I am sitting on the edge of a river in the unfamiliar country of my friend. It is beautiful here, different than the environment I normally call home, stimulating with the anticipation of the unknown. I am waiting for my new friend to arrive. Today we are going on a walk which she takes with regularity. No place too far or strenuous – just a stroll really. For me, a stroll through the unknown; for her, a stroll through the familiar.
The land in front of me is a vast unexplored territory filled with characteristics I don’t yet understand. To my friend it is the familiar landscape she calls home, the cloak she wears when she is out and about. I look out over the river to the bush and I see a mélange of trees, bushes and hills that looks daunting. I can’t see yet how we will enter the bush and not get lost. For my friend it is an array of trails and paths that beckon us in. I face it with a sense of hesitation; my friend looks out and sees the territory she wanders every day. For me, the unknown. For her, the known.
Same landscape, different views.
Before we set off we sit and look out over the land together. We discuss the walk we are about to take. She points things out to me and as she does, they take form, separating from the background while staying connected to them. She identifies what looks to me like a shadow in the trees and calls it a trail. Before she spoke it was a mysterious darkened area; now it has a different form, the form of invitation.
As we begin our walk, I notice things for the first time. The rock becomes an animal; the darkened center of a mass of vines becomes an entry point. Vague threatening shapes change into harmless land formations. We walk deeper and as we do so I am developing a map in my mind. Mapping, if you will, the territory of my friend's environment. She shares with me what she sees as we walk along. As she does, I start to see things through her eyes. My perception is changing. I am seeing differently. She is helping me to situate myself more comfortably in this strange land. As my relationship to her territory changes, so do I. We stroll on, deeper into this place she inhabits.
We will return by this same route and I know that when we do I will vaguely recognize things we saw when we first strolled by. But they will not be quite so strange. They will have the half-recognized characteristics of developing familiarity. When we return I will have a greater sense of knowing the terrain. My footing will be a little more sure. My pace a little more confident. I may even be able to walk beside her rather than follow behind.
I think about how much this is like the first meetings with young people and families. I am glad to have a guide for this first venture.