Here I am again. Walking the park where the River Thouet spreads its banks like a slow morning stretch and the trees are poised with the still hidden Spring. It’s a Sunday, so there are more people around than usual. Everyone who passes is dressed in the garb of whatever has acted as their excuse for getting out in the cobweb brooming air among the hopeful notes of blackbirds, There are the runners with their curiously clean trainers and colourful headbands. The fishermen with complicated boxes of gear. The cyclists with their wasp body helmets and skintight spandex. Even the walkers need a pair of ski poles to ensure no one mistakes them for someone just out enjoying the day. Or a dog. It’s okay to be seen walking alone with a dog. But there must be more to it than a walk. At the very least you should be measuring something, a pedometer strapped to your wrist. Headbands are good. Even if you’re not running, you look as if you might have been or might break into one at any moment. And this is deemed important, I have discovered, to signal another purpose unconnected to your wildness.
I have none of those things. No headband, no ski-poles, no pedometer. Not even a dog. Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs. But I’m playing a game lately of pretending the birds are not afraid of me and watching them get all surprised and twittery when they mistake my mud-clogged boot for a log. A dog would be unlikely to play along. I’m dressed in an anorak, jeans and wellington boots. Most who pass by manage a little “hello”, except the runners hooked up to headphones, who always look straight ahead, conserving all energy, even eyeball movements. They always look the least happy. By others I am regarded with curious bewilderment. Why would a middle-aged woman be out walking alone in the park? Perhaps she’s depressed. Had a fight with her husband. Maybe she’s lost something. Her dog, perhaps. No headband, no pedometer. And Wellingtons! Who runs in Wellingtons!?
‘Wellies’ as we always called them were somewhat emblematic of my early life. There are several photos of me and my sisters (far more adventurous than I) dressed precariously out of season in thin short cotton flower print dresses, clambering up oaks, grinning down at the camera with missing teeth, skinny knees scratched and ruddy freckled cheeks. Or skipping down heather stuffed dales, blue anoraks unzipped and flapping in the wind – all in wellies. It was England, after all. We must have been cold, but I never remember that part.
I have nothing going on this Sunday morning, except an interior sense of calm. I’m listening to the robins, trying to memorize their songlist, keeping one eye out for the white herons that swoop in to pierce a bream right under the fishermen’s noses. I’m here to greet that tall elegant cedar that trails her branches on the ground like a fresh bride, to pause on the bridge and slip into momentary vertigo from staring into the waters beneath.
And then I see her. Leaning on the bridge, watching the river. Still as a heron. I’ve never seen anyone else stop on the bridge before. Closer, and I notice she’s also in jeans and wellies. Nice and muddy. Long dark hair, flowing over an anorak hood. No headband. No ski poles. No dog. We swap glances. Just long enough to exchange key intel.
I move on through my circuit down to the second bridge. Reminded – again – that I am not as alone as it sometimes appears. I think this is what this blog is. A little signal of fellow company. The blinking bottom of a fellow firefly. Yes, there are others like you. Who still see with child eyes. Who don’t need a reason to enjoy the simple and the wild. Who are not afraid to be free.
I saw her the following Sunday too. This time we exchanged words. I think I said something like, “Are you sure it’s the water that’s moving?” Instead of ignoring me or smiling patiently, she answered, “Well, it’s hard to be sure.” My kind of girl. She came for tea the following week. We are now good friends. We meet in the Venn diagram of childhood space. We talk of ghosts and dreams; recount conversations with cats and goats; exchange tips on psychic weaponry; and paint the dawning of new worlds with the colours in-between our words. Mostly, we sit at ease with one another.
It was only when I stopped trying to fit in, that I found there had always been a space for me. When we stop madly trying to adapt to a mad and maladapted world, only then can we settle into our skin. We recognize and meet our true friends when we have become true to ourselves. When we give up and let go, and allow our innate ‘oddness’ to re-claim its sanity. Because we were never actually the odd ones. The world was always a construction of replicated artifice. And now we know it.