I walk my dog, Nelly, most days. I don’t have to as we have fields around us, and she’s a dog that takes her caretaking duties seriously; there’s always a stray chicken to out stare or a pheasant to chase. The walk is for me not her. The small wood we walked through this morning is so familiar that it slides past me now. I have to remind myself to look. But even when my head is elsewhere, the countryside around makes my skin prickle; there are still splashes of colour: berries, stray green leaves, colourful stones; but there are also bones, scat, stink and enough trip hazards to send an distracted woman face first into the rutted path.
That’s what I like about nature – she makes you wake up, look up, check to see what watches you from behind the trees. She triggers the instincts, and I know for a fact that, even at my most oblivious, I carry home new experiences everyday, experiences that inform, colour and aid structure in my writing. They are the spark.
I have come to realise that time of day is pretty crucial regarding mental benefits. I like my solitary walks, and sunrise is my favourite time of day. I have always been an early riser even as a child, and I am usually awake by 5.30 am. It’s my time to read, write or speak to my brother who shares my trait for early mornings, and also has an English Bulldog who would wake him at stupid o’clock even if he didn’t. And it’s my time to slip between the worlds, just my dog and I. There is something remarkable about the familiar when it’s smudged with the very beginnings of light, the first pale orange stains of the coming day. It makes you wonder what is possible, makes you wonder what might step out of the woods. It’s smells different, feels different against the skin.
It’s a threshold. A doorway. A crack between the here and now, and at its most tangible when the light, or night, begins to rise. As a child I believed that all the stories of fairies and white ladies, of evil sorceresses and sharp, smart wolves were all set in this inbetween time, and their traces, their footprints, only became visible to those wily enough to be out of bed when they shouldn’t have been. I have carried this certainty with me, it hasn’t faded with the years, and I’m glad; I couldn’t write without it. I wouldn’t have the courage to let my insides out. I would lack the palette of colour, and I wouldn’t be able to be this certain that everything I put down on the page has come true, will come true, is coming true right now.
I think everybody, adult and child alike, should do their best to hang on to the mythic part of themselves. That repressed eight year old who peeps over her bedroom windowsill waiting for the spirits on Halloween night to rise, or the sixteen year old who really wants to peel an apple and see the initial of her one true love. Each of us has taken a walk in the woods and been changed, then walked back into our stuff cluttered lives and been changed back. Don’t let it happen. Daydream, pretend, believe, allow. I can’t help but see it as the root of art and music, the wellspring of words and images. We’ve all had it, once upon a time, now the important thing is to find it again. To walk into that wood and never leave, no matter where life takes you.