#10 In the Dutch mountains

Pieterpad- Gramsbergen to Hardenberg

On the way up

On the way up

For the introduction to this (hopefully)480 km journey, please click on the heading,’Walking the Pieterpad’ in the black bar above.

This stretch of path took me into hilly (comparatively!)country. The ‘mountain’ I climbed was, get ready for it- 75 meters high. But here in the flat lowlands, it is as much of a mountain as you’re going to find. I called Rende from the summit to tell him I’d reached it and was feeling altitude sickness coming on 🙂 – he enquired how the sherpas were doing and if I’d used all my ropes and caribiners.

View from the top

View from the top

I walked 50km over 4 days. Ample time to think, the space outside creating space for new thoughts.

I kept to my resolution not to book any accommodations in advance of the day of travel. Rende asked me why I didn’t just call and ensure that I had a place to stay, especially since it was the weekend. And I thought about that on my walk. Yes, for someone like me- used to organising everything in advance so as to prevent inconvenience or discomfort- it cost me some sleep to leave it open. But I realised it also gave me a chance to solve things as they came up. I’d first decided to not book in advance on this 480km walk so I could gain a little of the feeling of wayfaring, where you’re thrown back on yourself and  have to let go more to trust the universe to provide what you need.

So far, I’ve not once been stuck for a place to sleep, though sometimes it was a close thing. In the case of not being able to find budget accommodation I still have the option of an expensive hotel- or finding transport to another town. On this last walk, my host and hostess were helping me decide where to stay the next night because there were only 1 or 2 options and no hotels in the next stopping place. While I was trying to find possible public transport in case they were booked, the woman of the house offered to drive down and and pick me up after the walk, and bring me back to stay with them, then drive me back down there the next day.

When you solve everything in advance yourself (an illusion anyway), you don’t give other people the chance to help you. I didn’t need to make use of the woman’s kind offer, but I was really touched and it made me trust more and let go to how things were unfolding.

Here are a few shots from this trip.


#9The path is always changing

path through dunes

path through dunes

We had a window of good weather, so I cancelled or changed several appointments and went walking.

I have to admit this leg was more difficult than previous ones for various reasons- I was carrying  heavier pack and was breaking in new walking shoes. Then the bus broke down- it was only 12 minutes from the stop where I’d left off last time, so I decided to walk it. I even found a place to rejoin a part of the Pieterpad I’d done last time. Bad move. It took me a whole day to get back to the place I needed to be, the weather was overcast, plus all the other factors just mentioned made it less fun. It was hard finding a place to stay, it got late, I was exhausted, etc etc. All part of long distance walking, I guess. In the end I did find a place with wonderful people hosting, and was able to rest, eat and have a good night’s sleep- all of of which take on heightened importance when on the road.

A nice feature I’ve run into a few times now are the ‘rest points’- unmanned little havens especially for hikers or cyclists, where you can at least make a cup of coffee or tea, and where there is often a toilet too. You just leave the money in a little dish.  This one was especially welcoming and had a guest book  full of appreciation from people who
had used it.

rest point outside

rest point outside

rest point interior

rest point interior

The next 2 days were great, but I will go back to my smaller, lighter pack. Walking with that weight on my back ruins the whole feeling of lightness and freedom these walks usually mean for me.

Leaving beautiful Drenthe, I crossed over into a new province- Overijssel (over EYE’ sill). The landscape became flatter again, less trees, the path was varied. It ran along canals and roads, through industrial parks, next to a windmill park, and down along the sides of highways.

The season is clearly changing, there were nuts, buckeyes (Pittsburghese for horse- chestnuts), and yellowing leaves on the paths. Farmers were bringing in the hay and grain. The midsummer fresh green was turning to a duller olive, the sun was lower. Usually I’m sad to see the summer leave, but it was such a rarely beautiful one that I can move, with acceptance and with nature, into autumn.

Commitments are starting up again, so it will be harder to get away for a few days in a row, but I’m determined to at least do some fall walking. And I’m curious about what the next section of path holds.


Slow down! You’re driving through our living room!

offering a treat for good behaviour during one of our actions

offering a treat for good behaviour during one of our actions

Early this year, I wrote optimistically about the action group I’m involved in to try and improve traffic safety on our road. Below is our first action, ‘At home on the street’, a living room set up on the side of the road, with the carpet extending onto the road- to try to communicate that this is not only a through road, but people live here.

