Monday, 17 August 2009

The landscape changes

Sometimes when we travel we just want to see new things. So we give one day to one city, one day to the next. We walk our linear paths to Santiago, or Canterbury, or up the mountain and down the other side.

And we miss a lot.

I was reminded of this as I ran by the Wensum this morning - back in Norwich after a month and a half travelling.

The sky is leaden though the sun is out, shining palely. The leaves of trees by the river are dark green, and fleshy, heavy, almost sinister. Everything seems heavy, lethargic, and I can feel thunder in the air.

A line of swans passes silently, two adults and five cygnets in their greyish brown fuzz. Their wing feathers are just beginning to grow out white.

Yet two days ago, running at evening, I saw a different world; one in which the low sunlight dappled the path through glowing leaves, and the one streetlamp that always comes on early added its orange-pinkish glow to the scene. A world of luminosity and warmth, so beautiful you could almost cry.

The purple loosestrife is out, tall spikes of garish flowers, swarmed by bees. Ladybirds are everywhere. The first blackberries are ripe (I missed the flowering), and the mulberry tree has spattered the pavement with black. Autumn is coming, this morning; yet two days ago it was still summer.

This is what you miss when you travel too fast. When you walk a street for the second time, you see how it's changed; different light, a different time of day. You get to know it a little.

I know the temptations. The list of 'places I must visit this holiday'. The map that shows the Pennine Way, neatly coloured in as far as I've gone today, and the lure of the uncoloured path - the desperate feeling that you must finish it, you must press on. The desire to stick pins in the map; 'been there'.

And yet resisting this onward pull is what real travel is all about. Instead of forging a path forward, letting yourself sink into the surroundings; staying a few days, finding your footing. Slow down, rest, allow the small things to tell their stories.

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