During the holidays, we went to the Hoge Veluwe, a national park in the middle of Holland – one of the few places in the country where you can see no evidence of humans or their handicraft for 360 degrees around you. And it was especially so on the day we went.
Normally, it’s a pretty busy place. Car use is restricted (i.e. they charge a pretty hefty price to bring a car into the park), so they have thousands of bicycles at the entrances for the young and old to use to ferry themselves about. Usually, it’s a bit of a battle on the bike paths, but the day we were there, things were pretty empty.
The park is also home to the Kröller-Müller Museum, the private collection of a pair of Dutch shipping magnates – most renowned for the outdoor sculptures that are scattered throughout the property.
It’s a place where art meets nature, and where the relationship between the two appears to be constantly questioned (and answered).
Inside, as part of a temporary exhibition on the perceptions of nature, there was a long walkway with egg-like stones protruding from its surface.
The idea was to walk barefoot across them, several times if you could stand it. Kids ripped off their shoes as soon as they saw the walkway – there was an instinct in them that said “I want to feel the stones under my feet – without shoes!” – while most of the adults looked at the stones, read the board telling them to take their shoes off and walk over the stones, and then balked at doing so.
While different groups of kids raced back and forth over the uneven pathway unimpeded, I heard someone say that people who were healthy wouldn’t feel much under their feet other than an uneven walkway, much like Hundertwasser’s house in Vienna with uneven floors, while those who weren’t would find the walk too painful to complete.
Hundertwasser believed that we have an extraordinary sense of touch in our feet, and that flat floors make us forget how to experience things and become emotionally unbalanced or even ill. He called uneven floors “a symphony, a melody for the feet”, and watching the kids vs. the adults at that installation, it was hard to deny the difference between childhood and adulthood: that of a willingness to experience everything vs. a jaded reluctance to try something different or new, especially if you suspect it will involve a measure of pain.
I walked on that pathway of protruding stone, and it was lovely. The tops of the stones, which varied in size and number with each step, felt soothing, almost like a massage, with a satisfying coolness. And when I got to the end of the pathway, I didn’t need to read the sign that told me to do it more than once. I went back again and again and again.