Boxing day. I was working today 7am until 11am, serving newspapers to the local villagers and generally being an all round friendly shop keeper. I still had a chunk of daylight left after I finished but sunset crept up on me like it does. I was busy getting wrapped up in winter woollies and rigging the dogs up with their walking paraphernalia, when Helen pointed out the time. So how else could mark the occasion but by taking a getting-ready-to brave-the-cold selfie.
We decided, seeing as the sky was already turning dark, to take these two beautiful beast around the park. The sky by then was grey, the fog still skimming the horizon, and the air had a sharp nip. Overall though, there weren’t many people out walking.
As we completed a full circle of the park though, a family, probably three generations, were out in their winter gear tossing a rugby ball between them. I didn’t recognise them as locals so assumed they were Christmas visitors. How wonderful it was though, to see them playing together. They were chatting amongst themselves, laughing and joking, and two small dogs bounced about in the middle having a whale of a time. It made both Helen and I wonder if this was perhaps an annual tradition. To some, tossing a rugby ball from person to person on a damp and freezing cold afternoon, when there is barely enough light left to see the park gates, may seem odd, but to that family, it may be the only time they get to share something together, that something being a rugby ball. Traditions occur for various reasons, and normally to mark an occasion or memory. Perhaps the ball belonged to someone’s Grannie who used it as a back support while she watched Coronation Street on the T.V. Maybe someone in the family played rugby but couldn’t be there because they were overseas. Maybe it started when Billy was a wee boy and annoyed everyone into playing with him and they had such a laugh that they did it year after year, even though billy is now living in San Francisco, writes for a celebrity chef, and loathes Rugby. By playing ball, they were able to share a memory and bring that memory into the circle. Who knows.
I remember a few years ago when we spent Christmas with Helen’s Mum, there was talk of a Christmas day beach picnic. Now bare in mind that we live in the U.K and December is enough to freeze off a person’s nether region’s, I thought it was a joke. But no, Boxing day arrived and we loaded a bag with Christmas leftover sandwiches, (we were in Yorkshire, if we had been at home they would have been pieces), then we headed to the beach in wellies, scarfs and woollie hats, we took the dogs of course, and they had a great time running in and out of the surf, and to my surprise, so did I. The next time we visit the in laws in Hull, we will be sure to re-enact that tradition, just like my wife did for many years before she knew me.
It certainly sparked up conversation between us and we spent some time sharing memories.
Do you have any Christmas/ boxing day family traditions that you would like to share? I would love to hear from you.
Today the temperature has remained below zero, the lowest being -4°, but the sky was the deepest blue I’ve seen in a while, and with only a slither of cloud on the horizon. Me and my two chocolate Labradors walked along the river bank, the river was flowing so slowly that the opposite bank was reflected clearly on its surface, apart from the odd random ripple and patches of grey ice around the bank that is. My dogs love the water, but they also love chasing the ducks, and there are an abundance of ducks on the river at the moment. So they remained safely on lead while I took lovely photographs. Here’s one of them in a little sandy cove.
Once we moved away from the river and into the field, the dogs relaxed a bit and I was able to settle comfortably into my surroundings. The mountains seem to have gathered more snow overnight and looked particularly dramatic. One in particular, Ben Lawers, looks to me like its twisting away from the other. There are parts of Lawers that are so incredibly steep and its a wonder that so many people climb it. And even though I view it with that sense of fear, I can see the draw because it is overwhelmingly stunning. This sensation reminded me of an English Literature lecture about the feeling one gets when confronted with the beauty and the terrifying in nature – I believe it was described at the sublime.
Edmund Burke identified the sublime as the experience of the infinite, which is terrifying and thrilling because it threatens to overpower the perceived importance of human enterprise in the universe.
Where was I? While I was having these wonderful emotions, and keeping one eye on the dogs, who sounded like little piglets sniffle out truffles, except it wasn’t truffles, it was frozen rabbit poo, I wandered into some frozen flood water.
We had an incredible amount of rain in December and the field, which is normally filled with sheep, was flooded. The sheep were replaced by ducks, but with this new cold snap, even the ducks are warming their bums in the river rather than the solid ice.
