Making trains appear

Sometimes I wonder that I am about 80% longing and 20% laziness. As I was saying last time, I am having some difficulty with this whole lockdown situation and apparently my own custom brand of handling things (somewhat badly) is some kind of weird grief for lost opportunities, as if I wouldn’t probably keep on wasting days in the same manner that I have been before. I need to start remembering that everyday days have enormous value too, instead of always wishing my life away looking to get to the next ‘good’ day. One of the frustrations about living in lockdown mode is seeing everyone posting about their “spare time” cool projects they’re getting stuck into; house and gardens being overhauled, the mountains of bread apparently being baked, all those sourdough civilisations being lovingly presided over by benign new gods. I’ve been struggling a bit with my paid work stuff, even before all this all broke out. Everything work related has been really busy for months without the satisfaction of any real sense of achievement, it’s all seat of pants and not really good enough, at least in my head. Unfortunately circumstances meant that it has just spilled into this mess of trying to achieve the same goals in much less conducive circumstances. I feel like I’m poking ineffectually at things and getting nowhere and nothing I’m spending all this huge amount of energy and brain space is even something I’m currently liking doing in the first place. Moan, moan, bloody moan, right? I’ve been here before and it settles down and I’ll go back to liking my job well enough, and I have been in conversations with my boss to help resolve some of the deadline dread etc. And yes, I still have a job, I know. It would appear there’s an enormous uptick in grass is greener thinking going on with me.

Anyway, that’s all quite astonishingly boring and what I actually want to do is spend some time writing here, as my thing I do enjoy doing, before going for a walk which is another, and trying to remember how to not let stupid moods beat my ass.

Right. Today’s post is brought to you by stupid moodswings and, more importantly, these lines from The Walker’s Guide to Outdoor Clues & Signs

Picking up one simple scent can take the mind on an extraordinary journey. Sense and thought, observation and deduction, this simple two-step process is the key to transforming a walk from mind-numbing to synapse-tingling. One cannot work without the other; the brain can build wondrous edifices in our mind but it requires the scaffold that our senses provide. This is a symbiotic relationship; the brain is dull without the senses and the senses become lazy without the brain’s chivvying.

Tristan Gooley, in a chapter appropriately subtitled “How can a smell make a train appear?”

The bog, as I said the other day, has some tracked open wounds from recent mechanical clearing and reworking. This caused a really interesting thing to occur; at exactly the same time my brain registered the peculiarly slick-egg and old water smell of exposed, wet peat that tended to gather at the base of my nose when I was footing turf as a teen AND the mild coconut of the furze mixed with woodmoss scent of heather that wafted around me like some ethereal scarf when I was walking observing the day. Immediately the ground scan I am highly conscious of constantly doing as a frequent barefoot walker changed to look for tussocks of reed and heather root balls that make drier and safer path markers. My ears were alert for the delicious squelch of just about right damp ground as well as the changes that would herald darker, voracious patches, aiming to remove and separate me from one of my hiking shoes. (I wear hiking shoes on bogs because bare feet get lacerated by heather and the incredible abundance of broken glass.) It seemed as if, at exactly the same time, I went into a practical sense perception mode and a heightened senses mode, the combination which fueled appreciation, memory and focus. Live, wet bogs are not easy terrain, I started to remember, there are tricks and adjustments to gait and balance that need to happen, not least to pretty much stay away from areas that need protection from great, clumsy lumps like me crashing about. I skirted around the edges and let it all do the brain refocusing I find so comfortable and good, changing gears, remembering I live in the world, not on it.

I mentioned before that my eldest son would likely not have enjoyed this same place because of the audio soup of insect whine. He and I experience the world very differently; his senses are attuned to the world in such a way that makes city life and large glass buildings far more attractive to him than they are to me. He is very light sensitive, which makes the sun his enemy, and he’s anosmic too; very few smells make even the smallest dent on his perception – handy when you can self designate as the person who takes out the biowaste bin, not so great for lots of other things. He doesn’t quite get why the physical world entrances me. He finds it interesting, don’t get me wrong, but he processes it all, not much of it moves him to any degree. He is definitely the one that would start to pay attention to light and shadows as the means of calculating time of day and direction and so on (he once, with a very dear friend of ours, set about turning a castle into a sun dial with a useful set of tent pegs), where I tend to be the one letting my mind soar on thermals with the crows instead. Before I had kids I think I thought, like many do, that I would play a bigger part in moulding how they would interact with the world. Instead I’ve just been along for the ride (and the safety belt) to tourguide through selected places through his childhood while as he went ahead and became his own self interacting with the world his own way. I have the pleasure of hearing him tell of his experiences on his road to adulthood, and wonder at the differences in our viewpoints. My younger son’s senses and their influence on his thinking align more like mine, but he is considerably more observant, especially of movement, and his sense of smell is as strong as my mother’s (there may have been bloodhound in her far , far distant ancestry). He too has his own unique and physically joyful way of experiencing the world, but he’s still of an age where he tends to keep the expression of that more to himself. Both my sons regard my interest in the fine detail of things to be of great amusement and, occasionally, exasperation.

They oblige me from time to time with company on walks, but as they’re both pretty much adults now I don’t get to just pile everyone in the car and head to waterfalls or caves or ruined medieval buildings they way I used to, and certainly not in current lockdown. I find I miss it terribly. C1, my eldest, still lets me rattle on about plants or fungi and just grins at me when I stop to take yet another photo; he has zero interest in the fungi, except if I can talk about practical uses for them. The natural world is unnecessarily texture-full and gross, it seems sometimes. He does, however, like talking with me about the shapes of trees and speculating what might have made them grow in that manner. C2 likes hearing about things he could eat or make fire with but likes to keep his feelings or his aesthetic impressions to himself, while indulging in the same glee that makes us strip off socks and shoes and sloosh around in the browngold river waters. I am acutely aware that half the world probably finds the things I love impossibly dull, I am lucky to have friends and family who will at least cheerfully indulge me if not actively enjoy exploring the same things for their own special brand of synapse-tingling.

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