The act of walking.* So ordinary, an everyday action. The deliberate and purposeful cutting through space. To get from A to B and back again. Other times, a meandering relinquish to the present. A permissible public performance. A necessity, a luxury. To walk is to mark a place by virtue of presence, and to mark time via what is left behind, what is passed by and what ahead.
*I use this term with the intention of including all forms of physical or visual trajectorial movement through space; walking encompasses all of the possible ways our bodies are present and move through space.
Everyday and ordinary have taken on new meaning over the last seven months. They no longer mean normal or average; normal doesn’t exist anymore. There is talk of a new normal, whatever that means. Average, ordinary, usual, familiar; oh, how we long for that.
The everyday practices that we didn’t have time for now take precedence. Old routines give way to new routines. Different ruts and trenches are ploughed. Some of these too, are soon abandoned, left to gather the detritus of our seemingly never-ending days, left to be forgotten. Others are nurtured, established, curated. They have purpose. Given a reverence. Which in turn is bestowed upon us, marked with our very bodies and actions.
Walking, moving and placing one foot in front of the other, became a sacred act. Over the course of several months and until the proposed end of imposed lockdown, I would have walked over 800 kilometres, 500 miles.
Walking, perhaps once consigned as an inexpensive and accessible form of transport – getting me to where I need to be with my feet – is now responsible for keeping me here, connecting me to this very place, reminding me the world still exists through those very same feet. It situates my body, and therefore my mind, within what is immediate and actual. Walking “is a spatial acting-out of the place” (de Certeau). Walking gives space and place, form and purpose. Without walking it, this place might very well not exist.
Taking place in and through space and the marking out of space, walking is the action, reaction to, creation and the description of space. The paths we take, or avoid, and the reasons for those decisions, describe and inscribe that space. Areas which can be traversed are crossed. Obstacles are negotiated. Whether it’s planned disciplined routes or carved-out desire lines, the paths taken offer a unique experience of place. Fellow walkers carry with them and create their own embodiment of that very same/different place.
“Their intertwined paths give their shape to spaces. They weave places together.”
- Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life.
I plan and curate my daily walks, my one hour I am allowed out, on my own two feet, with my own thoughts, or those of my favourite musicians, writers or podcasters. I long to be alone, in public. Walking, solo, traversing my neighbourhood. The violence of order, lockdown, means I am constrained to how far and how long I can journey. Instead of limiting my excursions, it has enriched them. I now know the roads, the paths, the walkways, houses and street names in intimate detail. I have mapped my trajectory, described space and amassed distance upon my body.
There is a street I walk which has a Scottish name. Most of the houses have Scottish names. It’s nice. It takes me back to Scotland, as I try to remember where these places are located on the map in my mind. Is that north-west, or east coast? Have I been there? There’s also a massively tall, heritage listed palm tree, that you can pretty much see from anywhere you happen to walk. It’s a beacon, letting me know I haven’t strayed too far from home.
The map I have formed in my mind of my walks are not a geographical cartographers map. Instead my map depicts moments, snippets of stories, and privately ascribed landmarks. I try describing the route my walks take, they turn into tales. That’s where I found the gecko tail, still flicking. Here is where I patted that cat and it followed me down the street for a while, I thought it was going to follow me all the way home. Over there is where Jess’s grandmother used to live, it was a gorgeous old house, but there’s units on that block now. There was a swarm of bees! That’s a lovely street, it won most the most attractive street award in nineteen eighty-something. It was beautiful walking along there in the rain today, so peaceful, and it smelt so good, I nearly slipped in the mud though. The corner where the scary dog is, I don’t walk that way anymore. I saw that new café is open, we should walk down and get some food later.
Walking as a creative act is a performance in everyday life. It is routine and ordinary by its very mechanics and function, the movement may be neither objectively graceful nor artistic. However, a purposeful walk can be aesthetic; trancelike through the rhythm of the movement, the predictable kinetics of momentum, a perfunctory action. The footsteps and pace, a limp or a bowed head add drama and meaning. Consider, the walker is doing more than instinctual movement. Walking as a creative act is as much about the what takes place in the mind than what is happening through or beyond the physical body. It is the act of walking that connect the mind with the body with the place.