Thursday, 27 August 2009

Walking Like Water

[a new and experimental piece, potentially for my walking book]

It is my habit, practice perhaps, to walk the five and a half kilometres from home to work every day.

The first few times it felt a very long way. It was months before I did it more than a couple of days a week, and then only in fine weather. I’ve now been at it for over a decade, and tend to walk it every week day, whatever the weather. I find that on the days I don’t walk, I feel sluggish all morning.

Walking gets my blood flowing, starts my brain ticking over, helps shift mental roadblocks. It has become a kind of meditation for me – a great steadier, a creator of perspective, a moving still-point in a sometimes complex life.

Each week day I walk away from the mountain – often with a germ of regret that I’m not walking the other way – and with the flow of the Hobart Rivulet towards town. This is Australia, where creeks and even rivers often fail to flow, yet in 23 years of living in this catchment, I have never seen the flow stop. It’s why the earliest white settlement of southern Tasmania shifted from the drier eastern shore of the Derwent to this wetter western shore. The waters flowing from the cloud-rich mountain are plentiful and reliable.

The Hobart Rivulet is a narrow, brief, rushing thing, literally cobbled together from dolerite boulders torn off the crumbling flanks of the mountain. Steep-banked, scrubby-sided, pocked and youthful, it is a duckling with few prospects of a serene swanhood. We get along companionably.

One morning, walking alongside Cascade Gardens, I glance left towards the Rivulet where its usually cobbled course is smoothed and funnelled into a concrete race that plunges into a broad concrete pond. The pond has a large metal grate on the townward side which jags boulders and logs, reducing the risk of flooding downstream.

But this particular morning, as the jouncy, glistening water courses over the elevated race towards the pond, what catches my eye is that I am moving at the same tempo as the water: both of us flowing from mountain to sea at the speed of water.

The phrase “at the speed of water” makes me smile. I’m aware that the speed of light is fixed and known, but what of the speed of water? I walk on, the thought coming with me. Maybe I haven’t just walked like water this particular morning. Perhaps I am always walking like water.

When I’m exhausted, slowed to a trickle like ooze through the peat of the south-west; boulder hopping with glee down a dolerite scree; making plain progress through duck-boarded buttongrass; trudging and huffing towards yet another false summit; resting still as a pool during a welcome pause from walking; all my movements and thoughts, inward, upward, downward, sideward, outward, sometimes vapour thin, sometimes glacially solid and slow, have something of the fluid about them.

At a purely physiological level, I recognize that there’s plenty of water within me. The human body is made up of between 60% and 70% water. In fact a new-born baby is 78% water: amazing and fancified water, but H20 nonetheless.

And like water, I am restless even in rest. I find whispers of the eternal in the water cycle: evaporation bearing rumours of resurrection; freezing and thawing mumbling of metamorphosis.
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