I have just been out for a walk and I’m trying to remember how I felt half an hour ago. It isn’t that my memory is bad. It’s just that now, being indoors, things feel different.
It was already 8 o’clock when I went out for my walk so there were very few people around. However, these late July evenings at latitude 54° North are long so I still had a couple of hours of twilight in front of me.
I walked along the path through the woods with the tall trees on either side of me. At one point the rustling of the leaves sounded so much like running water that I genuinely thought that there must be a stream up ahead that I had not noticed before.
But no. The bend came and went and the sound receded and I saw that it had been just the sound of thousands of leaves jostling each other, all moved by the evening breeze.
High up in the darkening trees birds were noisily singing. It must be nice to be able to distinguish their songs and calls so you can picture which birds are up there. Maybe some day I will make a start on learning which birds are which.
I reached the wide open space of the lakes and a group of ducks flew overhead in a V-formation. I can recognise ducks. There were also some noisy black-headed white birds skimming over the surface of the lake which then swooped upwards. Either some kind of gull or terns. But not ducks.
Tiny frogs, as small as a finger nail, jumped across the path. They put me in mind of the dirty great toad that had made me jump while I was gardening this morning. I had been about to bend down to sweep away some dead leaves with my hand when one of the leaves moved. My heart shot two inches upwards towards my throat and then sank down again once I realised what it was. I felt vaguely resentful at the toad for causing such a burst of unnecessary adrenaline to go coursing through my veins.
It was a biggish toad, perhaps half the size of my palm and pretty repulsive. But these tiny froglets were a different thing altogether. I would quite happily have picked one up without hurriedly wanting to get rid of the thing, immediately wiping my hand on my trousers. Somehow the frogs’ size turned them from disgusting to cute.
I walked on and everything seemed to be in motion: there was a nice breeze which felt cool on my arms. I would like to say that the wind ruffled my hair but I can’t because I don’t have any. Still, the trees were swaying and rustling; the birds were singing, ducks and gulls were flying and the froglets were jumping. Your daddy’s rich and your mama’s good looking.
Usually I have to remind myself to direct my attention outwards towards the outside world and away from the contents of my head, but this evening that happened automatically. There was enough going on around me to catch and hold my attention. I felt I was part of the scene rather than separate from it.
For some reason a quote popped into my head from Jean-Paul Sartre: ‘Hell is other people’. In many situations I find people bloody annoying so I would generally agree with Sartre on this, especially if he had just come back from a shopping trip in Leicester. But on this particular evening I would have disagreed: “Non, non, Jean-Paul, you are wrong! Hell is also an obsession with oneself.” The self is like a giant planet. It has an immense gravitational pull on your attention from which it is hard to break free once you are caught by it.
Perhaps I should make it clear that I don’t spend my time reading French philosophers, though I did once go through a phase of reading difficult books by men with difficult names. I somehow thought that a book by Dostoievsky or Sartre must be more insightful than one by Graham Greene or John Derbyshire. I mean, just look at their names! I have since grown out of that madness and now only read books I enjoy.
But to return to self-obsession, I suspect I am no more self-absorbed than most people. It’s just that I think many of us spend too much time thinking about ourselves. People I like and admire don’t do this.
Anyway, walking through nature helped my thoughts to escape from the confines of my own head. I wasn’t the main object of my thoughts yet neither did I disappear off my radar, as I do when I’m reading a novel, watching a film or just thinking. Instead I just enjoyed the drama of my surroundings. I wrote here about moments that feel dramatic.
Whether I can repeat such ‘dramatic’ moments in the middle of a busy city I doubt. It would be too full of humans and their works. Perhaps it is only in nature that such escapes are possible.