A walk is seldom ‘just a walk.’
It can be a stroll, an amble, a hike, a trek, a roam, a wander or, on a bad day, a trudge and a rather tiresome slog. A walk is different things to different people. We might be motivated by a desire to improve our health and fitness; we might be ‘in training’ for a more significant event; or maybe we just like fresh air and seeing things…..REALLY seeing things.
I walk a lot – daily if I’m diligent, for at least an hour – and from my experience, no two walks are ever the same, even when you walk exactly the same route. I’m motivated almost equally by a desire to improve my health and fitness, and to observe, to be inspired by the unexpected that I encounter along the way and to have the freedom to think and daydream in a way that doesn’t happen at home.
I love the ‘uncertainty’ as I set out each day – that feeling of never quite knowing what you’ll encounter along the way…the people you’ll meet, the superb tree you’ve never noticed before, a bountiful garden, strange garden ornaments, a freakishly original paint job, a cluster of fungi freshly emerged after the rain…. Small things, big things, ugly things, beautiful things’ they’re all fodder for my imagination and I photograph much of what I see.
You see things when you walk that you never see when you’re driving – the weird, the unexpected. When you explore a neighbourhood on foot you really get to know a place. It’s a close encounter of sorts, one that unfolds gradually and the more often you take a familiar route, the more you see.
I marvel every day at the way people choose to ‘mark their territory’ – how they decorate their homes, how they divide up their gardens, the plants they plant and the paraphernalia of everyday life that may, or may not be left lying around their yards. I love the way that varies between different suburbs – from the pristine, ‘perfection’ of the clipped topiaries and modern architecture in wealthier suburbs to the shabby originality of older areas, where you’re much more likely to see ‘the weird stuff.’
I also love the way walking can (for me) be a kind of meditation – a chance to ‘let go’ of all expectations and obligations and to just THINK. I like the way it triggers memory – a garden full of hydrangeas for instance, can immediately catapult me back to my childhood and playing in my mother’s hydrangea garden. I like the way it stimulates my ‘writer’s mind’ – how it enables me to tap into my intuition and imagination. There’s just something physical about the act of walking that gets my brain working.
For me, it’s also a kind of active participation in the history of a place. I must have walked hundreds of miles before, during and especially after the Christchurch earthquakes. I have thousands of photographs that capture the way whole neighbourhoods, whole suburbs disappeared forever. I saw the destruction, I felt the emotion and I understood the need to see – to really see – how lives were irrevocably changed. The earthquakes may have stopped (for now) but I still constantly try to capture something of the way a city moves and changes, how people move and change; and if, in the process, I forget about my aching back and my sore joints, if I get fitter and healthier then that’s just a great big bonus!