This spring I’ve been going for a lot of walks. Sometimes it’s a stroll around the neighbourhood in the morning before work. A hike on nearby trails on a weekend morning. A quick meander to a little garden behind a nearby museum before dinner. A visit to the local botanical gardens to see the new growth. Daffodils and tulips in April, cherry blossoms and magnolias and lilacs in May, irises and peonies in June. And now the roses have started to bloom.
In an ideal world, every morning I would get out of bed, pour a cup of coffee, and go for a walk. The temperature would be cool enough for a light sweater, the sun in its eternal process of rising, my neighbours quiet, barely any cars in the street.
I would let my bleary mind wander through the world of whatever story I was writing. As I walked I would reveal situations, deepen motivations, clarify meanings. And I would return home, coffee drunk, and sit down with my laptop to write, write, write.
But what happens instead? I pop in my earbuds and listen to a podcast or an audiobook and get swept away into another world. Someone else’s world. Or I put on music and look at houses and their front gardens, the insides of cars parked on the street, the birds on the wires and in the bushes. Or I get caught up in thoughts about everything but writing — politics, money, job, people, and all the ways the world is a horrible place.
What I want to do while I walk is immerse myself in the world waiting inside my head while moving within the physical world. Diving into an incomplete fictional world is scary and difficult, so the concrete nature of the sidewalk provides some stability.
Away from the screen, glimpses of other worlds come into it, little pieces that don’t fit the whole but somehow inform it. Shards of influence break into the wide blank expanse of what a story might be. You worry about everything you don’t know yet and fear that it’s all a mirage. At some point you can see it all laid out, like seeing every frame of a film at once and knowing in a moment everything that happens. It’s impossible. You are left with a memory of that glimpse, the universe within a second, but nothing of what it contained.
Somehow walking feels like part of the work. It’s a way to look at the story from a distance, away from the screen, and consider how it all fits. But I can’t seem to write a story without words. I can only get anywhere while I’m sitting at the keyboard, as though an accumulating word count is all that matters. Perhaps it is. There is no book without words. But there are no words without — what? What am I really looking for? Time to think? Space to imagine? Paths to wander? The words might disappear entirely if I don’t stretch my legs, look at the sky, breathe the imperfect air.
Every year I forget that spring is my favourite season. A renewed love for bright green growth and tender blossoms creeps up on me as though it hasn’t happened every year of my life. There is a special energy as colour and warmth emerge after an eternal-seeming cold. It’s easy to forget how impossible it seemed to survive the winter.
I should expect no more from these spring walks than a breath of air in this stifling city, some fresh gleam of colour against the grey and brown, a step light enough that I can feel the earth press back against the bottoms of my feet, like a gentle nudge of acknowledgment, a squeeze of approval. I want more, of course, but perhaps that could be enough.