I was lucky enough to visit Walden Pond on a trip to the USA over ten years ago now, in a time when travelling overseas seemed a normal thing that one might aspire to. It was a pilgrimage of place, to the place that inspired Thoreau in his life and writing.
You can read a bit more about that trip on my earlier post HERE
I was reminded of all this by this short film I came across, just called Walden, a Ewers Brothers Production with input from Ken Burns and narrated by Robert Redford. I enjoyed it on a rainy late winter morning. You might too.
Locked down, and perhaps about to be locked down even more securely, it seems more important than ever to focus on what’s right in front of you. As Victoria struggles to bring down the number of Coronavirus cases I’m grateful that I can still walk by the seaside and, through my mask, take in the shape of the world.
I’ve always been interested in the look of water from above; looking down into it from Avon, impenetrable mostly. I saw an exhibition of Roni Horn’s photography and bought a copy of Another Water,photographs looking down into the Thames.
My little vignettes were taken on an afternoon walk near Mornington Pier this week after work. It was a beautiful winter day with so much to look at, but on this walk it was the textures on the water that attracted my interest: the differences between the two sides of the pier, the little swirls and swells of energy pulsing across the shallow sand, the sense of depth and cold with even the sun swirling on the water. I suggest watching them full-scree, on repeat! Shut out today’s news.
One of the nicer things about winter is the lack of crowds. Another is the bay on cold, still mornings where it seems to be in hibernation, breathing lightly. This morning the faintest of pulse-like wavelets, arriving on an island of sand at low tide, and wrapping their energy gently around them.
I stood there for a while, filming it, and taking it in.
There’s been a resurgence of old skills in this time of quarantine and isolation.
For some it’s clearly bread-making or cooking. You still can’t find yeast in shops here. Or knitting. Jigsaw puzzles seem ubiquitous, if that can be called a skill.
For other, including myself, it’s some of the old habits of trying to get into nature that are sustaining and even more necessary than usual.
Not necessarily wild nature either; the sandy path along the edge of Port Phillip Bay near my house has enough variety and interest to make it fulfilling and refreshing every time. It needn’t be birds of creatures you see. Often, for me, it’s the shape of the sea: its crinkled or fretted surfaces, the wind swirling across it in dark knots. Sometimes its the clouds and the light behind them. And often is just the light and what it does to transform and sustain.
So, it was nice to find a new podcast from English nature writer Melissa Harrison, aptly called The Stubborn Light of Things which is an attempt to chronicle some of her walks in the nature around her English cottage. As she says, ‘I am lucky enough to be able to walk out of my cottage straight into Suffolk’s beautiful open countryside. As spring breaks over the British Isles, and summer settles in, I’ll be taking a recorder out with me on my daily walks to document the wonder and richness of the natural world and bring it into as many homes as I can.’
I’ve listened to one episode, and it made me think about getting better at documenting the changes in my local landscape through the seasonal changes. She actually had me at her referencing of Gilbert White and the seminal Natural History of Selborne, (1789) a long time favourite of mine, so much so that a visit to the village and White’s house but her guest on the first episode made a point about noticing that I took to heart. When did the summer finally shift away? When do the tomatoes no longer ripen? What is the light doing. I’m going to try to take even more notice.
Top: the light of things through the grapevine in Autumn. Bottom: Gilbert White’s house in Selbourne Photos: Warrick