“You lift your head, you’re on your way, but really just to be walking, to be out of doors. That’s it, that’s all, and you’re there.” – Frédéric Gros, A Philosophy of Walking
It often takes a little shake-up for us to notice the little things. Everyday things, like walking. Like the proficiency with which our legs move us over rocks and tree roots as we will them to on a walk through a forest.
It often takes some sort of injury, losing this ability to do the things we’ve always done or always wanted to do, for us to start to take notice. Watching someone ten or twenty years your senior racing fifty steps ahead of you up a mountain will do it too. It will rattle you. Spur you. Inspire you.
If that isn’t impetus enough, perhaps the words of Frédéric Gros, in his novel, A Philosophy of Walking, will serve as a reminder of why we walk, why we head out into the woods or the mountains to place one foot in front of the other.
In our case, walking involves an island, baobabs and a river, the Zambezi River, as our path weaves us through the trees around the islet of Katombora in the middle of this mighty African river. And we walk, slowly, consciously and mindfully – not merely out of safety, but because, as Gros writes…
“Days of slow walking are very long: they make you live longer, because you have allowed every hour, every minute, every second to breathe, to deepen, instead of filling them up by straining the joints… Slowness means cleaving perfectly to time, so closely that the seconds fall one by one, drop by drop like the steady dripping of a tap on stone. This stretching of time deepens space. It is one of the secrets of walking: a slow approach to landscapes that gradually renders them familiar. Like the regular encounters that deepen friendship.”
As journalist, Nathan Deuel, writes in a Los Angeles Times article about the former British paratrooper, Levison Wood who walked the length of the Nile in April 2014:
“Humans walk; our ability to stand and move on hind legs is one of the ways we distinguish ourselves from other species. Walking allowed us to roam far and wide, and yet it’s an activity most of us do without thinking, for the simplest of tasks.”
Levison himself writes, “To some, the very idea seems archaic, and, in a world of Google Maps, where every valley and hillside has already been plotted, the traditional age of exploration is certainly gone. But exploration has always been about more than pure discovery or of being the first to do something.”
For us exploration, on foot in particular, allowing that closeness to the earth, to the animal, bird and plant life all around, is about just that – seeing the world and seeing it clearly, feeling the freedom of being footloose, and remembering the simplicity of it all.
And don’t worry…
During the day the hippos stay in the river and our paths wind too far inland to attract crocodiles, meaning it’s just you and the birds and the bees. And the butterflies. And the odd baboon or vervet monkey. Those towering baobabs and glimpses of the Zambezi through the trees.