Living a Richard Long life
by Peter Kirby

Published: Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Keep going. Everything is cyclical, all things loop, even those without a tail. Believe in motion and the starts, middles and ends will, by force of nature, play musical chairs. “Time” does little more than coerce us into thinking that a walk is “linear.” Ask Richard Long. On the surface, his life’s work is making circles and lines through walking. It’s not so much his poetic geometry that fascinates as what happens to us all when we walk outdoors. By putting one foot in front of another, I hope in some small way to prove that time, is indeed, a dodo. miles: 1

seeds:  26

longs: gangster rabbits, write dryly under bridge, a gale broods, magic of the moonlit teasel

Thalking already. This is what landscape does to us – begs the brain to take a delta of walks simultaneously. The Harry Hill of rambling. Translating thalking into writing is a hazard. The telepathic ether from land-to-foot-to-head-to-hand is, at its most lucid, a bovine mode of dictation. Keep noting. Words are restless, hungry to the point of mute, from being born on a many-too-many-mile trek through ground that cried every acupunctural step of the way. Start a walk 98 per cent man. End it 98 per cent land.

O    S    M    O    S    I    S    O    F      W    A    L    K    I    N    G

ROCK  –  BOOT  –  SOCK  –  SKIN  –  BLOOD  –  BONE  –  SOUL

Distance loves direction. As the kittiwake flies, the most southerly north coast of mainland Britain lies 26 miles from the most southerly south coast of mainland Britain. With January daylight, at a modest pace and no knee jip, it’s doable. Just. Hurl in a force 8 SW gale and a reservoir of rain per hour, then the distance doubles. Walking into weather that got out of the sky the wrong side is, well, fun. But weather changes the gender of land. Nursery slopes grow muscles with the up of a gust. Rain saturates the pores of a moor that will limpet a trespasser’s boot. “BABAM!BABAM!BABAM!” says the sun as it dries out the moisture cushion so that the heels absorb the daddy of all upper cuts. And finally, beware, the seven fatal interferences of terrain. Sleet. Snow. Frost. Ice. Dew. Dung. And duff shoes. All of which are simply land’s way of playing

hard to get.       miles:  2

seeds:  25

longs:  giant concrete cruet, monkey-puzzle

cacophony, parachuting Santa cruci-

fied to chimneybreast

I write about a walk, while paradoxically, I sit. Still. My memory orienteers through thick skull-fog for eidetic paths. These paths, mown by foot, will fade unless followed. Keep ferreting. Kinetics is a law of Long. Movement is his medium, just as my fingers meander with their own delicious spirit, governed only by the law of QWERTY. Even the finest laptop words are genetically modified. CUT. EDIT. PASTE. Yet, if I channel my thoughts through a single point of pencil lead that was itself once land,

my free-range free-will erupts.       miles:  3

seeds:  24

longs:  panzer of seven

conifers, two

human mornings,

one canine hello, public byway verses private myway

People once belonged to land. Now land belongs to people. Blame the Benedictine monk, Fra Luca Bartolomeo and his double entry bookkeeping that gave rise to capitalism and the owning of everything. As the sea nibbles away at the cliffs, the notion of common land for the common man shrinks. I see it now … “Mother Ocean v Mother Earth … cannibalis-tic tussle of oestrogen … refereed by Old Father Time … book now for your ringside seat … with ever decreasing legroom … at the Great Outdoor Super-Slow-Mo Reality Show.”

miles: 4 seeds: 23

longs: head high footing for a tree house, drunk driver remnants, tarmac stream races to the ford that flirts a fortnight a year

Impermanence appeals to Long.

miles: 5 seeds: 22

longs: confrontations of a bull, “rifle shots ring out in a ballroom night …”

He sings with his feet. The land-scape mucks in as his orchestra. miles: 6

seeds:  21

longs: dolphin stair lifts of Gurlyn Farm where they grow operatic ladies

The hills play Sigur Ros to me. I hear a “landguage” I pray I’ll never understand, for fear of its beauty waning. A waft of wind turns a dying weed into a reed, and blows its last gasp of philharmonic joy. How the fields can sing.

miles: 7 seeds: 20

longs: malachite moss, apish swings over iron oxide swamp, thumb gash gapes open, make-life-up-on-the-hoof-and-it-smiles

