Movement: the ongoing passage of nature
Student walk 1
A small speck, one step above the tidal mark, floating barely in a sea of aquamarine is the paradise of Coconut Island. Walk down the paved roads, see a grape vine, wondering dogs, piccaninnies, see that church built by Scottish missionaries, meet smiling people with Spanish grandparents singing reggae songs. Step down the white sand road, see your footprints from yesterday untouched till the next hard rain, walk softly past the purple bougainvillea, the kaleidoscope of frangipani and the painted blue giant conch shells with matching buoys suspended from the beach almonds. Beyond the school see the view down each side street to an ocean that changes its palette from pthalo green to ultramarine. Look closely at the purple and pink flowers; accept the bag of limes from the woman who has been waiting for you to walk past her house.
Breathe the past; touch the giant prehistoric pandanus washed ashore from oceans far away: the supporting skeletons reduced to mush softening slowly with the sun and the tides. Try to balance on each large driftwood log; white, cream, wormed, soft, hard; measure the space between the tides, imagine the strength of the seas that carried these giant beasts from a far off forest over the reefs and lodged them hard against the soft white sand.
Measure the space between the footprints of sea birds, each a five-pronged star with one stroke missing; watch for the gaps in the pattern where the birds took flight. Ask why? Inspect the tidal ripples of sand; count the minutes as the water departs leaving ridges in patterns that stretch the entire beach. Look hard to see the miniature replicas of giant shells, premature death, a thousand to a hand full, thread them to make a necklace that says we value your efforts.
Feel joy to find the meeting place of two sand dunes, a shallow between east and south where the trade winds carry cowry shells and lodge them behind the dune in the receding tide. Pink, pearlescent pieces of beauty. Find one and feel bountiful, look further and there is another and another and another. Use your toes to turn over a brown pebble, watch it become a twisted turban shell of glossy burnt umber.
Ask: Why is this beach like a jewelry store that changes its stock twice a day? Question the dilemma of walking the high water mark looking for polished burnie beads and baby dugong skeletons or the low water mark looking for soft coral fans and bleached brain corals with their distinctive etched designs.
The answers belong to the Porumagal people, whose kinship to country, existence and stories are unique. Questions make the heartbeats so we may dance to its essence. Mothers sing the renowned songs that belong to Island Custom, … as the sign says, “Visit us to know our nation, Porumagal”.
It is a story in the making.
Student walk 2
The first thing I do before I leave the house is put my shoes on, already protecting myself from the world outside, both manmade and natural, realising I have created a barrier between my body and the earth and already made a decision on the type of ‘footprints’ I will leave behind me on my walk. Heading out the front door I begin to think about which way to go. To get to the headland there are really only two options for me to take, footpath all the way or cut across the sporting fields for about a hundred meters, I take the sports fields as it’s slightly quicker. Before long I’m back on the footpath and heading towards the main street. I don’t feel like seeing too many people so I bypass the main street. As I reach the beach the path that leads to the headlands is filled with people running, riding, pushing and pulling children and walking.
I realise that no matter how hard I try to avoid others, walking is a social activity and my feet are already responding to the others using the path. While my feet find their way through the oncoming traffic my eyes begin to take in my surroundings. On my right are houses where there used to be wetlands, on my left there are huge boulders placed there to halt the oceans own slow and steady walk towards the beachfront real estate. I think of the constant effort by humans to change, resist and ‘improve’ nature. I reach the boardwalk that passes a popular fishing spot, there is no one fishing now but I wonder how long people have been fishing there, most likely tens of thousands of years I think. From here I reach the new section of the headland walk. This new section was designed to be cost effective in its construction and maintenance, concrete and stainless steel, also to enable access for a wide variety of users, no stairs. This did not please everyone of course, some thought it was not aesthetically pleasing enough and started a group aimed at influencing the design. This could be the jewel in the crown of our town was the cry. But they didn’t get their way, and it’s here now and no one seems to be complaining. I follow the new path to the top of the point wondering how many footprints have been covered over by all the concrete.
Reflecting on my walk I realise we are often being directed where to walk, how to walk, when to walk, our walking is often restricted, yet our senses are not. The detail in the things we see, smell, hear, feel and taste when we are walking can only be found through walking.
Every walk is a walk down memory lane and a setting forth into possibility.
Student walk 3
The walk I participated in for the purpose of this topic, followed the usual path I take a number of times during the week, when walking my two dogs. However, this time it was for a much different purpose. Instead of the standard brisk walking pace that I take with the goal of giving my dogs a good exercise and some play time at the sports oval, it was instead at a much more relaxed pace, treading lightly, and observing the complex relationships between the human and non-human world, nature and culture. As Mauss (1979) ‘can recognize a girl who was raised in a convent,’ (cited in Ingold and Vergunst 2008, p. 2) due to her walking with ‘fists closed,’ I wonder if anyone who sees me walking noticed the change in purpose.
The reason I chose to take the typical path that I walk, was to actually contrast it with what I observe, feel and comprehend when I walk the dogs (which usually, and probably quite sadly, isn’t much). The first thing that I noticed was our dominance (as humans) over our natural and non-human environment. The urban sprawl of houses, overhead power lines, tar roads, fences, and cars to name a few, highlight the element of humanity, and especially the Western way of being, that, in the order of nature, must place humans as ‘the supreme species,’ (Plumwood 2007, p. 250).
I also can’t help but notice our dependency on the natural, and non-human environment for our survival. The earth which gives us a stable base for homes and provides the materials we heavily rely on, the pipes that send the life giving water to and from our homes, the cars we drive, the clothes we wear, the shoes I am walking in, all have a basis from the non-human and natural world.
As I arrive at the sports oval, I become aware of the reliance that this cultural sight, and in turn the cultural practices, such as soccer, cricket and athletics, and the accompanying cultural artefacts have on this environment. I also pause to wonder how humans can spend so many resources and time on caring for this cultural site for our own materialistic, or cultural desires, yet cause so much destruction to the natural and non-human environment, that is fundamental for not only our survival, but the ongoing survival and health of all other living organisms.
It is here that I become aware of the reciprocal dependency that humans, culture, the non-human and natural world, have on each other. This complex relationship where both rely on the other for the assurance of their health, preservation, survival and way of life. The survival of humans and culture, is based on the survival of the non-human and natural environment, just as the survival of the non-human and natural environment is based on the proper care, protection and conservation from humans and our cultures. I hope to continue walking through life with this comprehension on my conscience and as a part of my beliefs and values.