word, character or plot to float into my slightly removed mind. How incomplete my writing days have felt without the daily walk.

One early morning in late May, I took myself, my fast leg and my slow one for the much missed 'turn' about the Birks of Aberfeldy. I'd forgotten the sense of elevation when I leave the trees for meadows at the top, the sense of getting away from the hum of roads. There I found a look of surprise in a lamb's eyes, the sway of calf-high bluebells, the cuckoo's insistent alarm call, the soft smirr of dew on grass. I felt ridiculously thankful for the return of my mobility; the intensity of it made the exile of injury seem almost worthwhile.