Walking Home

reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

August 10

August 11th, 2016

August 10 Botnar to Pórsmörk (17 km)

 

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The Laugavegur Trek officially ends at Pórsmörk, but I had planned another 25 km to Skogár. On waking and inventorying my health, I decided discretion was the better part of valor and took my Georgia Tech friends (including Paul Kohn who was with this particular group) up on their offer of a ride back to Reykjavik. It meant an extra day in a hostel but the free ride made that almost a financial wash (buses are expensive). The day’s hike was different from the others as it was almost all an easy downhill grade on firm black gravel (with an occasional soft sand stretch that made my calves ache). As I was moving downstream, the rivers began to run deeper and faster. They were also starting to braid the way they do on the South Island in New Zealand. In this area most crossings were bridged, though there were a few fords. The last one was only three kilometers from the end, so in honor of my Te Araroa tramp, I crossed with my regular footwear, squished my way to the end. Yesterday there were several fords, one a little deep, wide, and very cold (I could see the melting glacier just up the valley). The cramps in my arches made me think of the summer of 1973 when my friends Jerry and Gregg and I painted an old farmhouse with a spring house out back. At lunch we would sit there in the cool, seeing how long we could stand in the freezing water. Like Nietzsche’s eternal return, I found myself standing in both the Grashagavist and an old spring house at the same time. Soon I arrived at Pórsmörk and settled in to wait for the Georgia Tech crew who arrived later that afternoon. Soon we had loaded up the three jacked-up white Land Rover Defenders, jump started the one with the dead battery, and set off driving on rough gravel roads regularly crossing rivers with water up to the floorboards. After an hour of fording we got to hard pavement and soon the rain that had threatened all afternoon came on, confirming my decision to get off the trail that day (the rain and the wind howled all night long but I was snug in a hostel bunk house, happy not to be in a summer tent and instead getting soft in a semi-soft bed). The students stopped for a few hours to explore a cave, so I was late getting to my hostel. Still grateful for a ride, I did regret not getting any supper, consoling myself with a fine nutritious pale ale before sleep. Thus ended the last trek on my year-long around the world walkabout.

T. Hugh Crawford

August 9

August 11th, 2016

August 9 Hrafntinnusker to Botnar (28 km)

 

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Bright early morning sun woke me, though I lounged in sleeping bag luxury for a while, trying to determine how sick I really was (pretty bad actually). Of course there was little choice, I had to hike out somewhere, so I continued on my path. Stopping at the hut to get water and eat a granola bar, I spoke with one of the expedition guides who remarked about how early I was leaving–it was seven o’clock, those hut folks are the ones luxuriating. Leaving first was a lagniappe as I had the tundra all to myself most of the morning. The walk was across a broad cinder plain rutted by deep cuts formed by glacier streams. For much of the year, those cuts are filled with snow, so walking is fairly level, but in August most the ice is gone, so there is a lot of up and down. In many places there remains some snow, but the guidebooks all warn about the fragility of those ice bridges which are hollowed from below and can give way under the weight of a hiker crossing. As it was still very cold that morning and there were no trekkers following behind me as yet, I crossed many an ice bridge gingerly. Still, the morning solitude was magnificent, the world was vast, bare, and empty. By mid-morning I arrived at the campground at Lake Álftavatn, stopping for second breakfast. I had gotten an email from David Knobbe, my old friend at the Georgia Tech outdoor adventure department, detailing the itinerary of a group of students from my school who were hiking at nearly the same time. At this point I was supposed to be two days behind and so I didn’t expect to see them, but on sitting down for late morning granola, I was greeted by David, his friend Chaffee and a group of GT students. Their itinerary had been adjusted a bit, so half of them were now on the same schedule as me. After exchanging pleasantries, I continued on to the next campground, Botnar, where I was advised to claim a tent site quickly as the place would soon be overwhelmed by campers, led by the dozens of British hikers I had passed who were walking to raise money for breast cancer research. One carried on her back a large rubber breast with the url copafeel.org. Following the same pattern as yesterday, I set up my tent, ate an early dinner, and dozed away the late afternoon. I was pleased with my hiking distance, but was still feeling ill, so early sleep was on my schedule.

