Walking into writing

Walking into writing

Walking into writing

Taking my mind out into the world

Dropping into rhythms

Then letting a detail interrupt that

Taking time

Enlarging the present moment

Sunlight on shell glitter

Unblinking search for surface breach

Dog nose on hand


Walking with family

Ancestors, community

World patterns, tides

The progress is populated with footprints

Animal, human, shod, barefoot,

Sunken or washed away

They weave in multi-directions and I print myself across them

A lone voice over this choir

Supported by an infinite rhythm

Of those past and those to come

All walking together


Take a walk. Come back home and write what you encountered. Try to write so that your sentences feel the way the walking felt. (Tredinnick, Mark. The Little Red Writing Book, 9)

Up the hill and down the path before shedding the shoes for the massage of sand. Starting out over the soft edges of the dunes, tips and teeters the torso. It feels like I am being played by these particles, sung and wrung by the consequence of tide. Heading for the water’s edge is a search for firm, a zig-zagging trekking from bog to balance. I feel like I’m a giant traversing continents—inland seas, graveyards of shells, canyons of seaweed, rivers to the sea, illuminated coastlines hinting at unseen civilisations.

My rhythm is interrupted on the forward leg by the musical hopping and dog dodging. I play with pace. The musical tempo a hurdle or a lag. Cross-rhythms from earshot to footfall, bringing my verticality into counterpoint with the horizontality of forward progress.

The sun is soaking into me. I shed layers and feel moisture forming under my backpack. Up the steps to the Square I notice the ease of their riser height. These steps have a history that remembers those who promenade, unlike the Puma-pounding stairway at West Beach. Those steps are deeper, edging toward the threat of misadventure. I rinse off my feet and struggle back into the Birkenstocks.

On the return trip I give myself a more ambient soundtrack, an undulation over which to hover. The incoming tide has deepened the Karrawirra Parri (river) and pushes me to the paved walkway (a lesson learned a couple of weeks ago, that the traverse is made impossible by quicksand beds). The last kilometre begins to rub the big toe skin. I negotiate barefoot the man-made terrain back down the hill and rinse my feet at the tap under the Indians’ window.


Walking as Practice

I read the above text, the beginnings of my biography writing, to the group of other WAP artists in residence on Björkö (Sweden) a few weeks ago. It was a ‘sharing’ evening for the two most recently arrived artists, myself and Heather Kapplow (Boston). I interspersed a couple of bits of writing with three video works that “seemed relevant” to this context. I started by screening Nest—commissioned during Covid (2020) responding to Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, an interaction between physical space, consciousness and poetics (and there were pine cones, so relevant to Sweden). Then, after the above text, I screened DR collagea short ‘mash-up’ from a creative exchange with Emma Wilson. Artistic collaborations or shared provocations nourish my solo practice and I suppose I applied for this residency in search of a bit of this. To be in a safe space where everyone is working/risking, able to let your guard down and consider your work from another angle. In my exchange with Emma back in 2020, we had talked about Gloria Steinem and how “the truth will set you free but first it will piss you off.” So, in the spirit of risk/truth, I then read to this group of (mostly) strangers something I wrote in a Writers SA ‘Work Space’ session in May this year. We were given the title ‘I just want to go home’ and an hour to just write. I also read it to that group of strangers. It is an unedited and personal response about my mother’s death and my walking into writing as a grieving ritual. In it I describe the ritual of spreading her ashes in the ocean (but I will let you wait to read that in the final book edit). I let no beat pass from reading into screening Communal Bloom Strategy. Inspired by the text “The Secret Network of Nature” by author/forester Peter Wohlleben, this project considered patterns of growth over cycles of seasons—the moving body, an ongoing physical practice, as metaphor for environmental change and the three-dimensionality of ecosystems. It seemed relevant for this sharing where the participating artists are concerned with walking in nature.

There was a long silence after I stopped the last video. I guess I had bombarded the group with a lot of very personal and dense imagery. After an uncomfortable evening of feeling I had ‘over-shared,’ the positive responses trickled in from individuals over the next couple of days. Sensitivity—it can be a gift or a stick to beat yourself up with.

Rights of passage

Allemansrätten, or ‘all mans right,’ is the freedom to roam in a number of Nordic countries including Sweden, providing no damage is made to the forest. Anyone has ‘the right to walk, cycle, ride, ski or camp on any land with the exception of private gardens, near a dwelling, or on land under cultivation.’ No hunting is allowed but berries and wildflowers may be collected.

This was my first international journey in six years, pre COVID, and the first return to Sweden in eleven. Customs officers empathised with my impending long-haul flights. I was already feeling nervous about flying Qatar into Arab skies but then the Israeli-Palestinian conflict hotted up. So, I updated my will including a sum for the re-homing and care of my cat. I remember when air travel seemed glamourous, back when I was thirty and flying Air France to Paris, chain smoking as soon as we were out of Australian air space. Then you do the twenty-four plus hours pinned in an upright seated position, sonically bombarded and battery fed. And you try not to think about the environmental impact as you sit in that fossil-fuelled container, your sea change contributing to climate change.

I wonder who wrote this ‘freedom to roam’ edict? I’m fairly sure it wasn’t the indigenous peoples of these countries. The Sámi (Sápmi) roamed as semi-nomadic reindeer herders in the north largely ignored by the Norse/Scandinavians in the south until the introduction of Scandinavization policies in the nineteenth century. It seems the roaming was a type of ambling colonisation. I feel this guilt about imposing myself both on the natural landscape and the traditional custodians. Flying away from colony Australia I’m also carrying on the baggage of a silenced indigenous community.

The entire time in transit—compressed into unnatural stasis with nervous legs and groaning digestion—I wished I hadn’t come. Why am I going to the other side of the planet to walk in a remote wintery landscape? Am I trying to walk out of my to-and-fro, open the window and let the fly out of her buzzing self-battery?

But I flew and I roamed. Through Stockholm mostly carrying bags from hotel to hotel, or searching for ICA (food) and Systembolaget (wine); then on the island of Björkö with several other artists or alone with various recording devices. I clocked up around 125 kilometres in 20 days, despite spending a couple of days sitting in various modes of transportation and another couple laid up in bed with a hacking cold.

I realise the daily five or six kilometres barefoot over sand has built my endurance. My walking shoes propel me as I zigzag correcting my opposing traffic safety habits. It is a different kind of invisibility, a merging into tourism, until I open my mouth to ask for something. Perhaps still jet lag but the loss of Mum looms large: as I pass the souvenir shop instead of buying her a postcard; knowing Shanti (my cat) doesn’t have her in my absence. And here come those sudden surges of emotion when Ami mentions my/her losses. Death and divorce. Large heavy rocks in our chests pushing gravel into our throats and gagging us.

The weekend before I flew to Sweden, I attended a writing workshop with Jennifer Mills as part of the Nature Festival. She talks about nature as teacher, participating in nature and re-situating the human, giving plants implied personhood, agency, and interrogating the idea of human supremacy. She encourages us to write a landscape, to consider our creative ecosystems— what are its conditions, what are my waste products? She also encourages us to find our own scaffold for our written structures. I feel I have met someone from my tribe.

These thoughts came with me to Björkö.