Who says paths are for walking? Toby Ash has taken to stopping and looking.
These words by Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh have been playing on my mind:
To know fully even one field or one land is a lifetime’s experience. In the world of poetic experience it is depth that counts, not width. A gap in a hedge, a smooth rock surfacing a narrow lane, a view of a woody meadow, the stream at the junction of four small fields – these are as much as a man can fully experience.
By intensely looking and studying the particular, concentrating hard on what is close at hand, Kavanagh believed we can learn universal truths. “Parochialism is universal. It deals with the fundamentals,” he added. “All great civilisations are based on parochialism”.
It’s easier to look widely rather than deeply. To examine a small fragment of what is around us and extrapolate larger truths is far more demanding. This is of course the territory of, amongst others, great landscape writers, who often seek to reveal – or imagine – fundamentals from their surroundings.
On a more personal level, I’ve taken to stopping and looking at the detail of my surroundings rather than just taking in the big views. I have chosen a small slither of nature, where I stop and look. And look again. It’s a short path I walk down maybe three of four times a week in all seasons (see photo above). It has an extraordinary variety of plant and animal life, which I am appreciating more now I’m taking the time to stop and observe. It’s ever changing. If I happen to be away for a couple of weeks, it is in many ways almost unrecognisable from the path I left.
What am I looking for? What universal truth do I hope to find? I’m not sure. But I find a kind of solace in being the sole member of the audience watching this extraordinary performance. Its complexity baffles; its beauty inspires.