 

T. Hugh Crawford

August 8

August 11th, 2016

August 8 Reykjavik to Landmannalauger by bus, to Hrafntinnusker on foot (12 km)

 

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Up early for walk to the bus station and a four hour ride to the trail head of the Laugatvegur Trek. The landscape was unsurprisingly similar to parts of New Zealand’s North Island, both the product of recent volcanic activity. The American and Eurasian plates are tearing the island apart at a rate of 5 centimeters per year, so there are many earthquakes, hot springs in everyone’s back yards (it is how they heat), and regular eruptions blanketing the landscape with lava rocks and fine dark sand. In the uplands the primary plants are mosses. Trees are small and scarce. Arrival at Landmannalauger quickly disabused me of the notion this would be like hiking New Zealand unless it were the Tongariro crossing where the crowds tend to overwhelm the experience. Landmannalauger was a tent city full of trekkers preparing for the trail or relaxing in the hot volcanic pools after completion. As it was already noon and I had at least 12 km over Mount Brennisteinalda before camping, I headed straight out. Still suffering from the effects of illness, I hoped to leave the circus behind. The path was full of Laugavegur trampers but also day hikers and families up to see Brennisteinalda, the island’s most colorful mountain. It was jaw-dropping, on one flank were slides of different colored gravels forming a rainbow pattern. I had purchased a low-resolution topo map at the information center which I completely misread and, like a rookie trekker, after summiting I followed a path off the back side of the mountain to the valley floor only to discover I was heading in exactly the wrong direction, so I had to climb it again–a really rusty long-distance hiker. It is hard to write of the landscape as it was unlike any I’ve ever seen–color, texture, pattern–and luckily the light was perfect. Some fields were covered with broken rocks that looked like obsidian, black glass shining in the Arctic sun. After my initial mistake, the trail was easy to follow, packed as it was like the Camino de Santiago. Before long I found myself at Hrafntinnusker, a campsite the trekkers call the windy place. The tent sites were surrounded by low stacked stone circles to help cut the wind. There are huts with tent sites every 12-15 km along the trail where expedition companies do a thriving business ferrying luggage and cooking food for wealthy slack-packers. Life down in the tent sites was a little more spartan. Since it was a fairly short trek and you cannot fly with fuel and since I had shipped my Jetboil home, I opted for cold food– trail mix, chorizo, and crackers. By late afternoon my tent was up, half a chorizo was eaten, and I found myself napping in my sleeping bag out of the cold wind. Soon the circles filled up and, lucky me, I found myself next to some loud Americans. I still don’t understand the need for so much volume, often seems like children begging for attention. There was no waiting for dark as it stays light very late (and gets light very early), so I soon drifted off, listening to the light ticking of minute raindrops on my tent. Lying there I was reminded how much I enjoyed the simple pleasure good equipment offers. A good Zpack tent and a great sleeping bag were the definition of real comfort putting in stark contrast the last six weeks in an apartment with a big bed, bathroom, kitchen, etc. It is amazing how soft you can get in such a short time living like that.

 

T. Hugh Crawford

August 7

August 11th, 2016

August 7

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Flew out of London heading to the in-between–the inter-esse–that is Iceland. Definitely European but distinct in climate, manner and custom. I guess it is appropriate for my last stop in a year-long walkabout to be both novel and familiar. Like many smaller airports, Keflavik has a pre 9-11 feel, reminding me how pleasant and inviting airports can be when the stress-level is reduced. On boarding the bus to the terminal there was the unmistakable smell of manure drifting across the blank landscape. There are more horses than people on the island, all descended from the first horses brought many centuries ago. In the terminal arrivals and departees mingle in the common area before passing the passport station manned by a welcoming and polite agent. Those simple gestures made my entry–however transitory– memorable. A long bus ride brought me to the Oddsson Hostel, and a short wander to the old city center brought seafood soup– a staple in a maritime country. I continue to suffer from an upper respiratory infection and sore throat, so two bowls of fish soup and an early bedtime were on the menu.

