Friday, August 31, 2018

Solvitur Ambulando

I wish I'd had this term, "solvitur ambulando",
when I was writing the Field Notes essay, "A Walk In the Woods".
Because this is EXACTLY what walking means to me:
solvitur ambulando - "it is solved by walking"

I wrote this phrase on a piece of paper months ago, intending to write about it, but the moment never seemed right so now I can't remember where I came across the phrase; in a book, likely, but I didn't make a note of that (strange) although I'm sure (monster that I am) the page is dog-eared if I ever come across it again.

The point is: This is my phrase. This is my process. This is my life.
Walking. Thinking. Even talking out loud. Working through a problem. Thirty minutes to think about it, turn at Carrington Road, thirty minutes to work it out before arriving at home for coffee.
Sometimes I arrive home in a good mood; sometimes my husband knows we're about to have A Talk.

But whatever is going on, whatever is worrying me, whoever is pissing me off, "it is solved by walking". Morning, afternoon, evening; an hour to Carrington Road and back, or half an hour to the beaver brook and back, five minutes to the pond -- the act of walking, the movement, the surging of blood through the veins, into the brain, it solves whatever the problem is.
I now swear by this process -- this walking and solving -- for my writing; I have learned over the years to step away from the desk and move, to let the motion and the stillness, the focus and the freedom fix the problem.
It is solved by walking. Not by thinking but by walking. That's where the motion and the stillness come in. 

Then there is the walking without a problem, walking when the mind is unperturbed. Oh, the thoughts that are freed when that happens!

And now writing about walking brings up a memory.
There was one walk many years ago now when I lived in Vancouver, after the marriage ended and I was mired in the months of making plans to pack and leave. It was March so the evening was dark and for some reason, the dog (Maggie) and I took a street, perhaps it was just a lane, that we'd never walked before.
It amazed me then, and it amazes me now, that there was still uncharted territory in a neighbourhood we'd roamed for hours every day (solving nothing back then but keeping me sane).
We came out into a parking lot and before us was a church. An Orthodox-something church - Ukranian, maybe? - with a multitude of concrete steps leading up to the huge, wooden front doors.
Someone was inside playing the organ.
So we sat, on those steps, in the dark, in this space we'd never been before -- and I don't think we ever found again -- and we listened, the dog and me, to the music cascading out into the damp evening air.
I remember the walking, I remember the stairs but I don't remember how the music made me feel. I remember I was too miserable, too afraid, too caught up in thinking about my failure and my doubts to let the music seep inside.
What would the music have told me? Now I know: You are free. (Not fear - free. Such a difference when you move a letter around.) Now I know: Inhale deeply. Exhale slowly. Now I know: Keep walking.
But I was wound too tightly to solve anything.

I wonder what the Latin phrase for "it is found by walking" is?

I just Googled "orthodox churches vancouver" and nothing seems familiar. This is memory. Faulty. The night, the church, the music, the steps is a clear memory but altered, obviously. Details changed over time, changed by not thinking about it for sixteen years.
It is not solved by Googling.
And I choose to remember it as it is now, in my memory, rather than worry about what it was. This is, perhaps, why I am now a fiction writer.

I have been waiting for months to write about this phrase, "solvitur ambulando". This is not what I expected to write. I just wanted to tell you about this phrase. I just wanted to say it is true.  I just wanted to say this is how to hear the music.


  1. Dear Sara,

    I frequently read your posts and enjoy following your life, as well as smiling at your insights. Your observation that taking a walk aids in solving problems is something that I also have found to be true.

    I first discovered your writing when I purchased your book at the Halifax airport in December 2017. I have followed your blog since then.

    I hope Dwight's recovery continues to go well.

    A Nova Scotian in Ontario

  2. Hi, Karen, thanks for writing! Walking is such a gift to my life, and I'm glad you have the same experience. Thanks for checking out the blog. I try to keep it as fresh as possible. Take care, Sara