The following is a rewrite of my earlier post, Solo Walk. Not a rewrite per se, but the exploration of another way to tell this story. It originated as a poem, but when I shared it in two of my writing groups, the same question came up. Might this be better told as a story? I decided to investigate that and here’s what I came up with. In answer to the question, this format lands much more deeply for me.
It is rare that I walk just for the joy of it. My daily jaunts almost always have a purpose, and I am usually being yanked along the way by one or both of my dogs, pulling restlessly on the leash. No leisurely stroll, but a steady trot as I keep pace with the canines and squeeze in a workout.
But today’s walk is inspired by a writing prompt drawing on the musings of none other than novelist Virginia Woolf, who is described as “one of the most important modernist 20th-century authors and a pioneer in the use of stream of consciousness as a narrative device.”
In an excerpt from her diaries, Woolf ponders – while on a walk – that moment when we wonder, “This is it?” She writes:
“Why is there not a discovery in life? Something one can lay hands on and say, “This is it”? My depression is a harassed feeling. I’m looking: but that’s not it—that’s not it. What is it? And shall I die before I find it? Then (as I was walking through Russell Square last night) I see the mountains in the sky: the great clouds; and the moon which is risen over Persia; I have a great and astonishing sense of something there, which is “it.” It is not exactly beauty that I mean. It is that the thing is in itself enough: satisfactory; achieved. A sense of my own strangeness, walking on the earth is there too: of the infinite oddity of the human position; trotting along Russell Square with the moon up there and those mountain clouds. Who am I, what am I, and so on: these questions are always floating about in me: and then I bump against some exact fact—a letter, a person, and come to them again with a great sense of freshness. And so it goes on. But on this showing, which is true, I think, I do fairly frequently come upon this “it”; and then feel quite at rest.”*
Having just gone through a difficult season of my own depression, I’m curious where a walk that frees me to some Woolf-like stream of consciousness might take me.
I leave both dogs behind, quietly closing the door of the cottage behind me. I hear their anxious footsteps scurrying across the front room floor as I walk down the back stairway. “What, she’s left us, how can that be? Where will she go?”
Where will I go?
I pause and breathe deeply (as instructed in the prompt). Exhale, breathe in again. Exhale. It feels remarkably good.
I let my feet lead me across the unkempt lawn toward a favourite forest path. As I step along, I take notice of the massive overhanging branches of a mature pine tree bowing over the walkway. I’ve burst along this route a thousand times and never noticed the girth of the trunk or the age of this Mother Tree.
I step under the branch, then continue on the path. It is a favourite trail – short, to the point like so many of my interactions of late.
There is no need to rush. I know where these steps will take me.
The metaphor of these two thoughts lands on my chest, but in the sweetness of this moment, I brush it away. Intrigued, but free, I’ll let that stew for a while.
Instead, like Woolf, I ponder what can I say about my own life, when on a stroll through this spellbinding space I often take for granted— Mature forest, rivers rich with life, common and rare species of birds and other wild things hunkering along the shoreline.
I am sometimes, as Woolf describes herself, a “restless searcher”, but more often hesitant, every walk requiring thoughtful awareness for the wild things that were here first and can appear at any time.
Because of my fear of bears, I walk farther and more freely in winter when they are asleep. Then, there are the wolves, but they want less to do with us…or so my research says – as happened when I did come face to face with one. I take comfort in that.
But both are again wild things and unpredictable. So the fact I walk alone, or even in the company of my leashed dogs, is perhaps more courageous than I give myself credit for.
Woolf’s declaration “this is it”? crosses my mind as I round the last turn on this well-known foot path, the one that opens up to the river. It’s calm today, glistening with the reflections of the mid-day sun, weeds and wild rice sprouting throughout the secluded bay. I catch my breath as a blue heron spreads its gorgeous wings and surges up from the quiet of the bay. Spotting these shy beauties is a rare gift.
It’s timing is perfect. I again breathe deep. As I do, I’m overcome.
Yes “this is it”.
I am bristling with awareness of how my body is feeling in this moment. It is a small victory over the isolation and depression that has been a constant companion for much of this year.
All I feel right here, right now is peace, contentment and acceptance for what it is. It is enough.
I rest my hand on a mature balsam along the pathway. I feel the honour of our good choices as this is but one of the many such coniferous and deciduous trees we have left standing, have resisted sawing down to clear our path or prevent from falling on our humble adobe.
Two have, fallen that is, one on our cabin and one on our camper. We cleared them away and considered the damage a fair price to pay for all they’ve given us. We were more saddened that they fell, than the harm they caused.
The only visible human intervention in the natural fauna is the garden growing with wild abandon although fenced in against four-legged intruders.
I recently transplanted my Day Lilies here as their flowers are nipped away by deer, almost immediately, when they blossom in early summer.
Most of the flowers I’ve planted are pollinators and non-invasive. I’m thrilled to see bees hovering on the petals of the brilliant marigolds that flowered late. A whisky jack flutters amongst the giant sunflowers that tower over everything at about 12 feet tall.
Pausing at the end of the walk, I can literally feel a quiet triumph surge through my chest that has so often been clenched these past few months. My depression has had some strange, heart wrenching fantasies playing through my troubled mind.
I feel them being swept away. It’s exhilarating. An awakening.
This beauty is not strange or foreign, but often overlooked in its everyday presence because it is always here, because it always shows up.
I feel a kinship in that. If being unseen allows such glory to occur anyway, day after day, then so can I be as I am in this place.
Even if I am invisible.
This is indeed a small victory, but it has landed in a very big way. I originally wrote this story as a poem and when I shared it, in another writing group, one of my fellow writers, Andrea, shared a Buddhist teaching that in life you take everything that’s happening to you as a “wind pushing you forward”. Another, Rumi, commented on how this story could be called Depression Walking, exemplifying how you can choose to walk through depression, “one step in front of another”.
Still another of these wonderful friends, Anne, commented on how the need to not have a full resolution – accepting I may be invisible at times – was freeing and actually helped me have a greater sense of belonging, and not just longing, in this story.
I couldn’t agree more.
*From the diary of Virginia Woolf, vol. 3 (1925-1930)