The title of this book, ‘A Walk in Deep Time’, is key to its ethos. Tree-like, it is rooted in the ‘restlessness of earth’, in the geology of soil and water and rock, in an ancient, ancestral land that ‘sometimes remembers’, a land whose air and light are linked to the cellular structure of living things, ‘to who and what we are.’
‘I was born on a fault line on a brilliant summer’s day’ is the opening statement by the author who goes on to describe how the first sound she heard was the river, ‘a constant source that held me to this place, this time, this moment.’ From an early age she took pleasure in listening to the ground, to the ’creaking and shifting of things’ which created ‘a sense of something universal’ together with an awareness that humankind is ‘transient, mere flickers or impressions on the land on which we stand.’ There are many explorations in A Walk in Deep Time – geographical, philosophical, and personal – but throughout all the changes of time and events there is ‘a deeply connected bond to place’.
The book is rich in detail and anecdote. I had not realised that a memoir could be such a page turner and impossible to put down. Morag Smyth conveys so clearly the joy of a childhood that valued rural life, freedom and play and allowed a ‘strong imaginary world’ to develop in a sensitive child with a capacity for daydreaming and everything that was other worldly. I identified so strongly with the misery caused by some of the schools she attended that I could willingly have broken down the restrictive walls and smashed the high windows that blocked her view of the sky.
Fortunately, the damage did not cause enduring harm to the child’s ‘big dreams’, to her love of rich colour and design, to fabrics and off-cuts that were like treasures and ‘little jewels’. Creativity could still be explored through art, painting, dancing and music. When Morag became a student at Chesterfield College of Art, sharing a sense of adventure with four close friends and relishing her involvement in student protests, she describes herself as ‘a bottle of champagne that had been corked up for too long.’
This vivacity and sense of delight continues throughout the whole of A Walk in Time although, of course, this is an account of a life with all its accompanying problems and grievances, its losses and heartaches, its failures and disappointments. There is the intensity of the feminist struggle to give women a voice and a role and there is the frustration of an educational system that refused for years to make allowance for differences, to recognise there are many ways of learning. But the book is a ‘walk’, an exploration, and there are meetings with well-known people like Denise Levertov and John Cooper Clarke, there are festivals with Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac. A fascinating richness of colour.
A Walk in Deep Time deserves to be widely read. It must be widely read not only because it is so readable but because of its motivation, its rationale. The book ends with a statement and a plea:
‘We humans are custodians … On a long long scale our existence is just seconds. Our survival depends on improving our relationship with each other, the earth and ourselves. Each of us walks in deep time – each walk is briefer than an outbreath and each …is important, valuable and eternal.’
The book is available from leading booksellers.
Mandy Pannett 28th September 2022