“When the path disappears, the journey begins” Thomas Merton
I wander what you see in the two pictures I have chosen for this week. A white road through a church, a scrap of fabric on a tree. These are both photos from an intervention I made at Kirkstall Abbey Leeds in 2012. I was invited to respond to the history of the place and made several different artworks including these almost ‘non-art’ works. The white road is made from marble pebbles marking the central aisle of what would have been the abbey church. It was also for many years -even into the age of car travel – the main road to Leeds.
The contrast between the slow procession of faith for prayer and the use of the path as a through route struck me as a marker for the idea of journeying both physically and spiritually. Both artworks offered the visitor the chance to interact and respond to their meanings: people could take a pebble home from the path and could mark their visit and maybe prayers by tying a ribbon to a tree, in the way that clooty wells have often been decorated.
A luxury that lockdown has given me personally is the gift of time and this has enabled me to explore my local countryside without hurrying. I have had time to wander around, to discover, and to take paths that might go nowhere but it doesn’t matter. In a very real way, most of us are going nowhere currently; our travels have been severely curtailed, and we have had to cease our endless rushing about.
Wandering has allowed me to realise what’s here in front of me. I have tried several times in recent years to find somewhere I can walk from my house. But only now have I noticed where the paths are. By their well -worn nature, it is obvious that they have been there for quite some time, yet it has taken my meandering to find them. I have also discovered that if I slow down and avoid steaming on toward ‘the end’, whatever that is, I absorb so much more of the walking experience. I see the cowslip, the swan, the violet.
Rebeca Solnit talking about the beginning of the concept of tourism says, “experiences along the way could replace destinations as the purpose of travel”. Robert Frost famously wrote of a path “I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference” but we forget the rest of the poem that this quote comes from: Two roads diverged in a wood, both were equal, it’s just that he chose one and not the other.
At this time when our travel is still so severely limited, perhaps we have the opportunity to discover another type of journeying, wherever we live.
Take time to look at the pictures and consider these questions:
- How can you ‘wander’?
- What can you observe along the way?
- Where is the path taking you? Does it matter?
You will need a stone and a strip of fabric
- Hold your stone in your hand inside your palm, fingers clasped around it. Shut your eyes and think about the many things you have picked up along the way in your life’s journey. Good advice, memories, joy, wisdom – things that ground you – but also maybe things that rankle, like a stone in your shoe. Consider all the things that make up your life’s path
- Maybe also spend a little time considering where you find yourself now at this time of lockdown: do you feel like you’re wondering aimlessly? Does that matter, or is it good to take a break from being goal driven? Do you feel like you’re ambling along rather than rushing from a to b? do you feel that you’re off the path somewhere? Can you imagine how that might be a good thing – perhaps a chance to sit and be – observe the scenery. Are you busier than ever? Following different paths in different directions? How can you make sense of it all?