All in a Day's Walk

A month-long slow food walking performance

Archive for horse

Mumpet nostalgia

Beetroot patch kid

Some of you (if anyone’s reading this) may remember the infamous mumpets, the improvised fat-less, sugar-less stove-top beetroot cake of the last performance. I have since made and taken a batch of mumpets to every talk I’ve done about All in a Day’s Walk around the county and country: Putley, Manchester, Ledbury, Staunton-on-Arrow. While the usual comment is that they match the colour of my hair, the response to mumpets has been mixed…

At the Manchester activism event, someone thought I was subversively handing out raw liver.

My supervisor said they could do with some sugar.

A brave visitor in the spring requested to try some and politely, euphemistically described the experience as ‘like eating a garden’.

At Ledbury Ox Roast someone came up to me afterwards and said that, despite really not liking beetroot, they were very tasty. Others have been less enamoured. But I – locked in with my hunger as I was in winter – have a kind of Stockholm syndrome style relationship with them: to me, they are and always will be utterly delicious.

So, imagine my delight that our first crop of beetroot is harvested and ready. May the mumpets commence (when I can get my hands on some local flour again…)

'It's hard to tell which is which...' Hm, Jess or beetroot?

Meanwhile, with the garden so productive, it’s only a domestic dog walk and some oat-based baking today.

Equine empathy

Merlin at Adam's Cot

Yesterday was a long and hot and hungry horse-relocating day. (I got so faint and stomach-crampy, that my partner fed me some non-local sourdough bread. Sorry, but it was necessary.) Now Merlin is calmly installed in his new home next to the growing vegetables (Martin the proprietor of Adam’s Cot is also a supplier of excellent local veg boxes).

Today is about beginning to cultivate Merlin’s own landscape empathy.

Back before I even contemplated or conceived of the idea for this performance, I’d long been interested in connecting my artistic and domestic practices, or my rituals of exercise (walking, running, riding) with more practical pursuits. (I waffled on about this way back in December in ‘Home is where the art is…’. But more and more I am discovering that this is becoming a preoccupation for many artists, interestingly most often those living and working rurally.)

At Caplor, one of my favourite short rides on Merlin was a jaunt (usually bareback) across the lanes and fields to buy honey. This route became known, famously, as the ‘Honey Run’. Here I already seem to have discovered a new equivalent: the walk up to Aston Crews to buy duck eggs. ‘Duck Run’ isn’t cutting it, but they have hens eggs too. So, with apologies to Aardman, it’s ‘Chicken Run’.

Merlin and combine

Horse hiatus

No, not a hernia of equine proportions from all this walking and vegetable-lugging.

Today is an important one: after 10 years living at Caplor Farm, my horse Merlin is moving down to join us in Lea. He will have a new home at Adam’s Cot, the farm next door. He should have been moved before I started the performance (because I can’t walk the 18 mile round trip to Caplor and back everyday to see him; or expect someone else to look ater him for a whole month) but the logistics didn’t work out.

So this is a necessary hiatus in the performance. I will be accepting a lift up to Caplor to pack him and his red-and-white spotted handkerchief of buckets and haynets. And accepting a lift back in the horse-box to deliver him home.

I will still be consuming local food in the process, however. (Hopefully.)

Meanwhile, some images from 10 glorious years at Caplor…

Merlin - Long Meadow, Caplor Merlin and Kizzy - Long Meadow, Caplor Merlin - Long Meadow/Gypsy Field, Caplor Merlin - Rough Patch, Caplor Merlin - bareback Rough Patch, Caplor Merlin and Proven wind turbine, Caplor Merlin in the garden, Caplor Merlin grazing around the yurt, Caplor

Empathy and wild strawberries

Wild strawberries Cai licking his chops Cai unimpressed

Mads, a good friend and wonderful walking artist I know, recently introduced me to his concept of  landscape  e m p a t h y:  the sensitive, receptive, mutually-supportive relationship we can allow ourselves to cultivate with place as well as people. I love this: it resonates perfectly for me as a much-needed explanation of the way in which the landscapes to which I’ve developed a commitment make a tangible tug on my heart strings, as if I’ve woven myself into them, viscerally. When I first left Aberystwyth for Herefordshire 10 years ago last spring, I felt like I was being unfaithful to Wales by developing a new relationship or love for the (as I saw it then) much tamer and more inhabited landscapes of this ancient border county. I’m ashamed to say I even scoffed at the statistic (true) that Herefordshire is the most rural county in England. To me rurality was directly equivalent to emptiness.

