The place where your foot first falls

I am a strong believer in the necessity for rooting deep in the place we actually inhabit, no matter how long we’re in it for. It’s just as necessary if you plan to be there for a year as it is if you plan to stay a lifetime. Partly, because it shows respect for this place which is nurturing us right here and now, whether it is the place we dream of and long for or not. Our places deserve nothing less of us.

But partly, also, because I struggle with the idea that merely visiting a place, no matter how beautiful, no matter how much we might love going there, adds anything very profound to our sense of belonging to this wide world. And so in all my workshops and retreats and courses I encourage people to do this: learn to know, and to love (yes, no matter how hard you think it might be) the place where your foot first falls when you step out of the door. Know the place where your feet are. A dose of weekend ‘nature therapy’, a week of ‘nature tourism’, a day trip to the hills or the woods, is no substitute for this.

And so I was delighted to come across this poem by Mary Oliver, expressing her own doubts about the wisdom of a ‘green visit’ compared to ‘the slow and difficult trick of living, and finding it where you are.’

Going to Walden

It isn’t very far as highways lie.
I might be back by nightfall, having seen
The rough pines, and the stones, and the clear water.
Friends argue that I might be wiser for it.
They do not hear that far-off Yankee whisper:
How dull we grow from hurrying here and there!
Many have gone, and think me half a fool
To miss a day away in the cool country.
Maybe. But in a book I read and cherish,
Going to Walden is not so easy a thing
As a green visit. It is the slow and difficult
Trick of living, and finding it where you are.

Mary Oliver




14 thoughts on “The place where your foot first falls

  1. Sometimes I forget to love the place I am, longing for the place I want to be. And isn’t that missing out on living? Thank you for this lovely reminder!

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    1. Yes. I have no problem with longings, as long as they don’t make us miss out on living 🙂 I remember an epiphany when I was precisely 21 and a friend introduced me to the music of Jackson Browne. His song, ‘The Late Show’. ‘…without dreaming of the perfect love/ and holding it so far above/ if you stumbled onto something real, you’d never know …’ That hit home on love at the time; it hits home on place now. (Maybe that’s what happens to us with age!!!)

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  2. Yes, the simplest truths are the most profound. If we all loved the place we’re in, many environmental problems would be resolved, because the spirits of these places would be reawakened. In gratitude, Sharon. You have turned me around today!


    1. Exactly. ‘The spirits of these places would be awakened.’ I think we owe it to them. To hold ourselves aloof, nose raised, because the place we’re in isn’t quite what we’d hoped for, or what we think we ‘deserve’ some day … I can’t be doing with that. Nostalgia is one thing; living is another!


  3. …and paying attention to where my foot first falls helps me also know my foot and, through that foot, the rest of me. And walking with that foot and then the other, with attention to where they fall and the knowing of me that this brings, helps me understand how I am in the world (wherever I am) and how the world is in me. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and Mary Oliver’s poem. They have helped me articulate something that I ‘know’ through my movement practice but can rarely speak. x

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  4. I have (though it has, at times, been difficult) found something to love about every place I have lived, & most of the places I have merely visited. It’s one of the reasons I bought a van large enough to occasionally be where I live, though — the opportunity to spend longer in each place that I visit, to give me time to learn them, at least a little bit.


    1. I think there is a belonging in vagabonding which at its best and most heartfelt is the same phenomenon as rootedness, in a different guise. (I’ve been a ‘serial rooter’ all my life, halfway between a traveller and a settler, so I’ve thought a lot about such things.) The ability to love any place you land in is a great, great gift. One worthy of passing on 🙂


  5. Exactly this is one of the founding tenets that I teach within my Shamanic practice. It is so important that we know and love the land upon which we stand. I set my students a challenge, that when they walk out the door they only go as far as they can get before they come upon a thing that they cannot name, and that then the challenge is to find out about that thing, at the very least it’s name. It is hard to love what you do not know, and harder still not to love what you do know.


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