I’ve been reading Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks over the last few weeks, dipping into it here and there. Each essay stands on its own as an example of landscape and language, followed by a glossary of place that reaches far back into the tribal and regional languages of the United Kingdom. I’m taken by his form, the exploration of linguistic roots, the desire to name the natural world with specificity. I am in particular influenced by this last point and have worked his thoughts in with mine in a long essay I am currently working on – the need to anchor places with descriptive language in order to save them.
But more than anything I am taken by his hikes, rambles, and climbs in the mountains which root his stories in the physicality of place. I recognize these types of places and what propels us to them, having done many such excursions in my own life (he even briefly touches on hiking the West Coast of Vancouver Island), and he brings them to a page in clean prose that is a pleasure to read. But if I’m honest, his stories are also making me insanely jealous, and not of his writing.
Jealous instead because for the last several months I’ve had a foot problem that has increasingly made walking and hiking a misery, and am now at the point where even a 5 kilometre walk puts my body at odds with itself. It started about a year ago, with an intermittent pain in the ball of my foot for which I could find no source, and has progressed to the point where I wonder whether I will ever walk pain-free again.
The problem I have is apparently quite common – a Morton’s neuroma – and the first treatment recommended by my doctor is shoe insoles (which aren’t working as intended, I think they are making the pain worse). After trying insoles for a few months, then I could get a steroid shot, or even surgery – but I do want to try the least invasive option first. From reading on the Internet, it might also be the case that calf stretches and foot massage could help as well – which makes some sense. Up until recently I’ve been doing daily yoga, and a lot of foot rolling – but the last couple of weeks I haven’t, and the problem in my foot has increased in that same period of time.
My research (and my doctor) tell me that this is pretty common among middle-aged women, of which I am one at 46 years old. This doesn’t make me feel better, though I suppose I am off the hook in the sense that it wasn’t something I did to myself other than get older. But the foot problem goes along with the shoulder problem (an old injury likely causing arthritis) and suddenly I have a new understanding of my aging future.
What I see, and need to ward against, is the tendency to shy away from discomfort by decreasing my activity in the world. It hurts to walk, and so I don’t go to the gym. My shoulder is tight when I wake up in the morning, and so I don’t want to work on shoulder or arm balancing postures. If I don’t counteract these tendencies, then it’s obvious what happens next: range of motion is lost, vitality is drained, and aging comes on faster. This is how injury adds up. It’s not the single point of fracture that’s the problem, so much as how that accumulates, builds into something much greater than its originating moment.
One good thing about reading Macfarlane’s work right now, when I’m feeling sorry for the foot I have to nurse when even walking across my own living room, is that it’s been reminding me how much I have loved to hike, and how since moving I’ve really set that aside. Partly because overland backpacking trips were replaced by trips to the cabin, and partly because while Gabriola has many lovely walks, it has no real hikes. Either way, I’m missing a part of my life that I used to really enjoy and set time aside for, and that started long before this “neuroma” arrived on the scene.
I’m heading east tomorrow for ten days – first to Montebello, Quebec (for a union conference), then to Hudson-on-Croton, NY (to visit a friend), then to Ottawa (for work). This is a time of year made for walking in that part of the world, and so I am considering the right clothing and footwear for my trip. I don’t want to let any more days go by where I sit on the sidelines of the living world, where I eschew yoga or hiking because I am afraid of my aging body. Instead of feeling constrained in my physicality I want to simply regard this body as one just as capable but requiring different care.
I did sign up for yoga class with my teacher this morning, and will shortly be off to the studio for some much-needed stretching and body positivity. It’s so easy to get stuck in oneself, and stop looking around at the world; at least a little bit of my day will be spent re-orienting that vision. Finding new landmarks, as it were, to signpost my middle-aged life.