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Looking down

"It's not easy to see things from the middle, rather than looking down on them from above or up at them from below, or from left to right or right to left: try it, you'll see that everything changes." Gilles Deleuze

Today as I set off on my walk back from the shops, David said something about me looking down - I think he was warning me to look where I was going. Which recalled a remark my French professor made to me back in my university days, at one of our occasional interviews, that I walked around our campus always looking at the ground and he asked me why I did? I was somewhat taken aback, and, being young and unsure - a child really although in my early twenties - I had no satisfactory answer. I think I probably said something useless like I didn't know. I told David this and he said it was a good question that Professor North had asked, so as I set off I tried to think of a good - well better - answer. I had actually started a post a while back on the subject but discarded it. Anyway I'll have another go.

It is true that I still mostly walk with my head down looking at the ground, and I confess I thought most people did. It's just something I naturally do. But why? Well I think there are a number of reasons.

The first one is somehow related to the pretty poor picture I took this morning of my shadow. This is not, of course, the shadow that accompanied me on my walk. That one had arms, but I lost them whilst taking the photo. It's also rather more distorted than I remember it being as I walked along, but maybe this is a case of the camera not lying, and my brain reconstituting the shadow as I wanted - in my case I thought my shadow looked slim and young. You can't see wrinkles on a shadow.

Anyway today I was accompanied most of the way by my shadow. It led the way - well that's just because the sun was shining from the right direction. As I walked I looked at my shadow. It was a companion. Another me. I have come to think, late in life, that we are all basically alone. No matter how loving a relationship you may have with someone, and I have not had many of that kind of relationship in my life, they will never understand you completely, because they are just not you. So you are on your own with your thoughts - and the only person/thing you can fully share them with is your shadow. It's almost a real person walking along in front of you.

Which leads me to my first conclusion about why I look down as I walk. I think I think better - if that's a real thing - with my head down. Although it's also a bit difficult to explain why that should be, because it's not as if there are fewer distractions down there. Maybe it's because it's a more closed environment down there. If you are looking down from a high viewpoint that's a whole different experience, and not one I shall include here - no I'm talking about walking and looking down. Even if you are coming down from one of those high viewpoints you don't see anything other than what's in front of your feet.

Walks - well journeys are obviously frequently used as metaphors, so whilst we are on the topic of looking down from the heights here is another pertinent quote:

"Most people think, when they're young, that they're going to the top of their chosen world, and that the climb up is only a formality. Without that faith, I suppose, they might never start. Somewhere on the way they lift their eyes to the summit and know they aren't going to reach it; and happiness then is looking down and enjoying the view they've got, not envying the one they haven't." Dick Francis

I actually think that the view from above, looking down also gives you a completely different perspective on things as well. You are standing back and seeing the bigger picture, or a different relationship of people and things when looking down from above. At the same time as becoming more godlike, in that you are above everything else, you see how basically insignificant man - that is you - is. The view from an aeroplane, whilst beautiful is also somewhat demoralising.

"If you are looking down while you are walking it is better to walk up hill - the ground is nearer." Gertrude Stein

Which is a bit flippant but brings me to my second point. It's sort of safer to look down, which must mean that I am a cautious, even anxious person. Also probably true. If you are looking down you will avoid walking in dog - or other (this is horse) - pooh, or mud or a puddle. And you will avoid tripping over stuff that's in the way. The pooh might be more of a problem elsewhere perhaps but there's always a bit of kangaroo pooh here and there and at this time of year there is mud and puddles. And here in Australia there is real danger down there - snakes in summer, and bull ants all year!

But it's not just those negative reasons that lead me to look down. I actually think you may possibly see more of interest when you look down. Looking up at the sky is spiritual almost, but other than the occasional really interesting bird, or cloud, or a beautiful sunset, I find it less interesting. More spiritual - it can definitely take you out of yourself to 'lift your eyes to the hills' and the sky, but not so interesting. And not much life. It's more abstract. In a town or a city it can be very interesting on the other hand. Indeed tourist guides might tell you that the most interesting things to see are up or down. Yes down. Here are just four things from my library of photographs of our travels that caught my eye.

The first was at the bottom of the wall of a bridge over the Canal du Midi. Such an interesting little piece of wall art. What does it signify? Who painted it and why? Even, when? There is a whole story there. Next to it is a quirky little dog bowl - I'm not sure now whether it was Italy or France. It somehow looks Roman. It made me ponder on the kind of people who lived behind the door. Was the dog theirs, or had they just put out a bowl for passing dogs?

You will have to zoom in on the third one. It's a picture of part of the floor in Ely cathedral. But the really interesting thing is the two blades of lavender placed carefully on the floor in a crossed over position near the column. Why, why, why? There is no obvious tomb or anything nearby. Now if I had not been looking down at that point I would never have seen it. A complete mystery. If you had imagination you could write a whole novel from that.

The last one is from my walk back from the shops - although on another occasion. It's just random bird shit splattered on a concrete path, but the patterns it made on the stone resembled some kind of abstract art to me. The colours and the patterns were striking and so I took a photo.

This one is not from a town, but from the stone floor of a ruined castle in France, or maybe a stone pathway beside it. I can't remember now. But what are those strange marks set in the stone? I apologise - it is not very clear, but then I don't think it was very clear at the time, in real life as it were. Again, who made them all this hundreds of years ago, and why?

As you look down you see evidence of other people, other animals, other times.

On one of our walks with our grandchildren we found this cast off carapace from a cicada (I think). Evidence of yet another of life's most wondrous manifestations - metamorphosis. Paw prints in concrete, names and initials inscribed in concrete - 'we were here, we loved each other'. Do they now? Tyre tracks in unexpected places. There are some at the corner of our street which have left me wondering every time I pass why they are where they are - in a drain at the side of the road. Rubbish - not so much of that these days. Objects that have been dropped here and there by accident - not today, but on other occasions, strange shaped stones. If you wander around our garden - the bushy bit - here and there you will come across the odd brick, or piece of iron, or barbed wire, even flower pots. Why, why, why and how, how, how? And if you want to be really 'deep' here and there, because the soil is so thin around here, you can see the ancient bedrock - the bones of the earth. Not to mention the trillions of insects that live down there.

"You'll never find rainbows, If you're looking down." Charlie Chaplin

Sort of true but that does not mean there is not beauty down on the ground. Evidence of life. The weeds are often gorgeous and rampant - a sign that even if we disappear from the planet, they will survive. They will grow through concrete even. And there is always some weed or another to see. Some of them are just pleasing for their beauty, some of them bring memories of childhoods making daisy chains or picking off leaves to see if you are loved - 'He loves me, he loves me not'. Buttercups held under chins to see if you liked butter and poetry and dandelion wine. And now, because it's autumn there are stunningly coloured leaves scattered around the glass. No artist could arrange anything as beautiful as fallen leaves.

There is a whole world down there at your feet, and you would do well to discover it. And then you lift your eyes every now and then and it comes as a shock to see a glorious group of autumn trees, blazing in the sunlight. Somehow they were even more memorable because I had not seen them from afar. As well as the beauty I had the surprise. As when you turn a corner and are greeted by an amazing view.

Looking down is often viewed as a negative thing, and I suppose there are indeed some negative aspects. A shutting away of self perhaps. That's what it's supposed to symbolise anyway.

"We've gone from looking up at the moon to looking down at Instagram." Bill Whittle.

I prefer to think that by looking up you miss the glorious detail of life - life itself in fact. The here and now.

And now, at this time of year, there are always those glorious mushrooms. One of life's true mysteries.


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