Arnoud Holleman

Amsterdam — Thursday 23 September, 2021
nl / en


Club Donny magazine #1

December 2008. Club Donny is a strictly unedited journal on the personal experience of nature in the urban environment.

Good footwear is important. Preferably your shoes have memory gel in the shank to provide optimum support for the ankles. The letter R is knitted into one of your seamless socks and the letter L into the other. The rest of your body is wrapped up in unzippable tubes and breathing garments that have also been thought about long and hard. Your rucksack contains a bottle of mineral water, from a source in a different country.
In a cocoon of design moments, you return to nature. Your focus lies a few metres ahead of you. You closed the front door behind you, transferred from the train to the plane, collected the rented car and now you?re walking here, for the sake of slowing down. Consecutively you see the noses of your left and right shoes appear in your field of vision while a carpet of pebbles, twigs, grasses and mosses glides by beneath you. The rich detailing presents itself as a uniformity, even with the litter of other hikers, but because you are walking along briskly it is nothing more than visual noise, which is interchangeable and alters with every following step.
Now and then you look up, your field of vision broadens and you see the path ahead, as far as the bend, but then you look back again to where you are going to place your feet. Hiking is not about what you see; wonderful panoramas are secondary to how the landscape slowly but surely folds into your body. This involves various forms of transfer, at different places in your body. Muscle power brings movement to the skeleton through which you burn your fat reserves. In your lungs the fresh mountain air is absorbed into your blood, whereby an extra oxygen transfer takes place in your brain, making it too into a kind of lung. What happens is that the grit under your feet mixes with the noise in your head. And in the monotony of the constant succession of footsteps, residual thoughts escape like intestinal slugs. Initially this is unpleasant. The physical exertion is a booster, the cadence of your breathing and your footsteps become the haunted baseline under the story of your life, as you recount it to yourself at that moment. These are compulsive thoughts that return incessantly and have nothing to do with where you are now, but with the everyday life you actually intended to leave behind. Breathing heavily, you finally justify yourself in unresolved conflicts with others using the wildest and most unreasonable argumentation. Your ego grows with every step to ludicrous proportions, bigger than the mountain you are ascending. Passers-by become intruders in the privacy. Murderous fantasies lurk behind every Grüss Gott.
In this way you ascend ever higher. Your breathlessness increases, bringing on a condition that can best be described as a controlled form of hyperventilation. The walking literally keeps you with both feet on the ground, but gradually something also starts to change. Just as the tree line is not an actual line but an area in which the trees become increasingly stubby and eventually disappear from the landscape, above two thousand metres the circling and suspicious thoughts also move ever further outside the realm of language. The thoughts become more rarefied along with the air. The rancour disappears and makes way for new input. Becoming aware of the increasingly sparse flowers and grasses in the ever-rockier landscape is analogous to the creation of new text, which rises up from the midriff. Text that initially means so little that it is barely discernable from the panting and moaning, but which eventually, now and then, does indeed coagulate into vaguely encompassing catchwords.

Like Tom Thumb in reverse you gather them up. They are random pebbles collected, to an outsider, at arbitrary moments. You gather them, in the hope that they will one day show you the way back, but back to what exactly? Coherence? Inner conviction? For the time being there is one pebble for each catchword. The pebble, hard and ancient, the immaterial catchword, too premature and fragmentary to carry with you as an autonomous idea or image. Together in your trouser pocket, the pebbles make a muted ruffle against your thigh with every step, which lends style to the final hundred metres to the top.

One pebble for the system of gathering pebbles itself. Things to remember other things. This I must remember.

One pebble for nature, which continues to exist even when you don?t name it. Entire mountains, which may have names in maps, in books, and among people, but which in reality are just vastness, movement, and depth.

One pebble for ?A sense of loss, for something that never quite existed.? Must look up at home.

And so on. Stray sentences. Fragments of songs. Odd jobs about the house. Ideas for work. Loose circles of questions. Could your mother still physically scale the mountain? No, although she would dearly love to do so. Would your child already be able to physically cope with the mountain? Yes, although he totally fails to see the pleasure of doing so. Would rather read Donald Duck. All right. Passages from books that you recently read yourself. Rodin was 60 when he learned to ride a bicycle. Was not familiar with the work of Darwin. I am.
In the meantime all the walks you?ve ever taken merge together. Random moments during previous hikes that appear before you as razor-sharp images. Like dried flowers from a herbarium that come to life again, you experience them once more, without knowing precisely where and exactly when it all took place. Welcome to Alzheimer Alp.
Thus you eventually reach the summit, or the Pass, that doesn?t matter, because the physical toil is over and the addictive wonder drawing near. The sudden panoramic view produces a corresponding effect in your head. With the power of a freshly washed sheet that is beaten dry, the landscape that has folded itself into your body for the past few hours smoothes out. Finally. There you are. The noise in your head dissolves. Die Gedanken sind frei. You throw away the collection of stones. Except for one, which stands for this single clear understanding: here I am; here is my life; and here is the world. Now.

(October 2008, written under the heavy influence of Rainer Maria Rilke and Allen Ginsberg. Translation Mike Ritchie)