'At home on the street', thumbs up for a good driver

‘At home on the street’, thumbs up for a good driver

Now, a year on from our first action in the summer 2013, we’ve gained experience and wisdom. And we see more clearly just what it is we are up against.

heavy freight vehicles on our country road

heavy freight vehicles on our country road

heavy vehicles on our country road

heavy farm vehicles

The situation: we live on a country road in a beautiful agricultural area. However, it is also a provincial thruway used intensively by agricultural machinery and and heavy freight trucks.

There are, including cars, an average of 1500 vehicles passing by our door-  per day!!

And according to official figures, 80% of them drive too fast, making crossing the street a life-threatening experience, and the question of children playing on or near the road unthinkable.

heavy freight carriers on our country road

2 years ago, taking into consideration the years long complaints about the road, the province carried out a complete renovation of this piece of the N983. There were aesthetic changes meant to emphasise the neighbourhood aspects of the road like new streetlights and cycle lanes, new paving, as well as ‘shared space crossings’. But most importantly, the speed limit was reduced from 80 to 60km/hour just outside the village, and from 50km to 30km/hour within the village boundaries.

Very few drivers, including locals, observe/d the 30km limit. Despite our complaints the province claims that the overall speed has dropped some, to a bit under 50km, and those are the best results we can hope for. They consider the changes a success!

A year on down the line, we now have two light displays-one at either end of the village- showing people their current speed; and as an experiment, the province has placed cement obstacles at intervals down one side of the road.

When these, plus our months of friendly and attention getting actions, didn’t have the impact we’d hoped (in many cases it made people more aggressive!) we turned to the police to ask if they would help enforce the new speed limit. The story we got in answer to this is too absurd for words!

Evidently, the police (municipal)  can’t initiate action on our behalf. They must receive an order from the people responsible for the road (the province). The province doesn’t see that there is a real problem here. But it gets even better, even if the police would come here and give speeding tickets, these won’t hold up in court because the road doesn’t fulfil the qualifications for a country road (remember the renovation that was supposed to ensure this?). Certain elements in the design of the road indicate it as a through road- not a residential area. When we asked why this was allowed to happen, our civil servant contact says, ‘You attended the planning meetings, so why didn’t you tell us you didn’t want this?’ But of course those of us at the planning meetings didn’t have the technical expertise to foresee the consequences of this kind of decision.

So after our summer break, in our first meeting we realised that what we’re really up against is much bigger than a localised question of speeding cars through a village.We now know that we’re trying to change deeply ingrained mentality and behaviour. In our culture and here in Holland for sure, people don’t pay attention to rules unless they are forced to. As long as no one in authority is watching they will break every rule they can. So we’re up against habitual antisocial behaviour which is accepted as normal. Also, people don’t like others to change things, what we get a lot is,’We’ve been driving this road for 30 years at 50km, who are you to tell us we should change now?’

No amount of argument about danger for children and pets and older people helps,’There have always been children living near this road, none have ever been hurt’.


Also, though no one will admit it, the province is dragging its feet on providing the one solution that would solve the problem- place obstacles in such a way that cars can’t go faster than 30km. Personally, I think it all comes down to politics and money- they are unwilling to antagonise the farmers or trucker businesses that drive through here.

So that’s what we’re up against. From the original team of 8, there are 4 of us still actively functioning in the group. For some, a year of intense volunteer work, self funded, with few visible results, was too discouraging; for others, their work is now taking precedence. For those of us left, admittedly weary and discouraged but still committed, our immediate strategy is to unite with surrounding villages who have similar problems.

If you know of any success stories with these kinds of citizen-based actions, please do let me know!



#8Storing summer light

August walk collection and weaving

August walk collection and weaving

There are some moments when, even in the middle of living them, you are already missing them. During my last walk, at the height of a perfect summer I knew I was creating a memory. In his wonderful book, The Old Ways, Robet MacFarlane describes a similar moment on one of his walks:

…and the sun loosed its summer light, as it had done for uncountable years across the sea, the island and my body, a liquid so rich that I wanted to eat it, store it, make honey of it for when winter came.

