Monday, September 10, 2012

Adequate step

What shall I call Tim Robinson? A cartographer, yes; the compiler and maker of a miraculous series of maps of Ireland's Aran Islands, limestone Burren, and Connemara. Writer, of marvelous books on the same places. Linguist, a Brit who settled in the West of Ireland and made himself an expert in the Irish language. Historian, of the land as revealed by ancient placenames and his own meticulous research. Naturalist. Walker. Bicyclist. In short, a polymath of whom I stand in awe.

Having read Robinson's books, and pored with endless pleasure over the maps, I can say that the most useful thing I have taken from Robinson is the idea of the "adequate step," a step worthy of the landscape it traverses. I mentioned the "adequate step" in the introduction to my book The Path: A One-Mile Walk Through the Universe. That book was my own attempt to give adequate attention to the walk back and forth from home to campus that I did each day for 40 years.

Robinson's adequate step takes into account geology, biology, myths, and history. It also includes the consciousness of the walker. Even all that, says Robinson, is not enough. No step can ever be fully adequate. As I said in The Path, a minute lived attentively can contain a millennium; an adequate step can span the planet.

Today I will be taking my last walk around the parish, along bothareens (little roads) I have walked a hundred times before. I'll be absorbing though the soles of my feet millions of years of geological evolution, millennia of human history. I have done my best to prepare my feet. I have accumulated the available books and maps. I have listened to locals. I have kept my eyes open. I won't pretend to a fraction of Tim Robinson's depth of learning, nor to the fluent adequacy of his step, but still I find the dimensions of the landscape overflowing the mind that tries to contain it.

Tomorrow I'll be in transit back to the path of The Path, so I'll be away for a few days as I make the transition. New shoes. New steps. Through a world that overwhelms even our best efforts at comprehending.