In To the River, Olivia Laing walks the River Ouse in Sussex from its source to the sea, mediating on its flora, fauna, history and literary associations along the way. This morning, as dragonflies hovered over the stream running past my studio, I re-read this passage from Laing's lovely book:
"I was getting into one of those trances that come from walking far, when the feet and the blood seem to collide and harmonise. Funnily enough, Kenneth Grahame and Virginia Woolf both wrote in praise of these uncanny states, which they thought closely allied to the inspiration writing required. 'Nature's particular gift to the walker,' Grahame explained in a late essay, 'through the semi-mechanical act of walking -- a gift no other form of exercise seems to transmit in the same high degree -- is to set the mind jogging, to make it garrulous, exalted, a little mad maybe -- certainly creative and supra-sensitive, until at last it really seems to be outside you and as it were talking to you, while you are talking back to it.'
"As for Woolf, she wrote dreamily of chattering her books on the crest of the Downs, the words pouring from her as she strode, half-delirious, in the noon-day sun. She compared it to swimming or 'flying through the air; the current of sensations & ideas; & the slow, but fresh change of down, of road, of colour: all this is churned up into a fine sheet of perfect calm happiness. It's true I often painted the brightest of pictures on this sheet: & often talked out loud.' "
Chattering her prose. I do that too. Thank heavens there's only Tilly to hear me as we roam the hills on these bright summer days.
The beautiful artwork at the top of this post is by my dear friend and village neighbour Marja Lee. To learn more about her work, go here. The charming paintings below are illustrations for Kenneth Grahaeme's The Wind in the Willows and The Reluctant Dragon by Inga Moore, an Australian artist who now lives and works in England. To see more, go here.
The passages quoted above and in the picture captions are from To the River: A Journey Beneath the Surfaceby Olivia Laing (Canongate Books, 2011). All rights to the text and art in the post reserved by the author and artist.