'Words Made by Walking' An Article by Debra Williams
There’s a rhythm to walking in nature, just like there is to writing about it – the stops and the starts, the forward, flowing motion of body and words, and the watchful, thoughtful pauses.
I find spring especially inviting for walking: the lighter, brighter, milder days, the anticipation of migrant birds’ return giving way to excitement as the first local reports trickle in of chiffchaff singing from scrubland or wheatear perched on fence posts. The need to walk, explore, look, listen, revel in the myriad experiences rises like tree sap. To squelch through boggy, waterlogged ground, or feel the vibrations through boot soles that crunch on iron-hard grass still misted with a light frost. To brush past blackthorn blossom frothing from bare branches, admire thickets of spindly birch wrapped in pale papery bark, inhale the coconut scent of prickly yellow gorse, delight in brightly coloured crocus rising proudly from the earth, watch the first bees zig-zagging past, hear the skylark’s sweet silvery song. Sights, sounds, smells, even touch – the wind on bare arms, the softness of a downy feather run through the fingers – all providing joy in that instant and a rich source of inspiration for writing later. And, if walking by water, I can add the pulse of waves – tide or wind driven – or the burbling flow of a river or stream, the cry of a herring gull or the azure flash of a kingfisher’s back. In such surroundings, creativity pulses with the motion of heart, breath and feet.
And walking in nature is, for me, also a win in other ways: a sign that today I have been able to get out, which for an anxious person can be quite difficult. So I already feel buoyed up, proud of myself for what others might see as only a small achievement – if one at all. And that is before the feeling of expectation, based on previous wild encounters in my chosen destination, and then the elation of actual encounters – experienced in the present but lingering long in the mind, summoned by re-viewing photos and videos, composing my nature blog or exchanging comments and sightings on Twitter. And so writing is also a way of remembering, and connection.
Yet, often when I am walking, I am also lost in the fog of thoughts – perhaps even mentally drafting text for a tweet to communicate the joy and beauty of the occasion – and so, ironically, I lose the moment and fail to observe what is happening all around me. This flaw is brought sharply to the fore when walking with a friend. They will point out a bird, say, that has escaped my inward focus, even though we are ostensibly in the same place. So, I have to make an effort to look outside myself, to be present, which has the double benefit of allowing the outside world to register and of quelling the often annoying, repetitive voice inside my head.
And, of course, being in nature is now a recognised and recommended way of managing anxiety: the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, body and mind relax, endorphins flow, even our blood pressure lowers. Walking through woodland or even just sitting mindfully in one spot for 10 minutes can have a powerful positive effect on our mood, highlighting a sequence of moments that can be filled with wonder and peace, if we allow them to be. I have a strong memory of sitting on a scratchy sandstone slab on the estuary’s foreshore on a warm, sunny day, listening to the waves lap sibilantly at the mud, closing my eyes, breathing in deeply and feeling my shoulders relaxing on the out breath, with only the curlew’s haunting cry for company. I try to convey this feeling and others in my writing, to share the peace, relaxation and quiet contemplation – as well as the exhilaration and joy – that nature brings.
I’m sure I miss a lot – that inward focus! – but walking in nature has opened up a world for me in my locale that just a few years ago I was unaware of, although I have lived here for many years. Walking used to mean short, purposeful journeys. Now, I wander appreciatively through green spaces that are new to me, and even urban walks are nature walks, as I notice wildlife previously overlooked, and I make sure to include the city in my nature-based observations and communicate the wild beauty that it has to offer. Even the graffiti and other artwork on the surrounding buildings provide inspiration, as I am stimulated to be my best creative self by their vivid colours and wild (often in a very different sense of the word), fever-dream images – although many of them are of wildlife – dragonfly, fox, owl, even bluebottle (see: https://wordsanddeeds.co.uk/a-day-in-the-urban-wild-life/).
And so my creativity pulses with the motion of heart, breath and feet, the sights and sounds of the natural world, and even the delights of the seemingly grey urban jungle.
All Rights. Debra Williams.
Debra Williams is a proofreader and writer who enjoys telling her short stories and poems in a group of storytellers, believing that some work needs to be read aloud.
In 2022, Sitting with Sparrowhawks won first prize in Anxiety UK’s inaugural poetry competition (https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/get-involved/the-power-of-poetry/). Her writing has been published in print outlets including Lancashire Life, Winter Solace, a Naturewrights publication and (out soon) Ellipsis 13: Hoochie Coochie (https://www.ellipsiszine.com/thirteen/), and on the Free Flash Fiction website (https://freeflashfiction.com/fiction/vincent-at-arles/).