Walking Alone

Visiting Canberra recently, it was with some surprise that I bumped into my friend Gaby who I hadn’t seen for 15 years.  Given our connection was through forest conservation, we decided to catch up for an early morning walk up Mt Ainslie.

Meeting the next day as the sun tinged the horizon pink, we ducked across the road to enter the rough-hewn path leading into the bush.

It was the first time I had explored the forested hills hugging the suburbs. The messiness of the open woodlands was a welcome juxtaposition from the planned ring roads of the capital. Small mobs of roos rose almost invisible from within the golden grasses, stout gums glowing white, their pale leaves hanging low in bunches.

Attempting to update each other on years of news, our words tumbled over each other in excited exclamations and interjections. Although enjoying the reconnection, I began to feel dizzy, our voices clanging between my ears like the shriek of the white cockatoos flying overhead. Instead of my usual mountain goat footing I stumbled, threatening an ankle twist.

What was I thinking suggesting a morning walk? Mornings are my precious alone time, my walks quiet and reflective. Where usually I would stop and listen to the contact calls of the thornbills, I stomped onwards – a bull in a china shop.

Words are too clunky for the fragile dawn. It is a listening rather than telling time. What needs to be communicated is little, and better by feeling,by observation, by the movement of body and breath.

Gaby was telling meabout a failed love affair, which in another context would be fascinating. As my feet rose up the mountain so did my resentment.

I stopped, took a deep breath, gathered my courage and waited until Gaby had finished her sentence before saying “How would you feel if we walked in silence?” Bracing myself for hurt or confusion, her look of momentary surprise turned into a broad smile. “I would love that.” Grinning, I turned back to the trail, and took a slow and relieved step onwards.

As if in approval, a feeding flock of birds flew to the tree just ahead. I paused, soaking in the sweet sounds of their collective melody, in the space now freed to give them my full attention. Instead of solitude, our shared silence had expanded our walking party to include others – birds, trees, sky, rocks.

My awareness sunk into my body, and I gladly felt the thigh burn as we climbed. Behind me, Gaby, a photographer, squatted to capture the slithers of sunlight on bark, catching my backwards glance with a wink.

Reaching the top, we perched side-by-side on a rock and drank in the model-sized city below. When words arose naturallythey were slow and warm, infused by the landscape. Rising to descend, we smiled and thanked each other for the excellent company.