My first job here was a two and a half year stint as a project officer on the Herefordshire Rivers Lifescapes project, attempting to connect wildlife habitat mapping at a landscape scale, with community aspirations for the biodiversity enhancements they wanted to see locally, with the ultimate intention to facilitate community-led landscape-scale conservation. (It was very new, sexy and ambitious and only partially successful: it inevitably needed much more time.) After a full time dance-training hiatus, this was followed by a six year sojourn in local government as a landscape officer, with a colleague both passionate and knowledgeable about these intricate landscapes: ancient and planned, wild and cultivated. Her enthusiasm was infectious and slowly wore away at my deeply ingrained landscape snobbery (and ignorance) as did running, walking, riding and cycling across the county. One day, I was travelling back from a (landscape) conference and seeing the road sign for Hereford, felt a strange pang of both yearning and relief. Then, I knew: this county had surreptitiously made itself my home. Now, I know: (in my appropriation or interpretation of Mads’s term) I have landscape empathy with Herefordshire.

Key to this was my particular relationship with the eccentric, remarkable place that is Caplor Farm in Fownhope (South Herefordshire) where I have lived with my horse Merlin for nearly nine years. It’s a surreal community of people, horses and creatures, randomly juxtaposed in a range of dwellings (yurts, trucks, flats, caravans) to form a bizarre post-modern collage of humanimals. While it had been my intention to leave this year, to move back to Wales and reconnect my empathy strings for those landscapes, I had not expected that the first performance of All in a Day’s Walk would deepen my relationship – my empathy – with this place and reveal to me, as if in neon (or something more ecological perhaps), a vibrant, vital web of passionate and inspiring people I wanted to know better. I also had not expected to fall in love with one of them, nine miles down the road.

So I did leave. Just nine miles down the road, where I find myself now.

I’m a bit in limbo: after three weeks away being an aerial dancing ladybird in north Herefordshire, I’m only just landing. I arrive with a bag of sweaty dance clothes and even sweatier PhD reading, and most of my stuff is still at Caplor awaiting the end of this performance in a month’s time when my yurt will go up in the garden here. Merlin is going to join me next week. I know almost nothing about this area (Lea, Ross-on-Wye). But this time, I do have someone else’s ready-made landscape empathy to rely on.

So, my first walk of the project is with The Pack – my partner and our dogs – up the lane, past Rock Farm (potatoes and raspberries, when they’re ready) to Adam’s Cot (organic or local veg boxes) to arrange livery for Merlin. There, Martin tells me that due to the unseasonal spring, the veg is almost three weeks behind this year and they won’t have anything for me ’til the end of the month. Gulp. But horse livery sorted, we walk on past raspberry polytunnels (won’t fruit ’til next year), down Green Lane to Warren Farm (wheat and potatoes: not ready yet). With Cai, I walk on alone to Aston Crews in search of duck eggs. So far I’ve only drunk some Dragon Orchards apple juice (a gift for a talk at the Ledbury Food Group Ox Roast event) and eaten a head of elderflower (‘are you sure it’s not cow parsley?’ my partner, remembering a blog about a foraging malapropism on Ten Mile Menu that’s been a great source of amusement recently). We find some tiny wild strawberries in the hedge and I graze. Cai is curious but, as a  hunter is largely unimpressed by my gathering. No duck or hens eggs left at Aston Crews. I’m hungry. And a bit scared.

So here I am walk-fasting again…

All change

Tonight marks the start of the second, summer performance of All in a Day’s Walk. It was first performed in the incessant rain of a cold, dark and muddy winter, from midnight on 6th December 2012 to midnight on 6th January 2013 (coincidentally Epiphany). Very coincidentally the current performance finishes on the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ. And currently it is, of course, very very coincidentally Ramadan.