Walk a Dogme walk. Take only a skeletal script: to plant a shrine at every mile. Tiny stacks of sunflower seeds hand-grown in urban SE1 to be hand-sewn in tundra TR12. These Lilliputian cairns mark the passing of a point. The walk is a wake. The seeds are my ashes. Head south with my DIY crematorium. miles: 8

seeds:  19

longs: the Shawshank tree, Dr Gilly’s mucus-coated energy bar, apartheid of daffs

Smell the shape of the land. Contours are 50 per cent concave, 50 per cent convex, 50 per cent confusion. With every season, altitudes grow a size, then slim a size. Terra firma is a fib. Nature taught fashion how to move, baby. miles: 9

seeds:  18

longs: lost, went the way the map said no, serendipity, Yorkshire couple contra-Sherpa one another over cup of tea they never offer as I stand there shivering

Long’s precision is my suck-it-and-see. His stride invigilates Ordnance Survey. This disentwined crop-circle-of-a-man is forever in sync with the wild canvas he walks upon. Nature looks forward to Long. miles: 10

seeds:  17

longs: rainbow’s end, sunbow’s start, plant seeds at Rocky Lane nursery and sting forehead

A mountain laun-ders the head of a thousand dilemmas. The air alone sifts the gunk, allowing the heart to think and the lungs to sprint. Psychotherapists should listen to us at the top of a hill if they are ever to sell us happiness. Conquering a peak, whatever the height, can wipe the sulk from a teenager or assuage the grief of a widow. It can unite the most hated of enemies and still make an accountant strip naked. Mountains move men, women and at a push, IT consultants. They offer the peace money can’t buy. Serenity is the freeholder of all summits, so go climb even when the weather’s beating down the door for

the rent.       miles:  11

seeds:  16

longs:  school song sung into oblique wind

on top of Godolphin hill, Turkish

power-lifter holly tree wee

Only when we stop do we sense the random interconnectedness of the world about us. Ground is gravity’s lawyer. Tide is sea’s lung. Cloud is sky’s belly button fluff. That is this there. Me is the geology of I. Every thing is related; all we have to do is unpick the lineage. Keep weaving. We are as much mineral or vegetable

as we are animal.       miles:  12

seeds:  15

longs:  Castle Pencaire, many stone

circles, a Scott-gazumped-by-

Amundsen feeling,stab seeds

in sword-of-remembrance sand

so the wind won’t blow them

all away

Writing outdoors floods our veins with chlorophyll, and strips away that veneer of cosy domesticity. It anchors us deep in dialogue with the land and serves up a 4,600,000,000-year conversation, which may, or may not, include “the weather.” Stand up while writing and our relationship with the page alters again. With both feet firmly rooted to the ground, the earth’s primordial energy and urgency surge up from the core to the crust in half a yoctosec-ond. The writer who stands knows how to boot a benign phrase up the backside. Ask any biped. miles: 13

seeds:  14

longs: 194 metres, Tregonning Hill, I love you text from Kate, prayer out loud for Tony

The Bible, rumour has it, was written by a penguin, stood stark-ers, on a small hillock, in rural Greenland. Keep believing. miles: 14
seeds:  13
longs: seeds sewn and flown, Culdrose clones, camera dies, dead animals run free
Outprisonment is the future for crime. If we sentence the guilty to do time in the open, we remove subordination and their carrot of escape. A one-year walk across “all that nature can throw at him” will redirect the morals of a man much deeper in his gut than serving twenty years inside. For solitary confinement, read solitary exposure. miles: 15
seeds:  12
longs: San Andreas Fault in crust of Queens Arms pie, cycling vicar brags of brass tombs
As the body tires, we try death’s dress on. Call me bleak, but I’ll be happy to die today, providing it’s outdoors, beside a stream, after a full day’s fatigue, with a bird in song, a tree in bloom and a butter-fly in flight. miles: 16
seeds:  11
longs: Breage olde morgue, teasel lapelled pallbearers lay a football team of seeds to rest
Shadows are shy.
miles: 17 seeds: 10
longs: Rinsey road chemical blackberries, hedge is a mile long brolly

Horizons fidget.       miles:  18

seeds:  9

longs:  medusa snake

climbs Kate’s

hair tree,



beach, sea carves granite Buddha for meditating seals

Every journey by foot is a pilgrimage, even if its reason is never to be known. Richard Long teaches us to trust a walk. The land always delivers, even in its most barren moments. Dragging a foot, bead upon bead of cascading sweat, a hermit cloud. He is not precious how he creates his pieces, only that the method is easy and appropriate. Often, the paucity of materials can force the land to declare its composition, as if by chance. This faith in fate gives roots to his work. Every single word of text has to fight for its place in our world, and once we

become witness, it holds us to ransom.              miles:  19

seeds:  8

longs:  Gaza Strip



gusts, cow



See the wall not as an obstacle, but as an element, and all the pieces will fall right into place.