Shortly after my last light-filled walk we had a few days of rain, the weather was still warm. And then it all changed. It felt like getting kicked out of paradise- the skies turned an ugly leaden grey, storms raged, and the temperature dropped. It has been like this for about 10 days now, and autumn feels awfully close. No eating dinners outside,the doors closed, the heat back on, the thin, light clothing suddenly feeling inadequate and out of place, and giving way slowly to fleece and wool.

I just haven’t had a chance to prepare myself to let go of this idyllic summer so rare in the northern areas where I’ve lived for the past 36 years (Northern Scotland and Holland).

Fed up with being cooped up in the house for yet another day, I took off this morning for a short local walk. It was just an hour’s loop, but it was blissful. Contrary to a few days ago when I went out despite an approaching storm and got properly soaked to the bone, the rain held off. The wind was refreshing. There was a strange moment, I saw 3 large buzzards cruising on thermals above a small forest. And I walked along the canal where swallows were swooping for insects, I was in their flight path, so they would whoosh close by. As a background to all the bird flights, there were fighter jets training above the clouds- once in awhile their black arrow shapes would break into view far above the birds-  and the noise was deafening.

Still that was part of this walk, the nature was beautiful, and I came home more able to accept the possible early change of seasons.

Pieterpad talisman

Pieterpad talisman

Pieterpad talisman

During my last walk I discovered that almost as much as walking, I enjoyed stopping. Sitting in the dry grass along the path, everything became still. I could focus on the micro world around me, on the insects going about their lives, and the plants close to the ground.

I remembered how when Rende and I used to camp in France, the first thing I would do at a campground was to make a miniature garden. Collecting shards of sandstone I’d construct mini walls, and a bottle top would become a pond. I’d lose myself for hours in these tiny worlds. I’ve been doing this all my life.

So intuitively on my walks I’ve begun to collect grasses, wool, herbs and feathers. Finding a place to sit comfortably, I started to weave the grasses into a bracelet sized ring.

beginning to weave the grass

beginning to weave the grass

I had brought  a few supplies- thread, scissors, needles, so could bind the grass as I twisted it. This is a basket making technique I learned from an artist friend- you twist the grasses in one direction- say,  away from you, and bind them by twisting the thread in the opposite direction toward you. That way they stay in place.

grass ring

I ended up with a small roundel of grace, I mean grass. Later, at home, I added the other materials I’d collected from that walk. The downy feathers give it something whimsical.

Making things like this is somehow essential to me- it leaves me feeling more whole and connected and on track.

I’ll keep the finished object for awhile, but most likely will gift it back to nature on the next section of path I walk.

Larger conversations, searching for the soul in my art

Too early on, creating beautiful things became my sole source of praise, and self-worth. I think it took me an entire adult life to start to reclaim my art for myself, and disengage it from the outer trappings of approval.

David Whyte speaks about diving deep down to the core of our work where we are engaged in larger conversations with unknown forces. And that this level of work is hugely distanced from the usual criteria of professionalism, income generation and success.

He says that without this larger conversation, nothing will nourish us, we won’t find the passion or renewal needed to progress and grow and become fulfilled in our work.

I’m finding it increasingly harder to keep on with my oil painting. It seems to me so entwined with the old forms of art making, but not in the positive sense of craft mastery. Rather that, once finished, whether I see it that way or not, my painting becomes a product. It belongs to the market value system simply by existing.

I think if my work sold effortlessly, I wouldn’t get so hung up on the promotion aspect of it. If people bought my work for who I am, and not who the gallery is, and this work was seen to be a necessary part of someone’s life, or of the community,  I’d just keep keeping on.

This is my latest still life, I like the tippy-top band of colour best.

Tanny's bowl

Tanny’s bowl

I have been wondering how/if my painting is connected to my soul, to my heart’s path….It still seems to be about doing something well, and the very real joy of mastering  technique and using it expressively. But it has no context. I don’t feel part of the artworld or akin to my fellow painters who are trying to live from their work. It is made in a vacuum and stays there. It is something I do, but not who I am……..

But maybe I haven’t dived down into it deeply enough. I can’t seem to find the ‘passion’ or ‘renewal’ to go on with developing it. [Later: I reconnected to my painting again and there is so much delight in just the doing, and in seeing the progress, and getting closer to my vision of how I’d like to paint. The reward is in the joy of doing and discovery. So though there are ups and downs, I won’t be stopping anytime soon.]

