Walk it out, and then write some more. That’s what I am doing on Appia Antica today. I love walking on the ancient Appian Way. Flanked by soaring Umbrella Pines interspersed with eroded Roman ruins it takes only a few steps on the road to fall into a comfortable rhythm. Every so often the sampietrini, as the old cobblestone is called, give way to the original ancient Roman interlocking stones. Like giant tortoises the grey stones extend into the distance, now smooth and softened by time, and then ever so gently the cobblestone picks up again. Sometimes it’s the gentlest of transitions and you might only notice if you are paying attention (or if you are wearing leather-soled shoes that can slip on the stone). I like pausing in those places, at those unnoticeable seams, stitched together over time, to admire the modest but important work that holds the whole together.
My grandmother would mend our hand-knit socks and sweaters at the end of each winter season. Gathered in wool she’d sit in an armchair with crochet hooks and knitting needles and fill in all the pulls, tears and holes, lovingly mending all the garments. After gently hand-washing the woolens they would be line-dried outdoors to then be packed away with sweet smelling herbs till the next season. Though she sat quietly mending, sometimes singing, often telling us stories, so much more transpired during the process. Through her craft she turned to a practice, a devotional practice, of devotion not just to us, her grandchildren for whom she had lovingly knit the pieces, but of devotion to love, to the path of love. As she stitched and laundered and folded our clothes she was using that time to remember and reflect on that season and all that had happened. Through each sweater she could gauge who had grown and was ready for something new and who still needed another year of comfort in a favorite sweater. Through all the collected knitting in her lap she pored over the winter and identified what needed tending, mending, or letting go. By the time everything was folded and pressed and ready to be put away, she too was ready to move on to the next season. And so were we. Through her loving practice of calm, of setting aside time to ponder and review, she taught us how to pause, collect our memories of the season, tend to what needed mending, and then transition. Keep walking.
I squat at a seam in the road and it is smooth to the touch. Three fingers wide over two thousand years could erode into a gully but here the workmanship has lasted, the ancient Roman cement has held. At the next stretch a wild poppy has made a home in the cracks between the stones. There was just enough space for her seed to move in and call it home. She has filled in the gap, mended the road in her own way. Cracks can birth beauty.
This is why I love coming out here to walk. Of course I’m here for the exercise and I’m here for the breathtaking landscape, but I’m also here to admire the gaps and the spaces in between; to review this season, reflect on it, and tend to what needs mending.
Without walking I can’t write. I need the mindful movement to process my thoughts before they become words. I come out here to stitch my words together even when I’m not writing. Even when I’m not writing I still am; I’m writing in between the spaces. After I walk, walk, walk I am so much more able to sit down and write, write, write.