A series of signs have appeared in the nature reserve and their purpose isn’t immediately clear.
“How ridiculous,” my sister says as we notice yet another new sign. “Lime Tree Avenue” along a path which is canopied with lime trees.
“Who gets lost in here? It’s not even that big” she adds.
It’s true. It’s perfectly possible to walk around the entire area in less than an hour, possibly two if you have no sense of direction and your eyes closed.
“I think it’s turned into a vanity project” I muse noticing the carefully routed yellow lettering on each of the green wooden signs and the multiplicity of directions point towards the lake, one no more than 10 metres from the lake.
In the days and weeks which follow we notice a constant stream of new signs, all naming parts of the park which had hitherto no name and which would mean nothing at all to anyone visiting who didn’t know the area and would be somewhat superfluous to those of us that do.
Walking alone with Daisy one day recently I text my sister as I’m making my way down a long set of steps next to the crematorium, where my parents are scattered.
“There’s another new one. I’ve just seen it. “Crem Steps”. How crass”.
I start to think about why these pointless signs are triggering such a reaction in me. It’s partly in support of my sister who doesn’t get on at all with the warden, a man who seems to dislike dogs disproportionately considering that he is responsible for the upkeep of a place where countless people enjoy walking their dogs. I also think it’s a terrible waste of money.
Then it came to me. It’s the insistence upon trying to protect us from getting lost. What’s wrong with getting lost after all?
When I first used to walk around the nature reserve I didn’t have a dog but I wished I did. I was sad and lonely and in a phase of my life where walking aimlessly amongst the elder and geraniums was a relief from the expectation I felt from myself and others when I was elsewhere.
I remembered a client I once had who told me he could never go for a walk just for the sake of walking. He always had to have a destination in mind, a purpose. I told him that life is mostly travelling with the odd destination dotted here and there but he just looked at me blankly. He’d have appreciated the signs.
I remember in those days the point at which I found I was walking the same ground I had walked before. I realised I had reached the limits of the nature reserve and began to map it out in my head. I had managed to move from the comfortable unfamiliarity into something more solid. But I’d done it in my own time in my own way without the need for a sign telling me I was walking through “Kitchen Garden”, the name given to a small semi-circular path which happens to have a couple of damson and apple trees.
“I suppose it is a kitchen garden if all you want to eat is fruit, and you’re not hungry until the autumn,” I say to my sister who is only too happy to agree.
It’s not hard to find someone willing to tell us where to go, what to do, how to look these days. We spend too much of our lives trying to make sure we don’t get “lost”. In the process, we’re getting increasingly lost.
This morning I’m going up onto the downs looking for a pathway I’ve never walked which my sister told me about some months ago. I’ve no idea where I’m going but, when I get there, I’m certain I’ll be much clearer about where I am.