Words by Peter Spence and Phil Smith
Walking Tasmania’s famous Overland Track was our goal. We also planned to write about the benefits of slow walking. On day one, as we laboured up Hansons Peak on the eastern side of Dove Lake, we realised there is no direct correlation between walking pace and awareness.
Slow walking is about being willing to stop and observe. In this context, slow is a sensory and intellectual activity rather than a physical activity. We found ourselves walking into a sense of familiarity with the mountains and valleys and plains, a familiarity that freed us to absorb the beauty of the physical world around us and be filled with awe and reverence for it.
The quiet and calm awareness of sounds and sights and feelings slowly entered our consciousness. Without paying attention, the deep, rich colours of the barks of the alpine gums, the brightly-coloured lichen and wild flowers, the scurrying skinks, the proud calls of black cockatoos balanced by the silent flight of eagles, the buttons on the button grass and the scratching pull of the pineapple grasses against the gaiters could all be missed… even at the speed of a good dawdle! It was about attitude not pace.
Slow-growing King Billy and Pencil Pines reach ages of 1200 years in their cold alpine homes carved and created by slowly-formed and slow-moving glaciers. Trees in tune with their environments. Growing in their own time and altitude. We got into this rhythm – in our walking, stopping, breathing, waiting, looking, feeling and hearing.
A Tasmania Parks sign reminded walkers that, ‘Plants grow by the inch, die by the foot.’ Cushion plants, a ground-hugging community of different plants huddled closely together against the severe winds, ice and snow can take up to 30 years to recover from a careless footprint. In such conditions, healing is also slow.
Being alert to the crisp air, the crunch of gravel, the crack of trees bending and breaking in the wind, the boot-sucking mud, and the gnarled trees enriched the walk. Proust said, “The real art of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes.”
And hearing with new ears. Depth and detail emerged from listening and observation.
We walked in tune with a land that changed slowly and amidst vegetation that was slow and low growing. We walked at the pace of our surroundings and appreciated a slower, deeper enjoyment. Our mindful meander revealed the beauty of this Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.
Slovenia, one third the size but three times the population of Tasmania, was our destination. We went with no plans; we had no maps, just the keys to a hire car for three weeks. Guided by intuition and advice from the warm, generous people we met, we discovered the extraordinary beauty and surprising variety of this tiny country. Snow covered mountains, emerald waterfalls, vineyards, villages, churches and ancient cities.
Guided by our desire to travel slowly and a principle that ‘lost is good’, we abandoned high speed freeways for secondary roads and laneways. Being seriously lost three times did not create panic. Instead, each opened space for solitude, unexpected discoveries and untarnished village life. On one occasion, avoiding an accident-blocked minor road put us on dirt roads in window-deep snow, then into a tiny, hill-top village with a pub overlooking a beautiful valley where a conversation with the barman led to our first game of electronic darts.
While an endless panorama of mountains, valleys and rivers is something special, just looking at stuff becomes wearying. The value was in the relationship we made with each place. New locations were new opportunities for new connections. Contact and conversations bring places to life, and they sometimes deliver unexpected surprises.
You cannot plan to sit with a new friend high on a hill in a small vineyard in Sentrupert in the sunshine of a spring afternoon eating locally-produced cheese, bread and sausage, all washed down with wine pressed in the tiny cellar below us.
Nor can you plan to discuss politics, culture and history with a leading communist from a previous era, a man who founded the local university, helped in the redevelopment of Maribor, one of the country’s major cities, and received a medal from the Pope.
We couldn’t have planned to make these experiences happen. Bucket lists had no place. Creating slow time and space allowed circumstance and good fortune and good people to emerge and help shape our direction. We went slowly. We became that slowness. We waited. We found the feeling of the country not just the views. We let things soak in. We did not force-feed the memory with place after place. Slow was good. We fell in love with SLO.
And we wondered: perhaps life’s a bit like this. In the push and shove of much that surrounds us, slow down. Be open. Create space for goodness. Trust in your own abilities in the face of unpredictable experiences. Enjoy being lost – you always find yourself somewhere.
Feature image: Harmony in Blue and Silver - James Abbott McNeil Whistler, 1865 .