Walks of the mind

Walking, to me, and being in the outdoors have always been beneficial. So important in fact, that they are an essential part of my personality, my well-being and seemingly, my subconscious.

Back in 1996 when I took my first steps as a ‘jogger’, I didn’t know that it was the first rung on a ladder that has been going for 25 years and shows no sign of letting up. My outdoor pursuits have grown in those years to more than running. I’m now a walker, trail runner, naturalist (not a naturist, that is something I haven’t dabbled with – yet), cyclist, wild camper, environmentalist – the list goes on. I imagine that anyone reading this will probably be very similar, after all, you probably found this along your own journey and decided to read it. The name of the blog does not suggest that I am reviewing mobile phones, or last night’s TV. You will also possibly, I imagine, be struggling with what to do with yourself now that (in the UK) we are in lockdown 3.0.

There have been times in my life when my back has been against the wall. When I’ve been in strange places and situations, and in my own analogy, feeling like a shaken up lemonade bottle (I always liken stress and bad stuff to fizzy drink in a bottle, and actions to reduce that fizz are the motions needed to slowly open the cap to let some of it out occasionally). Running has always been my way of opening the cap slowly. Not always letting it all out, but alleviating the pressure somewhat. Slowly over the years, walking has done that too. The slower pace, the opportunity for mindfulness, the feeling of being out with your thoughts, and being unhurried I think gives you a chance to take more mental photographs and make little films in your memory that you can watch back when you need them. It’s times like we find ourselves in now that it all comes together and becomes clear why we are the way we are. We can draw on those memories to calm our anxious thoughts down, we can use them to plan future journeys in brighter times ahead, and we can just solely relive them. They can draw us out of dark places, they are food to nourish our well-being. These adventures and experiences, no matter how small are investments in a bank that we can withdraw or count on days when we can’t go out and earn more.

One thing I found interesting about lockdown, especially 1.0 was how it seemed to me that as soon as the outdoors was taken away, people wanted it more. People who probably never considered themselves outdoor people. But once the option of going for a walk in, say, Snowdonia, was taken away, the desire burned more. I am not a psychologist, so I can’t say if that’s because of the need to defy authority or whether it’s that old adage of you-don’t-know-what-you’ve-got-until-it’s-gone kind of thing. All I know is that I am fully at peace knowing that I’ve planned almost every available weekend around an adventure, a walk, a long run, and not taken anything for granted, so I can stay local and relive my mountain films in my head and plan the next ones with even more appreciation.

Looking around me

Nowadays I have the luxury of not having to drive to work, so I get forty minutes at each end of every day to myself (kind of) on the train. This has many advantages, that for the time being, I’m well and truly er, taking advantage of.

The first thing is I can walk to the station so I can listen to some podcasts or music and enjoy being out and about in all the seasons. Not using the car every day and being able to look around me means I can appreciate the seasons changing, and the minute happenings that nature gives, which most of us miss because we’re rushing about mainly. For example, most mornings I see blackbirds and robins. These are notoriously territorial birds, so every one that I see along the way shows the different patches of each bird. Blackbirds’ have an average territory of around 100 square metres, hence why we see so many of them. Autumn is when territories are renewed so there is a lot of activity (and noise).

When I was about ten, I was off school for a few days with an illness. Confined to the house, bored of the daytime TV and before the internet, I looked out of my bedroom window and saw all of the birds flitting about across our garden and the neighbours’ gardens. Being interested in maps (as I still am) I got my writing pad and drew a bird’s eye view of the gardens. I then drew a line in a different colour for each bird that I saw and where it went. Very quickly, a colourful chart appeared. I think techy kids these days would call it a heatmap or something like that. Either way, I learned about territories, as well as nesting preferences for each bird.

The second major advantage to this commute is the amount of reading, writing and sketching I can get done on the train. I try not to absorb myself too much into what I’m doing on public transport, like I try not to walk along gawping at my phone when I’m out and about. Part of it is because I’m far too inquisitive and like to look about me and people watch. The other thing is everyone is glued to their phone! Head down, gawping. An atomic bomb could go off away on the horizon, and they’d miss it, only to see it flash up on their phones a minute or two later. I don’t want to sound morbid, but I can easily see a terrorist attack happening on public transport all too easily in plain view of all the victims, who saw nothing of it coming, only their ‘smart’ devices. Before this turns into a typical rant of mine, I’ll steer course toward something a little more positive. In the mornings, the station where I get on is the end of the line, so it gradually fills up the closer it gets to the city, so I have the pick of most of the seats. I always choose a window seat that looks out across the open countryside. Again, I’m usually the only one looking at it as everyone else is scrolling away like zombies. The low winter sun this time of year casting long shadows over frost covered fields is still one sight I can’t resist gawping at. And it’s not on my phone.

If any of you are reading this blog, ironically, on a train, or bus, or somewhere else that you could be appreciating better, it won’t hurt my feelings if you put the phone away. Well it’s the end of the post anyway!