On the other hand, this little laying out of objects collected on my last 2 walks does make my heart beat faster. It feels very close to who I am and who I always have been.



The little grass ring was woven while waiting for the bus to go back home, it has since been pimped up a bit with wool, pine cones and feathers, I’ll add a photo of the finished object later. (On this photo, inside the ring is a pinkish disc of lepidolite given to me by Rende). The wonderful weathered sticks are each from a different nature reserve- Gasteren Duinen, BalooĂ«rveld, and Sleenderbos.The flint is also from the sandy paths of BallooĂ«rveld.

All my life I’ve been collecting feathers, sticks, shells, stones, seedpods. And weaving baskets from grasses and laying out collections in various configurations. I’ve never linked these activities with Art. It seemed too personal, like my own intimate rituals which had nothing to do with anyone else.

But it seems that this urge is more widespread, and that it is an expression of a new kind of art, linked with nature. So I’ll share it here, and so doing, feel to be part of a larger community also working with natural materials for healing, connection, meaning creation, peace, and the simple pleasure of it.










#7 Passing a threshold

Pieterpad, Rolde en route to Sleen (via Schoonloo)

For the introduction to this (hopefully)480 km journey, please click on the heading,’Walking the Pieterpad’ in the black bar above.

Sign along the Pieterpad

Sign along the Pieterpad

This leg of the journey I was accompanied (figuratively) by Robert MacFarlane and his, ‘The Old Ways’. I’m in the middle of reading it and it is a delight. He writes of his own wayfaring, always with an eye to how walking is linked with meaning creation, local myths,and personal stories.

I was on this section of path for 3 glorious warm and sunny  days. Time to sink deep into one’s own rhythm and thoughts. The path wound through several nature reserves, and while I love wooded sandpaths best of all, I have to admit it got a bit repetitive.

Still, there was variation- going over streams, the path breaking out into open fields, heather bogland with wide peaty ponds, and the occasional paved road. Being late July the birds are very quiet. I didn’t see many in the woods and missed their songs. Actually I was feeling quite starved for other signs of life by the second day, and was so pleased to find a young cat on the path near Schoonloo (Dutch pronounciation – double oo is pronounced like our long o in ‘snow’). And once when I stopped by a field with cows in the distance, I looked up and they were all coming toward me, all curious and snuffly. One got close enough for a nose kiss- what a big, black, WET nose! The horses were being boarded by a friendly stables I passed at the end of my second day. The place I was staying was 2km off the path and I did 16km that day.

An important part of this experience is surely the encounters with people on the way and those in whose homes I rest at night. There is a network of private homes which host only hikers and cyclists for a low fee. The one I stayed in this time couldn’t be beaten by a 4 star hotel in my eyes. I had a little private suite in their beautiful home, and they were very kind. Here was the breakfast served in ‘my’ sitting room overlooking the garden. And I got a packed lunch for on the way.

bed and BREAKFAST!

bed and BREAKFAST!

While I walked, I mused on a Joseph Campbell quote I have in my travel journal:

Whether small or great, and no matter what the stage or grade of life, the Call rings up the curtain, always on a mystery of transfiguration- a rite, or moment, of spiritual passage, which, when complete, amounts to a dying and a birth. The familiar life horizon has been outgrown; the old concepts, ideals and emotional patterns no longer fit; the time for the passing of a threshold is at hand.

Joseph Campbell in conversation with Michael Toms,‘Notes from an Open Life’.

The walking seems to have a lot to do with this kind of life stage. I can’t explain it concretely, but it is in itself a ‘Call’.

Here is what Robert Macfarlane has to say about walking as a way of creating meaning:

 …it seemed that every month I had been walking the old ways, I had met or heard tell of someone else setting out on a walk whose purposes exceeded the purely transportational or the simply recreational, and whose destination was in some sense sacred. Thousands of these improvised pilgrimages seemed to be occurring, often unguided by the principles of a major world religion, and of varying levels of seriousness and sanctity.

-Robert MacFarlane, ‘The Old Ways’

I’ve covered 100km now, on my own two feet, one step at a time. And encouraged by an account of Robert MacFarlane’s-  some of it done barefoot. The first thing you notice is temperature, after that as he notes as well, there is a feeling of reciprocity you get the second your skin directly touches the Earth’s skin.