Steppe with me
Well, with an overflowing cart, I am finally ready. I am a little embarrassed–my gear is incredibly heavy! And I’m heading into mountain ranges that have no trails. I may end up throwing clothes off the side of the mountain, perhaps my wrench and the three pairs of shoes I have, since I am now carrying snow boots.
I have had little time with anything here, as a Mongolian family has hosted me and I’ve been busy everyday between helping cook and clean with them and mapping my route. I’m a little scared as some places are marshy or have rivers I am unsure how to cross yet–but I’m up for giving getting lost a try!
Listen with me
When people have the opportunity to interview me or to get curious, most ask how often I take a shower or how much Athena (my cart I pull behind me) weighs. After walking Australia and Vietnam, while getting ready for Mongolia, I sat down for cross-world Skype session with Pema Rocker and explored with her the deeper questions that drive me on my walk. That interview will be an upcoming Soul Growth Radio podcast you can tune into soon, but our conversation, was not complete, and for the “Sound and Fury issue,” we continued with an email interview on the sounds of my walk across the earth. In between our questions and answers, you can hear clips of audio I recorded along my walk in three different countries.
PR: What is the impact of sounds on your walk?
AM: It’s the sound around me that has the ability to inspire me, motivate me or irritate me. I distinctly choose my routes based on the sounds that I will encounter. A river valley can soothe my aching body and serenade me to sleep. A village can bring gentle conversation and kind interactions. A city will most likely give me anxiety and I always feel my body clench a bit when I know I am near to one. I have grown fond of solitude, not just for the sake of being alone, but for the sounds I can hear when I am in the wilderness by myself. A caterpillar munching on a leaf is actually audible. And where I grew up, birds only sang in the daylight. I discovered in the Outback of Australia there are several birds that call throughout the night, which became a comfort while they were near and brought a sadness as I left them and headed towards the congregation of houses and buildings. I didn’t know it when I began walking, but sound, of nature and in my heart, is the preface for choosing my routes.
Nighttime in Australia:
PR: How much do the sounds inside your head impact the sounds you hear when you’re walking?
AM: My mind wanders into the future. I think of a home and raising a family. I start humming the score of Lord of the Rings and remember how I love to make deviled eggs but never knew how to make the prefect boiled egg without the shell tearing bits of the egg off. Then I hear a flapping noise. My cart has a flat. An ordeal that can take a lot of time depending on the resources I have available to me, like a spare tire, or duct tape. I’ll get frustrated for a moment and then I’ll notice a grasshopper’s chirp nearby that I didn’t even notice until I threw the tire pump on the ground and demanded a five-minute break. The grasshopper becomes my only focus. It helps me regain my strength and determination. The sound of a working/fixed/repaired tire on my cart is a sound of life and movement forward.
PR: What’s it like to crave the solitude of nature?
AM: It begins with a daydream of the simplicity of being at the meeting between sky and earth. A romanticization of waking to the sun over a crystal-hued lake and no one around to place any demands on the day’s schedule. But the reality for me is after walking alongside cars, bikes, mopeds, semi-trucks and continual lines of concrete buildings, I can’t hear the pulse of the earth. It’s like when you’re in a loud room that’s blasting a deep bass accompanied by a high volume techno sound and you’re trying to count the pulse on your neck. I don’t despise loud sounds but I prefer the sound of nature. It is never quiet. Nature is constantly moving, shaping and sharing itself. I don’t seek peace and quiet, I just prefer the solitude which allows me to practice being a better listener.
PR: Do you sing when you’re walking? Do you talk?
AM: I sing all the time. I also talk out loud. I have screamed, cried and howled. The conversation is usually from myself to myself. It keeps me laughing in moments of despair. The singing is for fun yet I have found some birds not to like my voice as much as I do.
Whistling in a Mongolian storm:
PR: What do you hear? Inner, outer, immaterial, material, past, present, all around?
AM: I hear the aliveness of right now. When I journey into my past, it doesn’t fit. When I think of my future and what kind of couch I want in my home, some four or so years away, there’s no encouragement from my surroundings. I hear what’s moving underneath me in the ground and the shape that is taking form around and in my own body. I can’t figure it out and have no idea what’s really being put into place. That’s the real mystery and adventure.
PR: How does the sound of your voice affect you as you walk in solitude? Does it surprise you? Does it feel familiar? Do you have any curious thoughts or incidents that come to mind about that?
AM: Often when I hear my own voice, I am brought back into a construct that I relate to about myself. It’s young, naive, adventurous but frightened. My voice reminds me I often bite off more than I can chew. My moments of surprise are when I don’t speak and I’m aware of the thoughts that want to be spoken but instead get digested in the ground and released when I dream. Not speaking is my way of creating more space to be with and listen to the sound of movement around me. Silence is my surprise.
PR: What else do you want to say, or do you want us to hear?
AM: Being sensitive to sound and listening to what moves beyond or beneath the obvious is where life gets really interesting for me. It’s not the silence that brings a peace in meditation, but following the sound to its depth and truth, which is all the heart yearns for.
The pictures here are at the start of my Mongolia walk. I finished in June and have recently traveled to Tblisi, where I will walk across Georgia, south of Russia and north of Turkey and Armenia.
Images: Froit VanderHarst