Well hello there again!
This week, I’ve been asking myself one specific question, over and over again: Are we, in general, reverting back to the habits of 18th and 19th century middle- and upper-class people? Are reading and going for long walks in nature, seeking solitude and peace and quiet the new yet old pass-times we will carry from this lock-down? Or are we just temporarily reverting back to more nature-oriented creatures, and will we huddle back behind our screens as soon as we are officially free to do as we please again?
Since the second week of lock-down, I have gone back to reading for pleasure again – meaning my favourite authors have welcomed me back into their individual worlds of mysteries and dystopian, philosophical interpretations of the world, and I have enjoyed it immensely.
When you’re so focused on finishing the semester with all (well) passing grades, on doing the necessary readings, on putting down your own strings of words hoping they make up a story that makes your professor believe you could discuss with him about serious matters, reading for pleasure in your free time sounds like offering a drowning person a glass of water. And going on walks? In the forest or parks? To enjoy nature? Who even has time for that?!
But now that going for walks and enjoying nature in peace and solitude is our only possibility of getting outside and making some vitamin D or getting some form of movement and activity, it’s no longer such an abstract, weird concept. In fact, going for a stroll around the Arenberg Castle grounds seems to be everyone’s favourite activity to pass the afternoon with! (Please stop. Stop gathering in groups at Arenberg. It’s not safe in crowds, please find some other nice patch of green. We’re in Belgium, it’s everywhere if you just follow the riverbend a bit.) And while our attention spans aren’t exactly operating on point right now, picking up a book to get lost in is also something I hear more people do these days. In fact, I’ve even heard libraries (in other countries, fair enough) shortening the amount of days you can have a book on loan right now because the demand is higher for them! I guess now’s the time to cheer for eBooks and the KUL’s limo library-system, isn’t it!
I seem to digress. What I’m trying to get at, is that in the books of Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, and Nathaniel Hawkins (quite old, I know), going for periodic walks during the day, and having dedicated reading-sessions in the sitting room were as common as it is for us students to go to classes, have lunch and a coffee with a friend at Pangaea, and return to another class.
Sorry, was for us.
And believe it or not, even when Agatha Christie was writing up the murder mysteries of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot (hey! A famous Belgian!), and Patricia Wentworth was putting her ex-governess-turned-lady-P.I. Miss Silver to work, going for walks in nature was still as normal, regular, and even socially tinted as a good 100 years before WWII ended. Reading M.C. Beaton’s books about modern life in the Cotswolds or the Scottish countryside, it becomes clear that really only within bigger, busier cities going for walks has become completely irrelevant and downright odd.
Now I’m not trying to compare myself to Elizabeth Bennet on the left here, but I do agree. And judging by the sudden increase of nature walkers (“ramblers” as the UK-people term it) around the ring of Leuven so do you all: Walking in nature is very nice!
Maybe it’s just me, but having a walk in nature gives my mind an opportunity to settle. It resets my emotional and cognitive slate and allows me to breathe easier (if you disregard the effect of the blooming pollen on my respiratory system; thanks nature, now’s totally the time for that allergy to blossom). For some strange reason, taking a solitary walk into the greenery of Leuven, with just my headphones, my music and nothing else makes me feel connected. Like I’m not alone, like I’m a part of a bigger something here, and as though I’m closer to nature and therefore closer to my true self.
Am I spiralling here? Maybe.
But reading this right now, don’t you want to just go outside and explore how taking that walk and letting yourself experience your surroundings fully feel to you?