 

T. Hugh Crawford

Thoreau’s “Cosmopolitical Proposal”

July 13th, 2016

Thoreau’s Cosmopolitical Proposal

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Henry David Thoreau casts a long shadow over my thoughts about and practice of walking, particularly his essay “On Walking” which opens with “I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil,–to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of nature, rather than a member of society.” In a stroke, he introduces what becomes an elemental concept–the wild–and frames his understanding of the human away from society in the big outside actively participating in the making of that outside. But his initial phrasing also opens the question of who is authorized to speak for another, particularly an other without language. Although the essay is full of many strongly (if ironically) stated sentiments about who is qualified to walk–“If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again,–if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settle all of your affairs, and are a free man, then you are ready for a walk.”–speaking a word for nature is, from the first instant, made in a tentative voice. He might speak a word for Nature, but he cannot speak for Nature. “On Walking” is an essay on being “part and parcel of nature,” of acknowledging its “subtle magnetism,” and the “capabilities of the landscape.” The Nature he speaks for is full of agencies known and unknown.

The Belgian philosopher Isabelle Stengers also wants to question those who speak “a word” for Nature, to understand what authorizes certain people (usually scientists) to speak for nature, and to what extent their words are final. Her “Cosmopolitical Proposal” advocates listening to multiple voices speaking for or with multiple constituencies, articulating alliances, and arriving at an often brief consensus. She opens with a question–“How can I present a proposal intended not to say what is, or what ought to be, but to provoke thought; one that requires no other verification than the way in which it is able to ‘slow down’ reasoning and create an opportunity to arouse a slightly different awareness of the problems and situations mobilizing us?” Her friend and mentor Gilles Deleuze once characterized Nietzsche’s philosophy as a “series of darts” –provocations to thinking– rather than a system or method. Alfred North Whitehead, Stenger’s other, more distant mentor, spoke of philosophy as “lures for thinking.” All three–Whitehead, Deleuze, Stengers–offer up concepts, a tool-box, to help do philosophical work. They give no absolute position from which to speak absolutely, but they do point out a branching path where thinkers can, in Thoreau’s word, saunter.

The beginning of “On Walking” is a critique of an overly sedentary existence promoted by the business economy, but it is also a description (sometimes prescription) of proper walking attitudes. In the latter part he echoes his mentor Emerson’s plea in the “Divinity School Address” for a unique American literature and philosophy, one partaking of and maybe even articulating the wild land they now occupy. This notion of “the wild” is a fraught concept, one subject to many different appropriations, most notably to support eco-political movements advocating for setting aside wilderness areas. His line “in wildness is the preservation of the world” is often misquoted as “in wilderness…” Without doubt, one could find elements of a Thoreavian wild in a vast wilderness, but it also is to be found in the “civilized” world: in swamps or low spots on farms, at the edges of fields, in the margins of cultivation (agricultural and social). Thoreau himself, as Walden demonstrates, seeks out the wild and lives it on those very margins. He notes in “On Walking,” “For my part, I feel that with regard to Nature, I live a sort of border life….” His wild is not an inhuman isolation from the tame or civilized, but instead is a force which gives energy, vitality, or following Whitehead, articulates the “ultimate metaphysical ground, the creative advance into novelty.” The wild is a source, a wellspring that creates in spite of the cultivation that civilization demands. It is the tang of the wild apple or the wilding potato growing on the edge of a cultivated Peruvian field ready to bring new taste and characteristics to the dinner table. A place to locate this is in one of his seemingly offhand rants near the end of the essay where, as a counter to an American obsession with the practical (or as a proleptic critique of the neo-liberal University), he calls for a “Society for the Diffusion of Useful Ignorance.” He immediately renames ignorance “beautiful knowledge” to distinguish it from the practical, but it could just as easily be called “the wild” as he follows his proposal with a Whitmanesque image of cattle who find vitality in the new spring grass after a winter of hay.

