I’ve been walking a lot. Around my neighbourhood, mostly. My feet know the way down the pitted tarmac road and through the gate into the park, where the land undulates beneath them. My ankles flex on the incline – a steep slope and a scramble under the trees. Instinctively, I push uphill, pounding my legs into the earth like pistons. I can hear myself, breathing.
Exercise is good for you – the voice of my school PE teacher echoes in my blood-filled head. At the time, I thought she meant that swinging from monkey bars and jogging across the sweat-stinking sportshall was good for my growing body. Now, I know something else. All this walking, you see, is good for thinking too – there’s something about movement that creates lucidity.
Usually, it takes twenty minutes of left, right, left, before the path becomes clear and I can see the horizon. I push away thick brambles that snag on my jacket and exhale tangled thoughts until I feel my mind opening, then the words come – sometimes an idea, sometimes a phrase, sometimes whole sentences. The rhythm of my footsteps sounds like a heartbeat, like a poem.
The scenery in my head is very different to the textures of the park that my eyes see. I think about places that are a million footsteps from the soil I am walking on - places from another time, imagined places I would like to visit, places that are far away.
I like walking up mountains and I have trekked through some beautiful and fascinating landscapes. I remember one early mountain morning, tracing my fingers over the map before I set out. The answers I sought were trapped between the contour lines that wound round the eastern shore of a turquoise lake, waiting for me. To find them, I had to walk.
One of the things I like best about walking up mountains is the achievement of reaching a summit using just my own two feet – no engine or electrics; the energy comes from me. At the bottom, I take a long, hard look at my goal, and steel myself. It takes hours before I reach the top, and it’s hard work. Here is a metaphor for writing. All you have to do is put one foot in front of the other, and have faith in your own grunting effort. I’m going for a walk.