I am no wizard. Yet sometimes I seem able to bend time, to tame it momentarily. It rarely happens in my everyday existence. There time is a wild and unruly beast, predictable only in its relentless movement in the one direction.
Along the way it gorges itself on busy-nesses of every kind. I hang on, dizzy, ill even, from its mad rush. There’s a name for that malady – “hurry sickness” – and many of us suffer from it. Even so, we remain addicted to what rushing promises, like the possibility of doing twenty things at once.
So how is it that I came to bend time? Quite simply, I walked. Somewhere along my varied journey, I discovered that moving feet can bend time. Typically if I was doing many things, or none, time would fly by. But in doing just the one thing – particularly this one – I experienced an unaccountable staunching of time’s flow, even an expansion in its quantity and quality.
[A sublime summit moment: Mt Rogoona, Tasmania]
A Scene: Somewhere in Tasmania
I’m not sure of the hour, it’s probably late morning. There is a cold wind blowing over the small rise between last night’s campsite and our next. We leave the track as we sense – or guess – that our summit route is this way. We drop our heavy packs, put essentials in our day packs, and scramble to the west, mostly up.
There is no track, so we spread out, each picking his or her own way over the rocky terrain. One avoids a thick patch of bush to the left; another to the right. A third stops to examine wildflowers, another presses on. I pause at a small rocky pool, an exquisite tarn-in-miniature. It sits beneath its own doleritic micro-mountains, surrounded by its own micro-forest of sphagnum, pineapple grass and mountain rocket.
[A pool beneath the summit of Mt Rogoona]
As we grip and grunt our way over grainy, rocky slopes, we slowly pull closer to the high point. After a final sharp scramble, we are there: standing on Mt Rogoona’s summit. The clouds clear, the wheel of the world turns more slowly. We see everything it is possible to see from here.
And more. A wedge-tailed eagle swoops by. It pauses, wobbling imperfectly, almost clumsily, at our eye level. Its tail feathers are a little ragged, not yet fully grown. Is it young, trying out new-found skills? We exchange close, enthralled looks with the raptor.
[A Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle above Mt Rogoona]
Without effort it lifts on an updraft, drifts away. We exchange a few inadequate superlatives, turn to the stunning view, start to pose for photographs. The eagle circles back for another look. Four, five times more the eagle circles, finally satisfying its curiosity – if not ours – before soaring away. How long this has taken I have no idea.
Doing less, yet gaining more: that’s surely a paradox. And as with most such, it tends to fall apart under analysis. Yet how else to explain the high count of solid, vivid memories that I associate with the simple act of bushwalking? Are they like other moments of intensity – love-making, childbirth, peer acclaim, serious illness, the loss of a loved-one – that can suspend the usual laws of time? Does walking seriously rank alongside those other life landmarks?
The online bushwalking forum, Bushwalk Australia, has an active thread with this question: “What does bushwalking mean to you spiritually?” See http://bushwalk.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=10226 The thread has been active for nearly a year, and has attracted a wide diversity of opinion. But even the question alone intrigues me, because I have come to see bushwalking as in part “spiritual”. That is, it has spiritual benefits. That’s not to deny physical, biological or psychological benefits. (Not that I draw sharp distinctions between such categories: we are complex, multi-faceted creatures, after all.) But I have come to see bushwalking as having a spiritual side.
[Good for your soul as well as your soles]
Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama makes some tantalisingly grand claims for walking. He says that our normal walking speed is in fact the speed of love, and thus the speed of God. He references that to the Bible story of God walking with the Israelites through their 40 years in the wilderness.
“Love has its speed. It is an inner speed . . . a different kind of speed from the technological speed to which we are accustomed. It is ‘slow’ yet it is lord over all other speed since it is the speed of love. It goes on in the depth of our life, whether we notice it or not, at three miles an hour. It is the speed we walk and therefore it is the speed the love of God walks.” (from Three Mile an Hour God)
If walking is deeply ingrained in our spirit – that part of us that seems capable of by-passing time – then it may start to explain why time sometimes seems to wobble when we don our boots.