Ignorance can take many forms, and usually not particularly positive ones, but Thoreau’s is a plea for thought freed from the cultivation of a rigidified civilization, of one that only listens to narrowly defined expert voices speaking an officially sanctioned discourse. Useful ignorance is a form of naïveté, a voice that can produce insights that, because unrecognized, are not available to the expert witnesses. The central figure in Stenger’s “Cosmopolitical Proposal” is the idiot, a conceptual persona she takes from Deleuze (who appropriated it from Dostoevsky). In Stenger’s hands, the idiot is the tentative, unauthorized voice who asks non-sensical or useless questions. Idiotic questioning is a way to strip bare the categories of sense and use. She does not deny knowledge but does want a fuller understanding of the ground on which it stands: “We know, knowledge there is, but the idiot demands that we slow down, that we don’t consider ourselves authorized to believe we possess the meaning of what we know.” Stenger’s idiot is a practitioner of Thoreau’s useful ignorance, or perhaps is Thoreau himself–someone willing to ask naively the obvious question, who slows down a railroaded consensus. Thoreau is the consummate railroad philosopher. Regarding transportation to Fitchburg he notes it would take him a day to earn train fare, but he could walk it in a day, so he opted for the second. A form of willful perversity perhaps, maybe a refusal to participate in an unnecessary economy, from most perspectives the action of an idiot, but definitely a way to slow down. In her plea for slow science, Stengers quotes Whitehead’s critique of a narrow professionalism: “minds in a groove. Each profession makes progress, but it is progress in its own groove. (…) The groove prevents straying across country, and the abstraction abstracts from something to which no further attention is given.” Inherent in this position is the desire to move transversally, as Thoreau advocates, to set out across the fields instead of following established roads, and as a consequence to slow down enough to pay due attention– not just to the world encountered but also to the thinking produced by that practice. Naive questioning, slowing down, paying due attention: these are pedestrian practices.

In “On Walking” Thoreau notes, “My desire for knowledge is intermittent, but my desire to bathe my head in atmospheres unknown to my feet is perennial and constant.” This is contrasted to Emerson’s more famous transparent eyeball, “I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part of God.” Thoreau is not after knowledge (at least none of the officially authorized kind), nor does he attain airy transcendence. Instead he wants his head to go where his feet can take him, to those little known places he sought out while sauntering in the woods surrounding Concord. He opens “On Walking” tracing an etymology of saunter, first claiming it describes someone going to Sainte Terre, to the Holy land. Then he sets out the possibility it comes from sans terre, to be without land, which “will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere.” Ultimately Thoreau prefers the former, but I like the latter because of the double logic it proposes. To be without ground is to acknowledge that the position from which you think and speak is solid but transient. To saunter intellectually is not to be arrogant but instead tentative. You can venture to “speak a word for Nature,” but you cannot utter the definitive term. You cannot close off the conversation. The second half of the logic is that such groundless can still provide a home, that we don’t have to root ourselves in the village, condemned to repeat the same formulae, nor do we have to run on the grooved rails of the train. Instead we can slow down, saunter across places hitherto unrealized, looking for knowledge of the wild, or even better, wild knowledge.

T. Hugh Crawford

June 30

July 1st, 2016

June 30

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Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” is a poem about walking and memory, one that celebrates the poet’s ability to call to mind an intense encounter with a specific rural landscape even years later while living and working in a city:

But oft, in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet. . .

