In the last few weeks, my travels have been modest adventures requiring only my own two feet or perhaps on occasions a bicycle, to explore my bucolic rural surroundings – and at times the even more mundane: the areas that few visit, the scrubland, wasteland, unglamorous forgotten relics of industrial past that rub shoulders with the parts of town that rarely appear in the tourist guidebooks.
It often seems that these are the truly wild areas – the forgotten places thick with nature at its’ most raw, where nettle clad crumbling stone walls are all the human traces that remain. On these journeys I’m often alone – walkers seem to prefer the more obvious, undeniable beauty of rolling downland and sweeping coast to the secretive mid island territory. There’s a certain discomfort that wandering in the scrubland evokes, perhaps since most travelling seems to me to have a tinge of escapism to it, the feral beauty of the building land soon to be claimed, the disused chalk pit and the velvety carpet of rabbit warren pocked heathland are just too close to reality, with their scars of long abandoned teenage barbecues and occasional broken quarry workings that loom like watch towers in the vivid forests of newly emerging ferns.
As children, we ran wild over similar landscapes, often with hairy, recalcitrant ponies as partners in crime, building jumps from the bent ancient gorse, sitting silent in the warm, bracken covered common land, listening for rustling as the newly emerging fronds pushed up through the springy, peaty undergrowth. The short wanderings I’ve made with camera in hand over the last few weeks have been a reminder to wonder at nature in her least socially acceptable guise – where grasses just coming into seed sway beside the creamy newly flowering elder heads, foxgloves and campions. Verdant is the word that comes to mind – green beyond green, a sea of texture, colour and scent lying just beyond the mock tudor Indian Takeaway and the buzzing dual carriageway that leads South.
All too often I’ve used travel as an escape – most notably from my own fears, dissatisfaction and restlessness. With maturity I’ve realised this doesn’t work, the demons remain, dormant perhaps, sedated by the thrill of the new, the chance of “finding oneself” (or perhaps even losing oneself) only to reemerge at a later date seemingly invigorated by their rest! This is something that’s perhaps particularly pertinent in an age where it’s never been easier or cheaper to jump on a plane to pretty much anywhere and we’re ever less practiced at actually sitting with the feelings that we seek to avoid.
When the impulse to go places and see people comes from a place of adequacy and well being, the experience can inspire insight and broaden awareness – it’s one of my true pleasures but it also brings joy to realise that nowadays I’m happy with the simple landscape of home.
To many places beings withdraw to escape from fear:
to mountains, forests, parklands and gardens;
sacred places as well.
But none of these places offer true refuge,
none of them can free us from fear.
Dhammapada vv. 188–189