It’s a different season and I’m in a different place, so I’m anticipating a new and different set of problems and provocations. I am living in a cottage not a caravan (albeit with a yurt in the garden). I am living with others not alone. I am cooking on a storm kettle not a woodburner. I am, as a result of the last performance, a reluctant and uneasy ‘ethical’ meat-eater (a flexitarian, apparently) and I now seem to tolerate a certain amount of dairy. I’m still an auto-immune arthritic avoiding potatoes. I am now a dog owner (more limiting than it might sound, because a four month old puppy can’t walk very far, or isn’t meant to). I am still a horse owner. I have spent the last three and very intense weeks being an aerial dancer.

I’m a bit tired, to be honest.

And I’m not sure how prepared I am for any of this. But let it begin anyway…

Cai

Hooves and health

Merlin's Legs

Merlin’s equine podiatrist comes to trim his hooves. He’s been barefoot – i.e. unshod – since April 2004 when I first became involved more intensely with the discipline of natural horsemanship and began to train as an equine podiatrist myself. This before dance training made me too precious about my body to want to consider standing underneath big horses all day, as they thrashed their legs around and I vainly attempted to hold onto the ends of them whilst wielding various sharp instruments (knife, rasp etc.)… But I remain a passionate advocate of ‘whole horse hoof care’, a relatively new (certainly, in the last decade or so) way of thinking about horses’ hooves as part of the whole beast and a key physiological marker of the health and well-being – nutritional/metabolic, cardio-vascular/musculo-skeletal fitness, even psychological – of the whole animal.

This may seem blindingly obvious, but traditionally, as British horse-owners, we have practiced a heartily devolved responsibility when it comes to our horses’ feet, entrusting their care – these distal points of their four precious limbs – almost exclusively to the farrier. (Not, as it happens, unlike our disconnected relationship to our food which is produced ‘somewhere else’ by ‘someone else’ and purchased from the supermarket, neatly packaged (in a protected atmosphere) in sterile plastic.)

‘No foot, no ‘oss’ the famous saying goes. And yet, few of us questioned if a man (for their invariably are) visiting every 6 weeks and nailing rigid metal to this (actually surprisingly mobile) proteinaceous tissue was perhaps the healthiest thing for the natural function of the foot. (Or even the less natural uses we might put it to – in that riding a horse is already inherently unnatural.) Suffice to say, it is now increasingly recognised that it is not. Though it is not as simple as simply removing the shoes. Barefoot horse husbandry – for high-functioning working/sport horses at least – requires a commited attention to the environment in which the horse lives, its nutrition and the ‘conditioning’ that one is prepared to do. In other words, if you want to drag your horse out of a muddy field once a week and go on a ten mile ride on the road or a cross-country competition, then you should probably stick to metal shoes. (Or get a quad bike. Or reconsider whether you have a respectful and meaningful relationship with that animal at all…)

My journey through the landscape of having a shoeless horse has necessitated and given rise to some big leaps of faith and understanding, not least that Merlin’s metabolic health – as evidenced by and echoed in his hooves – is in delicate balance, that it fluctuates seasonally, that British lowland pasture (largely now now rye-grass monoculture to maximise dairy production – and Caplor is a former dairy farm) is too rich in summer sugars for horses, whose digestive systems are still in time-lag, adapted to the dry grasses of the vast, arid plains where they evolved (and where their hooves were healthiest), and that hoof-infesting yeasts thrive in the warm, wet mud of climate-changed British winters.

If we listened to our own bodies as intently as I ‘listen’ to Merlin’s hooves, we might have a better understanding of our own nutritional – and seasonal – needs. And if we took greater responsibility for those needs – not handing them over to the supermarket ‘farrier’ – we might have a better sense of the whole systems in which we live, eat, breathe, participate.

