Sensory Activation (10 minutes). One person should keep time and mark two-minute intervals. Members of the group should walk while engaging the landscape through one sense at a time (all other senses must be suppressed as much as possible). Listen closely without seeing. Make your eyes a searchlight. Feel the world with hands and feet and skin. Taste the air and your own body. Smell.
Memory Activation (5 minutes). Conjure a memory of a walk you have taken in a landscape very different from this one. Reenact the performance of your body during that earlier walk. [Were you slowed by sand or snow or exhaustion? Did your pace quicken? Did a straight line elude you? Place yourself within your own memory.
The Hudson Valley is a region in New York characterized by a wide, dramatic river that is lined with picturesque, forested cliffs interspersed by formidable peaks. A train line runs along the east bank of the river, and as a passenger, the view is always different. One cold winter I saw the ice crack across the water, and in the summer you can see the sky reflected in the marshes that surround the tracks. There are pockets of habitat especially compelling to bald eagles, and long vertical rock formations that look like castle walls. Since I moved to New York, I have traveled to the Hudson Valley in the fall to walk in the woods in silence; I am particularly drawn to return to a trail that winds past an old estate, now long overgrown, and to the old stone walls that delineate plots of land long abandoned. The train I take leaves New York from Grand Central Station, and I always feel like I’m traveling back in time, beyond noise and wildness, and into a space entirely defined, at this point, by my own memories of the place.
I read “Stories from a Walking Library” on my way to this retreat. After a brief moment of defensiveness at the characterization of the work of libraries as the “straight-jacketing certainties of bureaucratic, ideological knowledge-organization,” I found myself deeply responsive to the tone of uncertainty that pervades the entire piece. The librarians understand that they are “performing” librarianship, but yet seek to create their own “taxonomic logic.” I especially appreciated the idea of “a rewriting prompted by walking.” In addition, my reading of Sotelo’s piece felt appropriate in the setting of the Hudson Valley, where the ruins of the Cornish family estate lie beside the path. A swimming pool, a symbol of decadence, fills with rainwater and yellow fallen leaves.
This week’s exercise is inspired by the experience of disjuncture described by the authors of “Stories from a Walking Library” when they seek to reconcile the flat landscape that surrounds them with the Romantic tropes common to familiar walking literature. I am interested in the idea of sensory activation, and what we seek to conceal and reveal while walking. In the second part of my exercise, I attempted to respond to the idea of cultural memory raised in “Looking Backwards to Walk Forward,” and to enact a physical memory of the experience of walking, to engage our own “spatio-temporal interactive framework.”