Life Travel Writing

Name the world

Paul Bateman
Written by Paul Bateman

Go walking! Name the world. See what you find. See what finds you.

Igo out walking. At the end of my working day, I pull a coat around my shoulders, sink into my best, old boots and head for the local football ground. There I walk the boundary line, circling the oval’s green expanse as the evening sky grows dark.

Some nights, the boys from the Spotswood Football Club are on the oval and full of voice. I hear in their collective noise – in their exuberant and robust health – a wild and thrilling music. A whistle blows, a cry goes up and footballs loop across the sky.

On nights when the ground is empty, I walk to the sound of my own two feet. This, too, is a kind of music, familiar and true.

I walk to remember. I walk to examine the day that has been and to wonder at the effort that every day demands: the pace of things; the balancing act. I write long letters in my head to friends and family, and post them in my private thoughts upon the evening air.

I walk to forget. I walk to think of nothing and no one: to clear my mind; to empty out. Walking lulls me into peace and gives me back my breathing.

Sometimes, without warning and almost in mid-step, I come to a halt, glance up and find myself marooned on some part of the oval, far from my last conscious thought. I have travelled in a trance, like a drowsy driver on an outback road.

I have a rule: when I feel the walk is nearing its end, I walk a little further. That is when the best thoughts come – the truest, most inspiring thoughts – and that is when I start, at last, to see what lies before me.

The oval hugs the south-west end of Melbourne’s Westgate Bridge. I stand for a bit in the fading light and watch the traffic pass: a ceaseless line of glittering lights strung like diamonds far into the night.

The grass at my feet is damp and lush, its earthy scent wholesome and rich. The air is cold but the evening calm. The sky unveils its first few stars.

I play a game called ‘name the world’. I walk a little further, select an object and study it hard – a tree, for example. I look at the tree with all the concentration that I can muster: its every line; its unique shape; its colour, height and texture.

I list what I see, no more and no less. I scribble in a notepad that I carry in my coat. I make no poetic statements. I add no secondary thoughts. I record in forensic detail, the precise and the particular, the immediate and real.

Like this: Tall tree / gum tree / wet with rain / heavy trunk / roots exposed and lined with dirt / weathered bark / elsewhere smooth, almost clean, polished and pristine / a dozen different branches / leaves of green / leaves of grey / tree slopes at an angle, leans towards the oval / solitary / singular / a breeze among its branches.

I read the list back again. I read it slowly and out loud. The list sounds like a poem, however rudimentary. What does that reveal?

Name the world – a stone, a bench, a fence, a road, a patch of earth, the moon, the sky – and name it as I ‘named’ the tree. The world, you will discover, is vast and varied; its poetry inexhaustible, intrinsic and abundant.

When I was young, I travelled the world lost in dreams and the magic of the road. My yearning painted colours on a canvass that stretched far into the veiled and dreamy distance. Then I came home and was utterly lost; I staggered about confined and confused.

Now I paint on a smaller canvas. Whereas once my life resembled a giant, formless mural, now I paint miniatures – postage stamps of thought and observation.

Love is in the detail. Life is at my feet. I trust my senses and see things as they are.

I go out walking. At the end of my street, in the shadow of a freeway, I circle the local football ground, greet my neighbours, talk with strangers and watch the day roll into night.

I name the world. I come alive. I’m a traveller once again.

First published in the Victorian Writer magazine (Writers Victoria), August 2016

Pictured: My beloved boots

About the author

Paul Bateman

Paul Bateman

I'm a writer from Melbourne, Australia. I write about life as I find it. In doing so, I hope to offer something real. I write, too, about wine at adrinkinthought.com.au

8 Comments

  • Are the boots as old as your trench coat? Surely that has earned it’s own article?! (PS – ‘I trust my senses and see things as they are’……what a great tip for my girls as they start to venture out into the world). x

  • Easy reading piece Paul – you painted a great picture. ‘At the end of my working day, I pull a coat around my shoulders, sink into my best, old boots and head for the local football ground. There I walk the boundary line, circling the oval’s green expanse as the evening sky grows dark.’ I felt that the only thing missing was the presence of a dog to trot along happily beside you! This is where cats fail the companionship test! But then again, knowing Jude’s wandering ways, maybe just check behind you every now & then! Mum xx

  • Great to see this Paul, as you know it caught my eye in Victorian Writer. I love the task you give yourself and thought of it again as I read Helen Garner’s essays – Everywhere I Look collection. She says, ‘There was nothing I needed to write but I was in the mood, so I got out my notebook and pencil and looked around for something to describe.’ – it brought to mind your excellent game of ‘name the world.’ I like that hunger and discipline that looks for something to describe
    Also I have just sent another writing friend a link to your beautiful piece, Letter to a writer. Thanks for your work with words.

    • Julie, thank you! ‘Name the World’ draws me from my head and helps me to appreciate that which I’ve seen but never really noticed. I hope your writing is going well. I appreciate your feedback and encouragement. A handshake in thought. Paul

  • Hi Paul, just saw this piece in ‘The Victorian Writer’ and wanted to tell you how much it moved me. I am cutting out the para ‘when i was young….i see things as they are’ and putting it on my desk. it describes my life too. i returned to australia 5 years ago (am melbourne born) after 17 years travelling the world and working with the UN food organisations. i was so ashamed to admit it, but i too was ‘utterly lost’ when i returned home. and i definitely ‘staggered about confined and confused’. your words describe in such a concise, yet real way the whole horrific adjustment period and the finding of a way to have joy again in a different way of life. it is a relief to know that others have experienced the depth of it and can describe it in a way that really means something and captures it in a real way. so thank you for that! i now have read your other pieces and see that you have reached out to others like me – your advice in ‘letter to a nomad’ is really useful. I also really enjoyed the way you wrote about the function of your walk and the integration of nature and writing into your piece. it is really beautiful and again your thoughts are things i can really relate to as well. i use my walks for the same things. It is wonderful to read a piece that moves you, opens you up, calms you down, and makes you feel like there are others out there too……. 🙂 i too am a writer and have left my website below. i would love you to have a read of some of my pieces (and my book!) if you like and if you have time to comment on them. thanks again. I look forward to reading more of your pieces. kind regards bronte

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