That possibility sustains the poet along with the entire recreational industry, promising as it does memories “to last a lifetime.” Hiking trails and national parks are usually crowded with scenic overlooks which provide perfectly framed landscapes suitable for your personal memory theatre as well as offering a place to take selfies. Wordsworth, a man who crossed France on his way to the Swiss Alps walking at a rate of 30 miles a day, was well aware of the powerful connection between the physical difficulty of attaining a particular viewpoint and the impress of its beauty. He did not passively consume a picturesque landscape through the windows of a train or the confines of a museum. He got there through sometimes arduous labor (see Brutal Beauty). What caught my attention on rereading this poem is his repetition of the word “unremembered,” a word I would guess almost no one has ever uttered unless reading the poem aloud:

feelings too
Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps,
As have no slight or trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man’s life,
His little, nameless, unremembered, acts

A poem about memory repeats in a positive light a word about the failure of memory. Of course there are many ways of framing this usage. Because of the phrase “feeling too” he may be relegating pleasure to a secondary status below the memory that was,

Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind…

but that ignores the importance of idea of memory in the poem. What exactly would unremembered pleasure or acts be? Again there are many possibilities. As I am a walker and not a scholar of Romantic poetry, I would just note that to walk strenuously over distance involves a wavering between seeing, feeling, and thinking about being in a particular landscape, picturing oneself as an actor in a specific ecology. At times one calls up representations or memories of that moment even while occupying other domains, but just as often walkers are simply in tune with the world walked, thinking but not having thoughts, experiencing without representing. Of course there are those who would argue that we can only experience the world through our historically constituted representational schema, that we cannot encounter the world naked but instead only tricked out in the clothes language and culture provide. I think most walkers would disagree and would take a different approach, one that attempts to move outside what Whitehead called the “bifurcation of nature.” There are other modes of existence (many have been charted in Bruno Latour’s An Inquiry into Modes of Existence), and I think “unremembered pleasure” is one.
T. Hugh Crawford

June 29

July 1st, 2016

June 29

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The first part of MacFarlane’s The Old Ways describes some fairly traditional (if sometimes dangerous) walks, while the second takes to the seas, noting the similarities between navigating the old sea ways and walking old paths, but that part also includes a chapter on crossing Lewis island on a path through peat and rock, navigating by sighting cairns. In other words, much of Part 2 is about paths that you cannot see simply by looking at your feet. What hovers over this section is the very real possibility of getting lost, either at sea or in a peat bog. If walking is, as I believe, a particular form of knowing, it is important to understand the variables that contribute to the practice. One often but not always present pressure remains the possibility of getting lost. Walking brings risk, and risk (as Hubert Dreyfus is fond of noting) creates a complex relationship between self, world, knowledge, and understanding. In a very real sense, the same pleasure centers are activated when one comprehends a difficult philosophical point and when one successfully navigates a risky path. To me the important part is not navigation (or understanding) on a macro scale–successfully traversing a complete trail–but instead the micro risks–the moment when, on gaining a cairn marker, the next one snaps into view. The small leap from anxiety to momentary comfort characterizes work in a risky world, an experienced enriched and enhanced by that very risk.

T. Hugh Crawford

June 28

July 1st, 2016

June 28

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Once again, I must take a break (see Hiatus) from long-distance trekking, this time to teach in the Georgia Tech Oxford program a course on the literature of walking. Instead of stopping WalkingHome completely, I will try to write up some thoughts on the material we are reading and, where possible, connect to any short walks I can squeeze in. Introducing others to the complexity of what seems a simple act of walking can be difficult, but I have found Robert MacFarlane’s The Old Ways does a fine job. Layering precise description with personal narrative and with cultural and literary history, MacFarlane prods his readers to think closely about what seems the mundane. Regarding literature, his gambit is simple but profound: one can understand literature (along with history and culture) by walking the landscapes that produced it. Edward Thomas’s poetry is known differently after walking the chalk downs and the Ichnield way, and of course, one comes to a different sense of self and indeed a different sense of “knowing” through such embodied experiences. This is an argument I have long been sympathetic to. I once taught a class on Thoreau’s Walden where we framed up his house using only the tools he could have used: axes, broad axes, adzes, mallets, chisels. The Walden we read (and the one I continue to read) is simply a different book because of that experience. Of course re-reading is always a transformation, but I now feel Thoreau’s words through the vibrations of an axe-blow up my arm.

