A few days ago now, I walked home from work. It doesn’t sound very exciting, until you remember that it’s is a cross-country journey of some seven miles. Although the ground was firm and the weather good (if cooler than today) I arrived home far too tired to write about it; as I’ve since lost some of the thoughts I wanted to communicate, that’s surely an opportunity lost.
Or maybe not. Tolstoy wrote about Napoleon’s retreat that:
Когда человек находится в движении, он всегда придумывает себе цель этого движения. Для того чтобы идти тысячу верст, человеку необходимо думать, что что-то хорошее есть за этими тысячью верст. Нужно представление об обетованной земле для того, чтобы иметь силы двигаться.
A man in motion always devises an aim for that motion. To be able to go a thousand miles he must imagine that something good awaits him at the end of those thousand miles. One must have the prospect of a promised land to have the strength to move. (War and Peace, 13.XIX)
Sometimes a journey’s aim is not the reason for making it. After all, that particular journey is no longer brand-new for me, and its fixed goal means it’s scarcely a dérive. But the journey itself has a narrative, like any journey beyond a quick pop to the shops (or even that), a shifting point of view, sudden changes of scale, light and shade…. I’m starting to sound like Iain Sinclair, walking in the footsteps of John Clare. But even trudging on a countryside hike can yield epiphanies.
A solitary journey feels like a story that’s being told to you and nobody else. The story isn’t in the plot of the plod, and it isn’t in the gateposts you pass; so you find yourself at a loss, when you vainly attempt to tell that story to someone else. At that time, with the urge to relate something and anything, perhaps it’s best to go to bed, and let forgetfulness work its blinding magic. But, even as you let go of that urge, you still hope for some distant time when you realise you’re finally, wordlessly telling that story; not sentence by sentence, but mutely interwoven into yourself; expressing it through affects, opinions, attitudes, ideas and deeds.