M  A  R  A  T  H  O  N

M I L E S       26 L E T T E R S

A  L  P  H  A  B  E  T

Start to feel the lean of the loop. The centrifugal pull of home. Despite all attempts to walk a line from A to B, I am now convinced that the sequence is not that logical. Fibonacci was onto something. Keep going forward but never dismiss what you leave behind. Destination is overrated and admits as much in its ontology class. All that matters is place. miles: 20

seeds:  7

longs: thrift duvet warren, down below 10 ft barrels of salty insomnia avalanche in, under, up ‘n‘ over

Grass gets springier the closer you get to the sea to help suicides jump. Keep breathing.       miles:  21

seeds:  6

longs:  the wrestling fields,

tamarisk boulevard,

wind freewheels me

like a child

Bottle the sensation of writing downhill. Release the breaks of doubt, the screen goes black and the uninhibited me can feel what darkness does to the written word. Hit the chiaroscuro key. The silhouette skyline clings to the rind of the emerging moon. I sense the odd punctuation of light, an electric bush, palsied sheep with neon eyes. Gulls play crows at aerial chess. The crows cheat. Keep plotting. My route waltzes with civi-lization; a wavy line that marries then divorces then remarries then adulterates then celibates. A river slurs its reflection. Sad tapered tears of light dagger their way into the flickering ripples of an alcoholic alter ego and make me gag for dense, red wine. Is this why sleeping under stars rams 40,000 volts though our soul? Keep camping. miles: 22

seeds:  5

longs: chips with every-thing, deed fried in sunflower oil, potatoes must grow ready-battered

Space. Inner, Outer, Third, Fourth, Absolute. Why do we try so hard to put space in a box? Its beauty is its borderless blankness.

See. Keep pausing. miles: 23 seeds: 4

longs: hate usurps spite, Morrissey miserypiggybacks me, Gunwalloe 334

Nature is innu-merate, thank God, as I am too. Yes sure, there are patterns and rhythms, but every single blade of grass is its own size, shape and colour. Try as they might, plants cannot grow metronomically. Some are social, some solitary, some sow themselves a land mass away. But come autumn and a zealous prevailing wind, they may just park side by side again, such is the freedom of propagation. Keep blowing.

miles: 24 seeds: 3

longs: macabre Loe Bar, shout punk anthem against elements

The weather is having a complete nervous breakdown and I am no Samaritan. I fight thunder with thunder. Angry symmetry. Feel like naming a band after this reaction and immediately soothe. Wondering if Long’s stoic calm ever simmers over. Return aptly, to symmetry. Recall a forty-foot face I made nine years ago in the camber of a cliff at Gurnard’s Head and how, one year on, the sculpture was lost to the unshaven land. When Long does return to his work, it is not to admire or record it, but to dismantle it.

miles: 25 seeds: 2

longs: empty words in fertile mouths, tell the age of a bench by the depth of scuff beneath it

My haggard hands are now caked in Avon mud to feel the phenomenon with which Long makes his installation murals in galleries across the world. Despite two weeks in a bag, the mud has no stench. Yet it retains a viscosity, which with water, allows him to paint by hand using the land. Another beautiful circle com-pletes. Time throws in the towel. I raise my mudded paws, shattered but happy, and expend my last few joules in search of a title.

  1. “AN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF TENACITY.” Kind of true, but kind of bloated.
  1. “OF.” Immense little filler of a word. Poignant, powerful and wedded to landscape, just like Long himself. As is: to, at, in, up, he, me. So no go.
  1. “FOOTNOTES.” First word I wrote prepping for this project. It stuck with me. Intuition says I told you so.

miles: 26 seeds: 1

longs: darkness mugs dayness, right knee sighs & sings “oh coastal path … take me home … to the place … where I belong …”

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