One of the most tangible differences between working at home and having a job that entails going to a workplace every day is that I no longer have a walk to work. Or a walk to the tube or the bus stop. Work takes place here, where I get up and eat my breakfast.
With that loss of a physical destination, I have lost the special thinking time that the commute gave me. Non-allocated time. Sifting through what I have to do time. Wondering about nothing (and everything) time. Or just enjoying looking around me. Even when I drove to work, the drive allowed my thoughts to drift freely and land where they would, as unimpeded as the snow that fell last night and landed in drifts across the valley.
At the end of the summer, I decided to start having a walk to work again. I leave the house and walk for twenty minutes to half an hour and then re-enter the house, refreshed. Raring to go. Sometimes I ‘walk home’ as well at the end of the afternoon.
There are four routes I can take from my door: around the fields, along the path by the beck, up a steep fell and back down again (with much panting and puffing), or there’s a single-track road to the neighbouring hamlet with a pretty return route along the river bank. I carry my phone so that I can take photos. My thoughts started drifting quite easily once I get going, and I started trying to scribble them down en route. However, it is no secret that it rains quite a lot here, and so after removing the sixth wad of soggy paper from my pocket I hit on the brilliant idea of using the voice recorder on my phone. I now carry a proper voice recorder (thank you, husband dear, for the liberating and useful Christmas present) that copes with the wind better than the phone did, and it is easier to use.
So now I can record these valuable bits of thinking as I walk along. It’s an extremely effective way of teasing out difficult decisions, and the rhythm of walking seems particularly suited to the challenge of prioritising the competing demands of what they call a ‘portfolio’ career (which is the daftest name for a career I have ever heard – it is merely a way of making the experience of having your brain pulled in about five different directions at once sound sophisticated and desirable).
The result of all this experimentation is that I now have a habit that I’m addicted to. My walk to work is very often the clearest and most productive moment of the day.
What I chance to see as I walk (a gap in a dry stone wall; a newly fallen branch) or happen to hear (a curlew circling and calling goodbye as it leaves until spring comes again; the tractor at the farm thrumming) often sets me off on some riff or rant or other. Writing the recordings up when I get home, for whatever work I’m doing or for this blog, fixes them in my memory; it allows them to develop and guide my work in one way or another.
My familiarity with the paths I follow each day means I can focus on quite tricky problems because I don’t have to look where I’m going or plan the route. And yet it is endlessly surprising how many times I am hijacked by the sight of something I haven’t noticed before, despite knowing every inch of the way. Today, my heart was assailed by the odd sensation of recognising my husband’s boot print from where he must have walked yesterday – a lovely, odd feeling of time bending back on itself, fusing us both together in a moment of time-warped companionship even though he is now hundreds of miles away in London. I find myself paying close attention to small things on these walks; a few days ago I got absorbed in the beautiful tracks the rabbits had made in the snow, and then I found these two sets of rabbit tracks making a large X across the field.
When I’m working away from home doing consultancy work, or when I’m out in the world on one the culture binges us country folk need from time to time, I still try and get a ‘walk to work’ in, wherever I am. They are not as peaceful or conducive to reflection as the walks I have here at home, but instead they bring the variety of new places; the clanging, colour-splashed vibrancy of urban environments is a stimulating contrast to our peaceful valley.
So this piece, written on a day when the temperature has struggled to raise its head above zero degrees, is here to introduce the special section on my blog where I will store all the posts I write about my walks to work.
I hope you enjoy walking with me.