the journey

Walkshop 13: Navigating a Shifting World


This is our final walkshop, the end of our semester-long journey. I have roamed through my own neighborhood, the roads surrounding my area, through paths in the woods, cultivated gardens, past a man-made lake, and the wind-swept shore of a barrier island. I have spent time listening, observing, and simply enjoying the space around me. I do not know if I have grown, do not know if I have changed. I still find many of the men we read about pretentious, still find many of these ideas redundant. But I have enjoyed the experience anyway, and I am glad to have stumbled into it by circumstance, as I certainly never thought to seek it out. I may look back one day, when this pandemic is behind us, and suddenly understand everything. Or I may look back and realize what I think I understand is actually incorrect. But for now, all I can say is this has been a unique journey, one that will help define this chapter of my college career.

Walkshop 13

This walkshop opens with some interesting introspection about senses, about navigating the world in non-traditional ways. It reminds me of two of my favorite characters, Toph Beifong from Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Terezi Pyrope from Homestuck. Both girls are blind, and both have adapted their senses to help navigate the world with the help of animals. Toph, taught by the blind badgermoles who invented earthbending, uses her earthbending to send out subtle vibrations through the earth by moving her feet, allowing her to sense the placement of people, objects, and animals- as long as they’re on the ground. Terezi shares a telepathic connection with a blind dragon, who teaches her to navigate the world by smell, painting the world in tendrils of scent corresponding to the color and shade of the corresponding objects. Both go beyond the realm of any real-world inspiration of course, Toph able to sense if a person is lying by feeling their heart rate, while Terezi is able to determine a person’s eyecolor through their dark sunglasses, and bloodcolor through their skin. But these girls aren’t the only blind characters given an uncanny extra sense in literature. It is a common motif in sci-fi, fantasy, and comicbooks. This interest in super-powered blind characters seems to stem from a mixture of observing real life blindness, both in animals and people, and trying to explain how they manage without humanity’s favorite sense. hm.

But into the woods I go! There is a little stream next to our neighborhood, and it provides a bit of wilderness without having to stray far, which is a relief given the recent foul weather. The stream empties out into the marshy area of the intercoastal, making it pretty easy to identify the cardinal directions when prompted. 

Alternating between periods of silence and prompts, I roamed along the stream, pausing to stop and sit when necessary. The first of these prompts was simply to breathe slowly, to take it all in. Then I was asked to look and listen, to describe. The shallow stream flows past rocks and wooden planks, abandoned from hurricane damage but somehow brought away from the shore, a quiet flow in some places and a loud burble in others.

The creeping vines ensnare everything, and the lush greenery of it all completely hides the truth of the season, an illusory summer of chlorophyll. The sticks and broken reeds crunch beneath my boots, and the little rays of sunlight warm my skin, when they pierce the ceiling of leafy branches anyway. The sand is ever-present, a gentle reminder that I am not deep in the woods, but mere steps from the sea. I feel content here.

I am told to establish myself in the location, so I dip my fingers in the stream. I am surprised by how cold it is, a chilling reminder that yes, this is November. I whisper to the stream my intentions to observe, wondering if a stream this small could have its own Naiad, if she understood my intent to do no harm. I give gratitude to her anyway, thanking her for her work, how she fed the lush greenery between my neighborhood and the road, that she supported a tiny ecosystem just off the boardwalk, a hidden oasis for the birds and squirrels and little green snakes, the skinks with blue tails and the dragonflies.

It is a delicate slice of nature here, and the children of this neighborhood love it too, playing at adventure and exploration in an area too shallow to drown in, close enough to the houses to be safe, shielded from the main road by the lush foliage. If I was a kid still, it would be a hidden playground, a place for me to sneak away to read without being bothered.

Nature exists in relationship to me, I am reminded. I am told to search for movement, and it is easily provided- the stream itself is swift and merry, the leaves all around me vibrate with the motion of the birds I hear but cannot see, of the bugs that bounce off of me as they zoom past. I look up towards the sky, and see nothing but green, dark as the dusk rolls in, a chill in the air rising as the sun sets. A golf cart rolls past on the boardwalk (cardinally north of me), a loud and unexpected interruption to the natural environment. In the distance, on the main road, I hear the tell-talk whoosh of cars speed by (cardinal south), and towards the houses themselves, the friendly chatter of those neighbors (west).

I am told to think of the major landmarks of Wilmington, the things that place it on the map. The Cape Fear River is my obvious choice, the intracoastal itself another. These two bodies of water meet in Wilmington, colliding into a brackish zone that was the subject of quite a few field trips for the science classes of my youth. But the sun is nearly set, and the podcast nearly ended, so as I ruminate on the brackish land, the possible flourishing forest that may have existed on this spot before the land was reshaped to suit the needs of a neighborhood, I retreat.

I am supposed to talk a bit deeper about this place, but for that I must zoom outwards, must gesture vaguely at the 35 miles of the Cape Fear river between Wilmington and the ocean, the Cape Fear Estuary. The estuary exists because the ocean tides actually force salt water up into the river, and the mixture creates a special habitat for feeding and nesting, a nutrient rich zone that many species of fish choose to lay their eggs in, providing a safety zone for the young before they are large and strong enough to foray into the real ocean. Given that the river itself drains the largest watershed in the state, the amount of nasty pollutants being dumped into this space is incredibly dangerous. Estuaries are known for their biodiversity, and for many generations have served as the perfect place to find oysters and clams. But the rise in pollutants led to a safety ban on harvesting from the oyster reefs in some areas, as the shellfish absorb and accumulate pollutants when feeding and filtering the water. This was something that was discussed extensively in school, the pride we should take in living near such a rich ecosystem and the care that must be extended to it. Occasionally I hear people complain about Duke, claiming they dump things upriver and don’t care how it affects the people downstream. I don’t know how true these claims are, but it is certainly a frightening thought, the idea that the river is a dumping ground for many, and they unknowingly or uncaringly are destroying a swath of the coast as the poison they sow is reaped by the plant and animal life forced to endure it.

I did go back later, and found the kids have been taking the wood planks and actually dragging them away from the shore, so they could place them over the stream for navigating it. Here is some footage of me walking it (those loud rolling noises are golf carts, and the whooshing ones are the boats or cars).