The last week-end of March I stumbled upon the Parkland Walk with my girlfriend. It happened quite by accident and I was not prepared for the experience that followed. My senses were eager to open up to the world around me. I heard birds flying low under young leaves, a squirrel’s nails digging into a tree trunk as it squirted upwards. I saw fallen branches twisted in a sculpture like fashion, graffiti on a wall that blended with the scenery. I noticed those things but I felt I didn’t have time to pause, to sit and quietly absorb any of the details and capture them with my camera. Instead I kept on going, the experiences only fleetingly present, washing over me.
And yet, I thoroughly enjoyed the walk. It became a shared moment, a memory that didn’t just belong to me. I know my girlfriend’s recollection of it is widely different from mine. She probably didn’t hear the flapping of the bird wings against the leaves, but she did see the sign that pointed in the wrong direction. I can mention it and I know we’ll be able to laugh at it and remember our confusion over it. We shared an adventure and although it differs in our minds, there is enough in common to make it ours.
As we parted way in Finsbury Park, I knew I would come back to the Parkland Walk on my own. There had been so many details I had wanted to stop and capture – both with my camera and my senses – that I couldn’t let them go unregistered. So a few days later I was back on the path and it became one of the most gratifying walk I ever took.
When I first stepped alone onto the trail I had shared in Alexandra Palace Park, I savoured the feeling of peace and contentment that had become so familiar at the beginning of each solitary hike. I had somehow stopped it during my shared walk, not letting my senses fully reached out to the world to be better able to focus on the time shared with my girlfriend. It had thrown me off-balance and made me realise how much I cherish the transition in my body when I open up my senses, ready to be overwhelmed by the wilderness.
The novelty of the path was gone and I didn’t feel the need to observe the general scenery so much. My eyes were darting to the little things instead, my fingers happily toying with my camera to record what I saw and felt. I was doing just that when I realised that something else was different from my previous trips. Memories of the shared excursion were floating all around me, encapsulating me in a warm bubble of familiarity. The blue rope balancing on a high branch wasn’t just a touch of colour in the monochrome of brown, it was a story my girlfriend was telling me about her childhood and similar ropes she had played with. The memories danced in my head, the past and present merging into one experience. I was not alone on this new walk.
I smiled and almost laughed at the joyous realisation that sharing a walk had marked it more clearly than any other in my mind. I not only had the comfort of familiarity, the ability to focus solely on the details of my environment, but also had images of the past dancing all around. I kept on treading along, snapping picture at every opportunity with a grin permanently stuck on my face as I knew I was silently accompanied by the shadow of my girlfriend.