I don’t consider myself to be a person that relies on routine. Instead, I see myself as a creature of habit. Perhaps distinguishing the two is an exercise in semantics, but the nuanced difference between the two is why I feel the need to clarify this point. Like most people, each day of my life largely resembles that of the day before. Of course there are days when things dramatically change, but for the majority of us on the majority of days we can say “today is just another day’ with 100% honesty.
For me, the crux of the difference between “routine” and “habit” is hinged around the notion of planning. I would argue that very few of our habits are particularly scheduled, rather we allow our natural rhythms and urges to dictate when we do things. My mornings typify this, as I don’t have a ‘morning routine’ at all. Instead, I have a handful of daily tasks that I carry out before I am able to do anything producive, forming part of my circadian pattern. I don’t set out a timetable or plan for the majority of my morning, instead going with the flow and seeing where it takes me.
There’s not much that’s particularly special about my mornings. Breakfast, obviously, and a few miles of scrolling through social media feeds in the fruitless search for something interesting or stimulating. Then there’s the standard morning ablutions and whatnot. But what forms the mainstay of my days is my morning dog walk with Tiki. The exact timing of which depends more on the weather and my choice of food than the actual time. Truth is, both of us are restless until we’ve got a few miles of walkies under our belt.
Each morning, without fail, we head out to the riverside for a good hour or so. Some days, we turn left and head upstream, through our town’s park and beyond toward the reed beds. On other days we turn right, where we choose which side of the river we follow. The Tarka Trail follows both riverbanks downstream, so we’ll often alternate for a sense of variety. Each of the banks offers its own perspective on the river. One is more enclosed, a half-tunnel of trees and brambles – perfect for picking blackberries at this time of year.
Today we took the other bank, on the south side. It offers us a varied walk. We start passing a building site where old industrial riverside land is being developed, but I’ll write more about this another time. Under a bridge, we reach a small reserve of natural riverbank, with a grassed area just the right size for stick throwing with the dog. This little spot is a haven for a lot of birds, particularly finches and tits that swarm the abundant fruiting shrubs and hedgerows. After this we meet the old railway line that is now repurposed as the Tarka Trail, a favourite of cyclists, runners and walkers.
From this side of the river our view is less interrupted. The river is at its widest here, changing dramatically with the tides, and the wide open skies are a welcome reminder that you’ve left the town. When the tide is high and the water calm, like it was today, the vast breadth of the river becomes an expansive mirror, reflecting the distant shoreline opposite and the seasonal sky above. The autumnal mist served to capture the heavy air this morning, but also blurred out the edges of the water and air. Both were still. Both were calm. As we had walked far enough from the town, the industrious drone of the traffic had diminished to be replaced by warblings and chirps. An occasional splash from a cormorant rippled the grey surrounding us. Other than that, it was quiet, undisturbed, and bleak.
Standing as close to the water’s edge as I could, I was encompassed. The mist on the water was like the clouds in the sky. A three dimensional reflection. A tactile illusion. I felt as though I was in the sky itself, the land opposite becoming an island floating high above the earth below. The volume of the river seemed to grow, becoming even more massive, turning oceanic as my imagination drifted on it. I breathed it in, closed my eyes, and let myself sink back to dry land as I let out a peaceful sigh. I felt content. I picked up the stick that Tiki was growling at impatiently, flicking it quickly along the path continuing away from the town. I might have come back to reality, but there was plenty of walking to do before I had to actually face it.