What makes you tiptoe? I don’t mean when you want to spring unpleasant surprises on the unwary, none of my readers would be involved in that sort of thing. No, I mean, what makes you tiptoe involuntarily, like when you are exploring an old church and wander into the chancel (the bit behind the rail down the front, the bit where God lives)?
I have a bit of a thing for wandering around old country graveyards, the kind of place that consists of a tiny stone church, a name on a map, a clutch of elm trees, and nothing else but rolling hills. The Australian countryside is washed with such places, witness to the failed dream of a genuine Australian engagement with living in our place, high-water marks of the human tide that has now retreated to our coastal cities. In such places, it can seem as though everyone who ever lived there was buried there as well. I’m attracted to the stillness and solemnity, they have both a rootedness and a wistfulness that reinforces my sense of being a traveller. All this paragraph is a bit of a digression…
One of the more uncomfortable problems of old graveyards is the fact that often age has removed the clear boundaries between grave plots. Sometimes you don’t realise until too late that you’ve just trampled upon someone’s dear departed. When I do realise, I actually get a sensation in my feet, a podiatrical blush, and I quickly tiptoe to the safe piece of grass that runs between the headstones. Weird, isn’t it? In a small country graveyard, where even the living have passed on, and the dead are probably grateful for the attention, I’m conscious that I must not place my feet in an invisible 6×2 rectangle in an otherwise indistinguishable paddock.
Here’s a step toward a thesis: my moment of recognition in the graveyard should be taken seriously in constructing a theory of space.