ESSAY Hannah Engelkamp

NWR Issue 117

Effortless Poetry of the Toddler

I love walking, but at this time I am not able to walk. I am not injured, I’m not disabled nor a prisoner; I have a toddler. Since my caesarean I have walked with the baby in a sling and then a buggy, but walks were all about how long he’d be happy. There was certainly no sense of abandon, of freedom. At best he slept, a dead weight for an hour. He is two now, has been walking for almost a year, and loves it. Being outside is good for both of us – the overwhelming wealth of scientific evidence is that nature is good for health, well-being, creativity, mood and relationships. We both feel better the moment we step outside, but still, why is it so hard for me to really enjoy it? I decided I could overcome this by going on baby-sized walks, and the challenge was clear – to work out how to be sustained by them, to be satisfied and find the glory of the journey in a tiny journey. For a fan of slow travel this would be the slowest. I have delivered travel-writing sermons before on being really present, appreciating where you are, not looking for culture shock, being open to finding awe in the grassy verge by the front door.

Effortless Poetry of the Toddler

The poet Patrick Kavanagh has it right: ‘To know fully even one field or one land is a lifetime’s experience. In the world of poetic experience it is depth that counts, not width. A gap in a hedge, a smooth rock surfacing a narrow lane… these are as much as a man can fully experience.’ Nature writer Robert MacFarlane writes of Nan Shepherd that her love of the Cairngorm plateau starts out with her ‘lust’ as a young woman for ‘the tang of height’ as she makes for the summits, but mellows later. ‘Circumambulation has replaced summit-fever; plateau has substituted for peak. She no longer has any interest in substituting a pinnacle-point from which she might become the catascopos, the looker-down who sees all with a god-like eye.’ He writes that though she began with the appetites of the mostly male canon of mountaineering literature, she progressed to an ‘unpious pilgrimage’, an ‘implicit humility, looking “inwards to mystery”.’

These life-works of poets and walkers come naturally to my boy. He can speak now, and shouts ‘Walk!’ So why do I find myself overriding him every day? It takes little bites out of my soul every time I hassle Osian, force him to conform to clocks and my concerns. Stuff his arms into coats. Fold him into the buggy. Win my freedom to wheel him at my speed, but at my own cost too.

Last night he shouted in his sleep, ‘No, no, no! Walk! Walk!’ I was proud of him, but sorry he was having to battle me even in his dreams.

It feels like a failing, and therefore it feels like a challenge.

Hannah Engelkamp’s debut book, Seaside Donkey (a crowd-sourced publication, 2015), and her feature-length film of the same name were both about travels in Wales with a donkey called Chico. She is a travel writer and editor with a background in adventure magazines and websites. Her great love is slow, resourceful, human-powered home travel, and she launched the positive-environmentalist magazine, The Outdoor Adventure Guide. Hannah is now struggling with being arrested by motherhood, and finding endless similarities between donkey and toddler.

Want to read the full article? Go to our online shop where you can buy an individual issue or take out a subscription to NWR, saving £3.98 on the cover price. Prices start at £16.99 for three issues via Direct Debit, including p+p (UK only).


previous essay: The Eider Duck's Mating Call
next essay: All Life is Here


A brief note on copyright:all authors have given permission for their work to appear online on New Welsh Review's website. Copyright remains with the author. If you wish to reproduce part or all of any article then the permission of the author must be sought, and the author and New Welsh Review credited accordingly.

Contact us:Registered Office PO Box 170, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, SY23 1WZ - Telephone 00 (44) 1970 628410
© New Welsh Review Ltd, all rights reserved - Registered in England and Wales - Registered number: 02493828
Website design: mach2media and mopublications      Website development: Technoleg Taliesin Cyf.