Amazing, really, how I can now manage to bring every conversation, blog post or social encounter round to climate change, food and our relationship to it…

(And Debbie, Merlin’s trimmer, brings me some vegan Christmas cake too. Only 6 more days before I can eat it…)

Vegan Christmas cake

Visions of sugar plums… (or organic medjool dates)

Christmas (walking) stockings

Christmas Eve and a new meaning to hanging up stockings by the fire…

Christmas stockings 2

So, time for some reflection, before the Twelve Days of Christmas Countdown begins…

I’m enjoying this. (Now). I took such a calorific nosedive at the start of the project that my brain stopped working and I went into some kind of survival mode (the freezing weather didn’t help). As someone who knows how to cook (and on wood!), and eat well using mostly vegetables, I’m baffled by the sudden-onset cluelessness as to how to walk and feed myself properly on local food in December, simply because I was adapting to a diet that was slightly less varied, unable to rely on the the convenience products – soya milk, rice cakes, peanut butter, cashews, dates, bananas – on which I realise I’d come to depend for instant energy (and protein). I also realise how much unseasonal, unlocal produce has crept into my ‘staples’ list in recent years – avocados, spinach, red peppers, romaine lettuce, cucumber. And most of all, I realise that my relationship to food had become all about speed. Allowing myself to get very hungry, feeding myself as quickly as possible, hurtling off to the next thing. Fast (wholesome) food for fast living. I had to  s l o w down, but the transition was painful…

I’ve learnt how to live  s l o w l y. The hunger and loss of strength has died away now replaced with a twinge of embarrassment that I was initially so pathetic. There is plenty of food I can eat, it was just learning how to cook and carry it. It’s also interesting how much less I’m eating than normal – the food is less palatable, so I’m less bothered about it. How much of hunger is actually just a relationship with taste – and wanting to taste – rather than what we truly need to consume? Now I’ve learned how to feed myself, how to maintain a leaven, how to cook properly on wood, and most of all, how to slow down. Slow (wood/cooked) food takes time and planning and I can’t let myself run out…(no speed pun intended)

I feel very well. Unpolluted by refined food, sugars, salt (none of which I eat much of normally anyway but still…), I feel very clear-headed and clear-bodied and in a better place to ‘listen’: to myself (my body) and other people.

I haven’t walked as much or as far as I’d like, because initially I couldn’t feed myself enough to sustain the long distance endurance-tramps I’d intended. It’s also very very very wet which slows me down and takes up far more energy. But most of all the process of surviving takes more time: the business of living, bread-making, cooking, wood-fetching, water-heating and horse-feeding. Now I’ve got a comfortable routine, I’m hoping that the weeks that follow will allow me to address this. But my desire to push myself – and the sense of ‘cheating’ if I don’t (otherwise it’s not a performance, right?) also makes me laugh at myself – so determined to make my walking practice  h a r d  because I’m so sold on the specific notions of achievement and endurance I seem to admire in the work of the solitary male walking artists, when really, I’m a female walking artist after all: it’s all about conviviality and connection and ‘knit[ting] together people and place’ (Heddon and Turner 2010). And you don’t have to walk hard and fast and competitively and show-offingly to the edges of your personal food horizon to do that.

I haven’t talked as much as I’d like. Apart from the encounters I’m orchestrating (with people who are already proponents or producers of local food), I’m just not really meeting that many other people – it’s hard to bump into people in the pouring rain on obscure and muddy Herefordshire footpaths in December. But I also have to admit I have been deliberately missing opportunities, especially when I’ve been hungry – it’s too vulnerable-making to initiate a conversation with a stranger when hungry: I’ve felt too distracted by this more pressing need. So I feel like I’m failing in this regard from an activist perspective, because then it’s just all about me. But it’s not over til the fat lady sings… or the skinny girl finishes walking.

But I’ve met some amazing people. I feel filled with love for the local food producers, makers and movers of South Herefordshire and the web that connects them – partly constructed, now, of my footprints. There is a real awareness bubbling away in the countryside here, like a healthy leaven.

I’m mostly missing oats but also bananas, mango, soya milk, rice cakes, peanut butter and tulsi tea. But the VERY first thing I am going to eat at the end of this performance is a single, delicious, fresh, organic medjool date. And be grateful for every single mile it travelled to get to me.

Reference
Heddon, D. and C. Turner (2010) ‘Walking Women: Interviews with Women on the Move’ Performance Research 15 (4) 14-22