Sunday 1 February 2015

Sometimes all plans go awry and you have to go with the flow

Killeshandra Loop
Killeshandra Loop

So finally it's true; only our rivers run free. The rest of us must pick our way between puddles, lakes and assorted other ad hoc water features.

As one of the pointless many to have studied philosophy at the taxpayer's expense, I'm given to the odd profound analogy and have an irritating line in reductio ad absurdum. I think I'm very clever, though my mother, who remembers me in short trousers, isn't fooled for one moment, let me tell you.

Yesterday's attempt at a woodland walk was reduced to absurdity without any smartness on my part.

The River Barrow has awoken, yawned, stretched and rolled out of its bed. Water, with its almost human instinct for finding its own, lowest-possible level, removes the topography from landscape; that featureless surface in front of you could be a two-inch puddle or a four-foot ditch – and wasn't there a stream here somewhere?

Instead of our usual loop, squelchy but coherent, my wife and I were forced to execute a series of loops and truncated out-and-backs, culminating in a mile or so on the road, which became a game of mental arithmetic as we tried to predict when that car would reach that puddle – and where, in relation to both, we would be at that moment.

Our plan in tatters, we went home, lit the fire and hibernated for the rest of the day, which was fine. But of course we felt guilty; the faint stain of that most original sin, chaos, was upon us. What we were doing seemed to be walking around more than going for a walk, let alone walking anywhere in particular. Necessary and constructive in its way, but lacking any integrity or feeling of completion. Like the lives we lead, as opposed to the lives we aspire to. Better to have done than not, but by how much?

John Lennon wrote that life is what happens while you're busy making other plans. Harold Macmillan did (or didn't) say "Events, dear boy, events." Both were expressing the obvious but often-ignored fact that we don't really know what's coming next, and – by implication – that planning is vanity.

Bad luck if you're the Operation Transformation leader whose metabolism didn't keep up with the filming schedule; you've failed the plan and betrayed the nation's hopes; another heavy load to carry. But to the philosophically-inclined, the intrusions of life and events are reminders that it's not the plan that gets you there; whatever the planners may say.

At the point where planning flies in the face of reality – or any greater force, it becomes redundant. That's not my recipe for anarchy, but it is an attempted argument for lifestyle over regime.

An active lifestyle is one in which, sometimes, you walk around in circles because events conspire to dictate your movements. Enjoy moving and you will do it just because that's what you do; adopt a regime and you'll last only as long as your commitment to the regime. It may come to an end because you find a new love, or because things just happened and events took over. Which, inevitably, they will.

I had a plan yesterday morning, but it didn't survive the awakening of the Barrow. I'll be needing a new one, but I may wait a while. In the meantime I'll walk around. Sometimes, you just have to go with the flow.

Conor O'Hagan is editor of the bi-monthly Walking World Ireland magazine.

Walk of the Week

Killeshandra Loop, Co Cavan

Duration: 1hr30mins to 2hrs

Grade: Easy

Terrain: Lakeshore paths, forestry roads, grassy paths and minor road

Irish Independent

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