The weather forecast had been terrible and with great reluctance I had to cancel the walking art workshop. Walking in the rain and wind – that’s ok and can be fun and exhilarating – but the creative activities I had planned might have been somewhat problematic. Drawing, painting, writing… and sitting in wet thrashing grass reading poetry, occasional flurries of sand blowing in ones cold face… that might not have been everyone’s ideal workshop activity.
Myself, I have on more than one occasion been told I come from the Turner School of Art (you know… the guy who, they say, had himself lashed to a ship’s mast in a ferocious storm, in order to fully experience the forces of nature). But I think I have mellowed a bit as the years have gone by. I worry about getting sand in my camera – and I worry about other people, blinded, spectacles misted with rain and falling down a rabbit hole.
I rang round all the participants, apologising profusely for the cancellation. But some of us decided to take the Turner option. We decided we would do the walk anyway, whatever the weather.
And so, five of us found ourselves out in the wind and rain on Northam Burrows. We had a fabulously enjoyable time – in fact we stayed out longer than the original time planned. The rain, though continuous was not too heavy, and the wind was fair but not too fierce. We walked slowly, at our own pace, and from time to time we paused to view the horizon, to consider the expanse and turbulence of the Atlantic Ocean, to breathe in the fresh wind, soften and open ourselves to the power and movement all around. Our breath and our steps merged with the rhythm of the waves, and our senses sharpened.
We noticed the subtle colours and shades of indigo spread across the stormy sky, and how this colour and light was reflected in water and on stone. We examined miles of filigree patterns in the sand, and someone remarked that it was “solar light written in gold”. We saw a myriad bright wildflowers at our feet, and strange little moths hiding along the grass stalks, and some tiny yellow and black stripey caterpillars. We enjoyed the booming sound of the wind past our ears, and the light pattering of raindrops on our protective waterproof hoods. We became open receivers.
The slower we walked the more our eyes and ears and bodies and all our senses became attuned to the vastness and power of nature and at the same time, the intricate and ever-changing detail all around us – of plants and insects, birds and small animals, and the incredible variety of terrain: the soft green grass of the golf course, clumps of sharp rush and thistle, soft sandy undulating dunes, sheltered hollows and the hard shifting pebbles bordering the flat beach.
Pools of warm silence arose naturally between us as we each immersed ourselves in our own experiences. Occasionally we stumbled across burrows and large dug-out holes at our feet, entrances to underground cities… and huge gnarled logs that had been washed downstream in winter storms and become stranded.
We seemed to move as one, like a small flock of birds carried along in a current of air. From time to time we voiced our impressions, thoughts and random memories which floated upwards and drifted away.
Most of us had never met before, but as we walked round and dropped into a slow rhythm of wind and waves and walking, we felt at home with each other and our magnificent surroundings – we felt a part of it all.
From time to time a few grazing sheep would wander across our paths, a flurry of wings would cut the air, or a distant figure appear on the beach at the ocean’s edge. All was vibrant and full of light and subtle colour.
And right at the very end, arriving back where we had started, a skylark rose straight up in front of us. We stopped, gazing upwards, entranced by its song as it rose higher and higher and higher and higher and disappeared into the clouds.
This day will live on in our memory – perhaps all the more vividly because the weather prevented us from recording it with sketches or written notes – obliging us to pay attention and simply take it all in.