T. Hugh Crawford

Walking Christo’s Floating Piers

June 25th, 2016

Christo’s “Floating Piers”: Learning to Walk

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Finding myself in Milan after nearly a year of long-distance trekking, I couldn’t pass up the chance to walk on water. Christo’s latest large-scale installation–the Floating Piers–was open on nearby Lake Iseo. Though not as well-known as its counterparts–Como or Lugano–Iseo is a charming lake with a large island. Instead of the usual ferry, the Floating Piers provides travelers with a bridge from the mainland town of Sulzano across to the island. The lake is in a quiet wine district, and Christo’s installation threatens to overwhelm the region’s infrastructure. Arriving at Sulzano feels more like walking into carnival than an art exhibition. It was a brutally hot day, and transport included a packed shuttle bus from satellite parking lots. Given the difficulty of travel and temperature, the visitors were in remarkably good humor, each showing a quiet expectation or maybe just plain curiosity about what they were about to experience. Christo’s installations tend to be visual–the many draped buildings, his wrapped islands, and the canyon curtain–so The Floating Piers is a divergence. It is participatory, a set of bridges that are meant to be crossed by walkers, pilgrims of all types learning to walk on a strange cloth-covered contraption.

The installation was first conceived in 1970 by Christo and his collaborator Jeanne-Claude. A three kilometer set of bridges, it links Sulzano with the island town of Peschiera Maráglio and the tiny Isola di San Paolo. Open from June 18 until July 3, Floating Piers is 220,000 high density polyethylene cubes covered by 100,000 square meters of fabric and held in place by 200 anchors. With a color that approaches school-bus yellow, the bridges float just above the water’s surface with edges tapering to a zero point where the water laps and, on a hot day, invites. The site and surrounding towns have been overrun with walkers. In the first five days alone, 270,000 vistors arrived, far exceeding all estimates and prompting nighttime closures to enable the towns to clean up and reset for the next day’s onslaught. Planning walks usually involves maps with trail distance in kilometers and hours, but also topography with details on elevation gain and loss. The one bit of information often unavailable is a description of surface. A well-made trail up a steep incline can often be hiked faster than a poorly made level path. The Floating Piers has no elevation change. It is a two-dimensional plane perfectly level with the surface of the water, its colors forming an abstract diagram to be seen from above. Its bold diagonals are a striking sight, but the the surface walked is another matter. It is hard to describe the sensation of crossing. It is a flexing, forgiving surface that enables walking in any footwear (or with none at all) and the map provided does not so much guide as it abstracts.

Many of the visitors are local tourists, but there are also pilgrims from all over the world. Walking there is to hear a cacophony of languages and experience a cacophony of walking styles. Seasoned trekkers tend to move rapidly and directly, always aware of where they are on a trail and when in high traffic areas paying close attention to the movement of others. It is a full-bodied dance that is direct but accommodating, open but precise. In contrast, The Floating Piers is walked by a variety of people, each struggling to find their pace in relation to a crowd which moves to different rhythms or does not move at all (Selfie sticks have replaced trekking poles on this trail). The paths on the islands vary in width, but the floating bridges themselves are a uniform 16 meters wide. Covered in what they describe as a “simmering yellow” fabric, the walkway provides only one sense of directionality–across the lake and back. The surface itself is unmarked, giving no indication of where to walk. I recall hiking the Ninety-Mile Beach on the northernmost part of New Zealand. In that wide expanse of sand, I found myself unconsciously following any track that appeared–human footprints, tire marks, even the seaweed of the tide line–if only to find a sense of where and how to walk. Christo’s walkers are given a blank space. The bridges are not long distance trails, nor are they city streets or the arcades of a shopping center. They have a direction, but give their walkers no directions.

