Bud Burst and Flower Fall

Walking may only really be a pleasure when you don’t have to do it. In an age obsessed with speed - speed dating, broadband, the direct way rather than the best way - walking can feel like some ancient form of wisdom that has only just been rediscovered.

As a kid I walked. I walked over to Stratton to fish for carp - with little success. As a teenager I walked. I walked to Norton to buy The Guardian - the local shop did not stock it, its owner thinking it a symbol of creeping socialism or feeble mindedness, or possibly both. As an adult I walked. I walked in the hills by myself, with friends and sometimes with groups of kids who wanted to be elsewhere.

In the end walking changed. It became an escape from the stress of a job that was killing me. I walked when I could. But I only did it because I was cross, or frustrated or just plain sad. Walking became a something else, and it didn’t really matter what else, it was just not the other. But it was inward looking and I knew I was doing it because of problems elsewhere and so the simple pleasure of the movement and presence was lost.

One of the (many, many) good things about changing job is that I have walking back. I walk because I can, not because I will explode if I don’t. It’s like finding an old friend I thought had gone forever, and the best thing is that this friend really likes to walk. And as I walk I can see what is going on, for I am no longer looking in but out. With the possible exception of swimming - impractical even in a wet winter - or crawling - which is really only suitable for religious pilgrimage, and even then it's just a marker of how widespread an idea of stupendous stupidity can become, or for children - walking gets you closer to where the action is than any other form of movement. Cars and trains are too fast, bikes require you to keep too close an eye on the traffic around you less an errant Landcruiser pushes you off to where noticing is no longer possible. I knew somebody who made a case for horseback being the best form of transport, and I am in no position to argue. But I would have thought the sheer financial pain of owning such a beast would have crushed you before you ever mounted up.

So I walk. In shorts. In most weathers. My kids seem to find it funny when I arrive home looking like a drowned rat and small pools form at my feet if I happen to stand still. And this winter I have got wet reasonably often, which is a good thing when the dams are almost empty and we can only use water in the garden on even number days and then not on Wednesdays (or some such rule that I have forgotten and will have to look up).

So I walk. And for the first time in many, many years I can feel the seasons turning under my feet. I don’t listen to the same radio segment on the way to work, I listen to different birds. The Grey Backed Butcher birds are calling, setting out their stall for the ladies. The Magpies are carolling in a way that I can’t really describe - a beautiful mellow organ sound, sometimes loud and clear, sometimes whispered under their breath, a gentle sub song, as if they are practising. Or just doing it because they can. Pigeons chase and bow and spring into the sky with clattering wings. Straight up, stall, glide away, so characteristic they you can tell exactly what they are in silhouette. The sky changes and you have to stop and look and wonder. Pink fluff driven by a crossing wind dashes across the sky, pale blue background, darkened fore.

It can be pink underfoot as well. An early spring carpet of fallen flowers. A similar difference from childhood - the first sign of spring not a carpet of living flowers, but a carpet of fallen winter blooms. Heaping up along wall lines and gutter edges the flowers of winter fall as spring begins. Browned off flowers fall to the floor as around them other buds start to swell and burst. On a windy day you walk through a confetti of falling petals, as the plants react to the turning world and celebrate the union of warmth and longer days. And while it is clear that come the ending of the year there will be a divorce, just for now we are in the honeymoon period of spring, and all seems well. In sheltered corners the leaves of autumn are still heaped, but now they are coated with fallen flowers, layer upon layer, season after season. Weather history in dampened piles.

You can get carried away looking for spring, with every day seeming to be winter's last. Strange that it seems that way, for winter has only just begun, and must have hurried past. While working in the garden I found a small lizard, hibernating in a lost plastic cup, buried by the growth of last summer. I put it down somewhere cold, and finished my work. But when I returned to look more closely, the lizard had gone. It must have been shaken enough to have stirred. Maybe it was waiting there, half in winter, half in spring, waiting for a season’s end and a season's beginning.

Walking at a time of change is a matter of small observations of the bigger picture. The orchids are back, on the nature strip at the end of the road. This must mean I have been doing this for almost a year, because they were one of the first things I noticed and wrote about. The magpies are starting to fight, picking on the younger birds, who seem unwilling or unable to fight back. The conflicts look merciless, with the younger bird on its back as the adult batters it with its beak. This really is a pecking order. Yesterday morning I saw a butterfly - white and cold, with stuttering flight and a boundless optimism in its survival.

Not all of these changes are for the better. The garden next door has trees that show small purple fruit. They stand up from the foliage, like upside down bunches of grapes. The blackbirds love them, and so, unfortunately, do the fruit bats. I don’t know what they taste like but they don’t seem to do the insides of the bats any good at all, and the liquid goo that leaks from the bats does not do the outside of my car any good at all either! Not having to deal with the toxic sludge of bat poo that has been casually flung on to your car overnight is another reason to walk to work.
Gardens and rough edges are brightened by wattle flowers. Showing every shade of yellow. To say that wattles are just yellow is like saying leaves are green. It’s true, but it’s a simplification to the point of falsehood. Some are yellow with green, some yellow with orange and some manage to be yellow and gray. While some are just plain and simple yellow, but they make a display that is anything but plain.

Down one of the side streets on the way home I notice a display of pink cherry blossom, but at the same time I shiver and wish that I had a hat - or that I had not worn shorts! Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. But then the magpies and butcher birds are setting up shop and advertising what they have on offer, so maybe I’m not ahead of myself at all. I’ll have to wait and see what it’s like tomorrow.


Mary said...

I think I want to go for a walk.... Oh how I wish my workplace was close enough to start and end my day this way!

Garry said...

Good to read that you are enjoying walking again, Stewart, although just the thought of wearing shorts in this chill gives me goosebumps. Early last year I experienced six months of walking, though mine was enforced by the lawmakers and rarely a pleasant experience. I'm lucky that I can still take a 20 minute walk around the block where I live and in that time I will be guaranteed to pass a mob of kangaroos and a State Park - sadly, the housing estate is encroaching and I may only be walking past bricks and mortar in the near future. I continue to enjoy your photos. Cheers

Leonie said...

I walk to and from work through the Fitzroy Gardens, and it is a delight. I know what you mean about enjoying the external environment, rather than using the time for introspection. I think its that walk that keeps me connected to nature, to the seasons and the pockets of sheer beauty that can be found in concrete jungles. Enjoyed the read Stewart!