So, as I stood in this mini ice rink wondering how I’d got there, I realised there was an opportunity to walk mindfully, to bring myself back into the present moment, all because of a crunch…
What does it mean to walk mindfully?
Mindful walking is about intention and paying attention. Let me explain. When I found myself on the ice, the first thing I noticed was the sound, the satisfying crunch as my wellington boot broke through. It was a familiar sound, something that drew me back to my childhood and I found myself smiling. This is when I decided to walk mindfully, in other words, I made an intention. The dogs were sniffing around, eating poo and were in no hurry to move on, so I stopped, and I took three long deep breaths, (this is kind of like the Bell or the Gong in my previous post as the breath allows you to arrive into a moment, to be present). I then took a moment to check in on how my body felt, to relax any muscles that had become tense, to feel my feel on the ground, or in the ice for that matter, and that’s when I noticed, for the first time that day, the cold on my face. In fact, I was so surprised to feel the sting on my cheeks and neck that I raised my hand and touched it. Then I began to move. Mindful walking is walking intentionally, walking slow and feeling the range of motions while experiencing all the sensory pleasures available to us. That’s not to say that this exercise is exclusive to able bodied people, it can be adapted to wheelchair users too, although I wouldn’t recommend wheeling into a frozen flooded field, but the exercise can be adapted on less dangerous terrain. As I began to walk, I concentrated on each movement, the weight of my legs as I lifted my feet, the feeling of my feet landing on the ice, that moment of resistance before my foot broke through the ice and then landed on the sticky earth below. Then there was the sucking sound, and a moment of fear which I noticed landed between my shoulder blades and high in my stomach. It felt like a screech, if a screech were a feeling, and for a moment my breath became tight as I lifted my foot. I suddenly felt my face flush with warmth and my hair filled with prickles, and I breathed a long sigh when I discovered my wellington was still attached to my foot. I continued to walk like this, observing each movement, each emotion, watching the ice crack and crumble as I punctured a path of size fives through the middle. It was the crunch that kept me right there though, the brief squeal before the coosh sound, (I think it sounds more like a coosh than a crack). I could smell the frost, that sharp almost sweet smell, followed by a rush of mulch and sulphuric bog smell. I only walked like this for about two minutes, but managed to collect so much information as well as becoming more aware and feeling relaxed.
How can Mindful Walking help with my writing?
It’s all about the experience.
What did I notice?
How did it feel?
When we walk mindfully, we begin to notice a range of things, such as the temperature of the air, the ground beneath our feel, textures and smells, our surroundings, the soundscape. Have another read at my experience and see if you can identify these things. There is definitely many benefits for a writer to practice mindful walking, although it is easier to plan the mindful walk than to decide halfway through a walk that you are going to do it. By planning a walk, you can pick a place that may resemble a setting in your story, then you can experience the setting in the same way your character will. This will enhance your description. Remember the old phrase,
Write what you know.
It might be relevant to disclose to you at this time that I am writing a novel set in this very village and partly in this very field, so all of this is wonderful research for my book. But I will conclude today by saying, thanks for reading, and also, of you would like any more advice on mindful walking or how this could be adapted to a wheelchair, please comment and we can chat. In the meantime, here’s a photo of my side of the mountain.
I struggled to find the motivation to walk the dogs today. I had a busy morning delivering an emergency package to my partner, Helen, who is currently in hospital, and returned home tired and with a headache. But those pretty brown eyes kept pleading for their walks, and who could resist the eyes of a Labrador (never mind two). So, I got them rigged up and we tottered off to the field at the back of the house. It has been a lovely clear day here in Killin and the sky at 3pm had barely a cloud. We wandered into the farmers field, along by the river and with one of the best views of the mountains. That’s when little patches of red began to appear on the furthest mountain, then slowly, as the light dimmed, it spread right over the mountains in front. Of course, I had to stop and capture the moment on my phone. I even took a video for Helen. But for a moment, the smallest moment, because the dogs can’t stay still for long, I stopped, put my phone on my pocket, and just looked. I felt the cold air in my lungs, the nip of icy wind on my face and my heart filled with the sight before me. I felt alive.