What is this life if, full of care
We have no time to stand and stare
William Henry Davies
Going for a walk is important. Being out in Allah’s Creation is important. Walking on the earth, not a pavement or in a shopping mall is essential and quite literally grounding. It connects oneself with what is real. I try to walk everyday. I know it is healthy, good for the body and the mind. The green vistas are rest for the eyes, away from a computer or a book. It is good for the spirit too because whatever mood you are in when you leave the house, it changes when you see the great expanse outside. Even if you arrive home soaked to the skin and cold, as is often the case in England, you feel different.
There are so many ways to walk. You can saunter, stroll, amble, march, hike, totter, I would rather not do that, but even the brave souls that I see tottering are getting out of their houses and themselves. Now you can even ‘power walk’, not something I would personally recommend or could even do, it seems to be self-defeating.
In England, when I was young I collected and kept a scrapbook of wild flowers. I do not know who encouraged me, perhaps it was my mother or more likely a dear maiden great-aunt who lived in the country and recognized the birds by their songs. We wrote down the Latin names and although I no longer recall them, it revealed to me that there was a wonderful exotic world of foreign languages, plants and animals.
Allah says in the Qur’an:
“He taught Adam the names of all things.”
We would look up the English names as well; Scarlet Pimpernel (that elusive little coral coloured flower); Shepherd’s Purse (what medieval shepherd gave the little heart shaped seed pods that name?); Cow’s parsley (did cows really have their own parsley?); Honesty (that fragile paperlike oval disc of white paper in the seed pod). I could imagine a whole world of people who knew these plants intimately and knew their qualities.
A Traveller’s joy or an Old Man’s Beard that scrabbled over the hedgerows with its creamy white flowers and woody stems that as teenagers we used to pretend were cigarettes and try to smoke. The smoking was probably not a good idea as it is poisonous, but since it did not burn well we came to no harm. Why was it called Traveller’s joy? It certainly scampers over the hedges with energy. The name Old Man’s Beard was more understandable; its grey wispy fronds certainly resemble a beard.
When I was older and we lived on a farm, my walks would be rides on my pony. We would wander the countryside in happy companionship. He would snack on a choice of grasses and herbs, always very selective about what he liked. I learnt that some grass, which looked lush, was bitter and sour. Others were delectable and he sought them out avidly. Clover was always a hit; sometimes a tender thistle was a delicacy. I would try the grasses myself to see which he liked. Nobody ever chastised me or said that I would get worms and I never did. There is something quite wonderful as a child to be able to wander in the countryside and discover it, a delight that you never really lose. I feel so sorry for children now who cannot do this, or have to be supervised because of lurking dangers; children who only know the countryside from the television, or a park.
When I lived in the North of Spain, the best time was early in the morning, but failing that, early evening is a good time when the sun has lost some of its heat. I would leave my house quite early, before the old ladies in the Plazoleta would sit out and watch everyone who goes by. Like guard dogs they kept the village safe, but sometimes I preferred them not to know what I was doing or have to greet them with my best Spanish – “Buenas dias!” In winter the huge nests of the storks on top of the equally huge church are occupied by small birds; like the servants in a noble castle when the lords and ladies have gone travelling. They twitter with delight as they go about their daily business.
If I take the same route for many days, I can see the small changes in the countryside each day. It is a reassuring reminder that ‘Every day He is engaged in some affair’ (Qur’an s55v29) because the land is never static. There are quiet dormant times and there are times of great exuberance when the flora can no longer contain itself. Then the tractors and farmers are out early and the birds are busily flying about and twittering. As I stride along the well-trodden paths, I reflect how the sirat al mustaqueem means just that – somewhere that many, many people have walked before and seen the same or similar things; have collected blackberries and rose-hips and made jam, just like me. I always came back with some booty from what the creation has to offer, whether it is twigs to light the fire in winter, or something from the hedgerows, blackberries or rosehips, a handful of wild spinach for my lunch, a few fronds of wild fennel or dill. If I can’t eat or burn it, I can usually find something to draw or paint – a sprig of apple blossom, some wild flowers. It is an abundant land.
I pass a few people walking their dogs. Did they have the dog so that they would walk? Not here in this small village as most people here have dogs to hunt. Most of the dogs are pointers and spaniels bursting with energy as they are let loose to run in the countryside. On hunting days, they are bundled into the backs of four by fours or little dog carrier trailers attached to the back of a car. Then there is the half daft young gypsy who is taken for a walk by a huge mastiff he has to keep on a leash. He is constantly ‘training’ her to no avail. We smile and nod. The nod here is traditionally in an upward direction, sometimes with a grunt “Uuh”. A country greeting, not particularly refined, but well meant.
On my return, the old ladies are out sitting in the Plazuleta. I greet them with a friendly nod, leaving out the ‘Uuh!’ that I have never quite mastered and feel might sound rude; somehow an English ‘Uuh’ is not the same as a northern Spanish one. I have walked my circle for the day, collected some booty, I open my door and put my bounty in water.