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What is most striking about the project surface is that, like water, it is not a rigid plane. The piers flex, float, and move according to their own complicated pattern, one that is influenced by the movement of the lake surface, the wake of boats, and the wind, but also by the footsteps of the many walkers. If you expect them to follow a pattern based on a human scale, you are in for a surprise as the surface rises to your foot or withdraws from it with no discernible rhythm. Consequently, the crowds moving in either direction (in or out) have to navigate the unpredictability of their fellow walkers and the chaotic flexing on the surface on which they stride. Perhaps it is the school-bus yellow, maybe the sharp and bold abstraction of its lines, or just the sheer child-like playfulness of the entire project, there is something about the Floating Piers that turns its users into children. It is a playful concept, but more fundamentally its users, like toddlers, must learn to negotiate the surface where they walk and the people with whom they share that surface.

The day I walked the Floating Piers, I got to tiny Isola di San Paola (the most playful section of the project) to find a pontoon workboat floating just off the yellow fabric coast. Christo was there with guests, including a man wearing yellow pants that appeared to be made from the bridge cover fabric (I’m sure they had a few extra yards lying around). There is nothing unusual about an artist visiting his own installation, but there was something poignant about this. Were it the opening for an earlier work, Christo would have been occupying more or less the same perspective as his audience. Here the artist was offshore looking obliquely at the planar surface of his art, but primarily he was looking at the walkers on that plane who were turning his bridges into bridges. The floating piers are just beautiful abstract surfaces on the lake surface until the walkers arrive. Then the paths become paths, the toddlers learn to walk, and a new, albeit temporary, community is formed. Footpaths are humanity’s first writing, producing marks on the land that tell others where to go, and they, by going, create community. Paths exist through use. Christo’s are temporary and the community of walkers formed is transient, but the lesson remains. Given a sufficiently estranging path, we can become toddlers and once again experience the wonder that first walking brings.

June 14-19

June 19th, 2016

June 14-19 Milano

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The interval at the end of a long-distance trek can be a curious time in several senses. It is curious or peculiar because it is the time of not-walking following a long time of walking. Daily rhythms and concerns require new calibrating, infinite adjustment. It is also a time that requires curiosity, a questioning of what has just taken place. Of course many people finish a trek and find themselves immediately thrust back into quotidian, non-walking life without the opportunity for reflection, for necessary curiosity. Instead there is a quick and often intense celebration (think of drunken revels in Millinocket after the Appalachian Trail). After each of my recent treks, I’ve been fortunate to have time– actually I’ve aggressively claimed it so as not to waste the moment of the end–to prolong it so it thickens and stabilizes. I had a week on Stewart Island after my nearly 4 month, 3000 km walk of New Zealand’s Te Araroa, necessary to rest and heal physically but also to think. After the Annapurna circuit I had several days in Pokhara, just wandering the city. On reaching Santiago on the Camino, I then found time and nourishment in A Coruna and Muxia. The second half of the Trans-Swiss trail makes a straight line toward Milan, so that visit had a sense of inevitability. The interval is a place to breathe, to catch up on neglected obligations (writing and revising, composing letters and emails), and experience something like boredom. I use that term deliberately, not to signal ennui or laziness, but instead the necessity to avoid sightseeing, to step out of obligatory tourism and make a space for the thinking of non-walking. Of course I have visited the Duomo, seen Da Vinci’s Last Supper, toured the castle (and perhaps should make the pilgrimage to San Siro), but also have taken the time to do nothing — to celebrate the thinking that such indolence provides and produces. Many of the essays in this blog have been contemplations of time, usually walking time, but other intervals, other hiatuses, are something to treasure. Walkers find themselves in the middle of spaces, the in-between that is inter-esse (interesting), but those same treks create gaps in time which are equally important as they too make viewpoints as well as continuous ever expanding moments. Rather than boisterous celebration, endings need careful assimilation, quiet prolonging.

T. Hugh Crawford

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