The combination of car use and ever more urban living means that most people have no sense of their place within the landscape they inhabit. Cities are as much in landscapes as anything else, but they tend not to invite people to think of themselves in relation to the soil. Car use takes our encounter with the land up to a pace where it is meaningless. There’s just too much that cannot be experienced and absorbed when you’re moving at speed, and the insulating effect of the small box doesn’t help much either. On this front, public transport is equally useless; also too fast and too distancing.
If you have no relationship with the land, then you get the disorientating effect of not really knowing where you are. This is me on the London Underground, unable to connect the map to anything happening in the street, and when on the street, disorientated by the sheer number of people, cars, streets and so forth. Put me in an unfamiliar forest and I have some tools to make sense and find my way around. Put me in an unfamiliar town and I can apply those same tools to often workable effect, but the bigger and busier the city, the less able I am to orientate myself within it, and part of that is due to the sheer amount of information coming at me every second.
To know an area on foot, starting from your own front door is to know it with your body. Any other body-paced mode of transport will have a similar effect, and even knowing a small area is of considerable value. This is a different kind of knowing, informed by the shape of the land, and the key features within it, a knowing that builds an inner map, and an understanding of how one focal point connects to another. Walking between the places where you do things places your life within a mapped landscape, and provides a kind of sense that is felt rather than intellectual. It is not just the space that makes more sense this way, but also the life, and that which is done in each place.
There is nothing stopping any of us from returning to the land. If the land is under tarmac, it is still the land. If you are not so mobile then just being still outside when and where you can helps you return to the land. The modern life we are so relentlessly sold, is a fast paced, rootless flurry; urgent, frantic and disconnected. To move slowly is to change that. To be on the ground, in whatever way you can be, is to be grounded. To move at a human pace is to become real to yourself and to bring coherence to your life.