Co-Created Movement

The soles of my leather shoes are thin, allowing me to feel the contours of the path with each step. The thick layer of redwood leaves that slowly disintegrates into the rich canyon soil, soften the sounds of all the footsteps being taken around me. A meandering line of people are wending their quiet way along this forest path, each connected to one another, yet simultaneously enclosed in their own imagination-suffused worlds. The path bends to the right, taking a steep dive toward the clear, spring-fed creek. This is the place we cross, leaving the soft path momentarily, to leap from rock to rock, staying precariously above the chill waters below.

Photo by Matthew David Segall
Photo by Matthew David Segall

I watch as the first person in this line of individuals begins to descend. Her arms flail slightly, not reaching for an object to steady her, yet monitoring her balance nonetheless. It seems she is about to fall and a ripple of concern echoes back through the group of waiting walkers, some expressed verbally, others merely in a position of body or facial expression. No, she assures us. She often can look as though she is about to topple off her feet, but this is just how she finds her balance. She apologizes for worrying anyone, and continues to make her wavering descent.

The next person, who is walking directly before me, begins to take careful steps down the winding way, with a greater steadiness in his footfall, but still with arms out to balance his movement. No one is concerned for his safety, however. His is not a gait that inspires uncertainty.

Without thinking I begin to move next along the trail. In a state of reflective curiosity I observe my own movement, fascinated by how the way I move might differ from those ahead of me now stepping or leaping from boulder to boulder over the cold stream. My arms are relaxed by my side, and I feel my footsteps fall evenly forward, one after the other. I find my balance like a line within myself. Why do I not use my arms? What is giving me this sense of stability? I recognize that I know this path, having walked it countless times from childhood into adulthood, and wonder if that history is built into my sense of balance now. My feet, my legs, the whole length of my body knows the placement of this path before my mind has a chance to reflect on it.

What, I ask myself, is movement? One usually thinks of movement as arising from the body of a person or other being who is moving with agency through the world. The uniqueness of movement seems to arise from the body and personality of the individual. Yet in this moment, as I watch myself and others navigate the winding, steep path by the stream, I realize how all movement is really a co-creation. Movement arises not from the individual’s agency but rather in the intermediate place between the individual—with all her history, personality, unconscious material, physical qualities, and so forth—and the dynamic contours of the surrounding world. The movement itself, although I might call it mine, is rather both mine and the world’s as we press into each other with each passing moment.

Redwood Fog: A First Dip into Phenomenology

The sun’s warmth calls in the fog. The air feels heavy, the world enclosed around me. I can see the droplets of fog moving toward me; I breathe them in, swallow them; the drops cling to my hair, my eyelashes. The sky feels close. The sky does not exist.

As I step off the hard concrete of the sidewalk and onto the soft, leaf-strewn path, the world shifts. The density of the trees now surrounding me begin to block out the reality that I am in the heart of a thriving city. With each step I enter further into a quieter world. My footsteps are muffled and the ground has a certain give, almost an elasticity beneath my feet. Before me, on either side of the path, redwood after redwood stands in silent vigil. Their dark trunks seem quiet, but the further I walk the more I hear new sounds. A slight creaking in the upper, slimmer branches. The softest splattering of water drops on leaves, as the fog condenses on twig and leaf, descending in widening pearls of water. The smallest drops of water can nourish these trees as they drink in through both their roots and branches. The fog lies so heavily upon this city grove that it obscures the uppermost branches of the redwoods, making the height of the trees seem nearly infinite; they disappear long before they end.

As I move toward the heart of this small yet encompassing forest the landscape becomes darker, the few glimpses of light beyond the woods standing out more starkly than the tree trunks themselves. Walking up to one of the redwoods I lay my hand upon its bark. At first sight it seems to be so rough, split open with massive chasms as the tree has grown ever larger over the decades. Yet under my fingers I realize this bark is soft, the fibers feeling like unwoven fabric to my touch. The faintest trace of moss grows upon the outer surface of the bark, fading imperceptibly to the reddish-brown of the tree’s natural hue. Beneath my hand the tree feels so richly alive, yet so still, existing at a pace almost, but not quite, slower than I am capable of imagining.

Redwoods in Fog

As I turn my back to the tree and lean against it in full repose, I see a single leaf fall into my line of sight before settling anonymously upon the forest floor. The ground is everywhere strewn with brown leaves, a full covering that lets off a rich, fragrant scent; yet watching this single leaf fall I recognize that each of these leaves has made the journey from branch to floor in its own time and in its own way. Each one has a story, although perhaps few have a witness other than the tree that released it to the ground.

At last I separate myself from the tree on which I am leaning and continue through the woods to its edge. The pathway opens out; the pathway ends in rose blossoms.