How I get my Hedgerow Time

I wouldn’t be able to complete my next book without significant time in the hedgerows. To and from my local coffeehouse, or the bank, I can walk instead of drive. Often times when I walk I arrive with better thoughts to write down quickly; instead of spending eight hours in a day typing, I have to get out and move for a while.

The thinking isn’t done directly. My hedgerows, which are often just alleyways in a mid-sized Midwestern town, don’t have blackberries growing. Instead, I pick aluminum cans. Taleb points out the irony of having a valet carry your suitcases to the hotel room, and later lifting weights in the hotel’s exercise room.

Like Taleb, I cannot see the value in paying for a gym membership. Supposedly they motivate you to work out more often since you’ve committed your dollars, but this doesn’t always work for people and ends up being a profit center for the gym. Instead, I get paid to exercise and think. When I walk I pick up aluminum cans. Perhaps I look as though I’m a bum, picking up other’s trash, but there are several benefits to this method. First, of course I can cash in the cans after I accumulate quite a few, and this helps fund my non-profit’s travel budget. Second, I beautify my city. Third, like blackberries or other delicacies one might hope to find, it gives me something to keep my eyes peeled for. There’s something fun in finding that can and scooping it into my bag.

In some ways, I’m combining exercise, thinking time (space I need to be able to be creative later), cleaning up my town, and there’s even a little compensation for it.

The point is, you may not live in rural England, with its beautiful hedges and idyllic scenery. Your town may be noisy, your streets may be dirty, but practicing hedgerows is really getting yourself in shape to go to the edge of the world.

They aren’t the same thing. I think that, like Xi in The Gods Must Be Crazy, our walking may take us to the edge of the world:

Xi was angry with the gods. He shouted, “Take back your thing! We don`t want it! Look at the trouble it brought. “

The gods did not take it back.

He shouted, “You must be crazy to send us this thing! Take it back!“
Then he shouted, “Look out! Look out!“

But he spoke too late and the thing felled his daughter Dani.
Xi carried the thing away from the shelter and buried it.
That evening, there was no laughter and no chatter around the family fire.
A strange feeling of shame had come over the family…and they were very quiet.
Xi said, “I have buried the thing. It will not make us unhappy again. “
That night, a hyena smelled the blood on the thing, and dug it up.
A bad-tempered warthog chased the hyena away and it dropped the thing.
The next day, Dani found it. Her brother Toma heard her playing on it and said, “Let me try. Let me try too. “
That night the family was very unhappy. They began to talk about this thing. They did not have a name for it. They called it the “evil thing. “
Gaboo said, “Perhaps the gods were absent-minded… when they dropped the evil thing on the earth.
They`ve always sent only good things, like rain, trees, roots and berries to eat.
We are their children and they love us. But now they`ve sent this evil thing. “
Xi said, “The thing does not belong on the earth. Tomorrow I will take it to the end
of the earth and throw it off. “
Gobo said, “I think the end of the earth must be very far. I think you`ll have to walk for 20 days. Perhaps 40. “
Xi said, “I will start walking tomorrow. “

It is much harder to find the edge of the world when we haven’t been walking down the hedgerows. Will you start walking tomorrow?

Check the archives for more content on the hedgerows idea.


More Thoughts about Hedgerows

When it comes to doing great listening I find that it’s difficult to do without hedgerows. This term is a little like when people talk about having margins in their life, or perhaps somewhat like taking a regular Sabbath; but there’s something more I want to explore with you.

Margins, of course, are neat and tidy. They are consistent. Whoever lays out this book will decide on a number, perhaps around five-eighths of an inch, and three-quarters in the gutter, so you don’t feel the print is mashed up against the edge of the book. It gives everything a tidy feel, so that you have some breathing room. When we talk about margins in life, we usually mean the time you take to get your coffee in the morning, watch a T.V. show at night, or attend a festival with a friend on Friday night or Saturday. “Me” time, down-time. Time spent NOT worrying about all the demands made on you by bosses, spouses, parents, children and even requests for your energy from places where you enjoy volunteering.

Sabbath is the last day of the week, the day of rest. In this article from Relevant Nancy Sleeth says: “A recent poll of 2,000 pastors in North Carolina revealed that less than 10 percent are keeping a regular Sabbath. Think about this for a moment. If 90 percent of pastors announced from the pulpit that murder (or stealing, or adultery) is OK, don’t you think it might raise a few eyebrows in the pews, let alone the press? … decide what work is for you and don’t do it on your Sabbath. For people engaged in sedentary work during the week, puttering around in the garden on the Sabbath might be restful. For people who do manual labor, holy rest might mean taking a nap.”


Okay. I don’t know if you do or don’t have margins on a daily basis or Sabbath weekly, but without them you can’t grow a hedgerow.

Hedgerows are something different, something more than margins and a day off. Look up hedgerows on the internet and you’ll quickly realize that the most famous pop culture reference to a hedgerow is from Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven, arguably one of the ten greatest rock anthems ever, in spite of the fact that nobody really knows what on earth this verse means:

“If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now,
It’s just a spring clean for the May queen.
Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run
There’s still time to change the road you’re on.
And it makes me wonder.”


It makes us all wonder. But that is the point – at least as far as my definition of hedgerow is concerned. It’s a place to wander and wonder.

An actual hedgerow is a stretch of semi-wild trees or shrubbery, (perhaps with a path!) which creates borders between fields, a place where foxes can live, blackberries can grow, and children can disappear for the day and come home happy, dirty, and still wondering. It’s right next to cultivated fields, so it’s easily accessible from the places where you normally work, the places you keep much tidier but spending any time tending and exploring the hedgerows only brings you surprises. A handful of edible mushrooms, priceless, not something you expected.

When I was a boy we had a creek, woods, places to while away the summer days, unplugged. We could spend an afternoon exploring up the creek, farther each time, we could spend hours building a hut. The best hut was built after workmen with bulldozers cleared a field for a new blueberry patch. They pushed dozens of trees and brush up against the side of the field and into the woods, and on the back side, we found a hollow. We took actual tools, bailer twine, spent hours building sides and a door, cutting and lashing, log cabin style, and camped out. We were so unplugged, so far away that we couldn’t be called for dinner, or to take out the trash – and we liked it that way.

We never felt guilty about taking the time to do this. We saw it as a normal way to spend the day.

In the hedgerow you may work, but it’s a playful work. You may write an essay and decide it doesn’t fit your book. You may run extra experiments for fun and discover something you weren’t even researching.

I believe that a motivational listener needs to not only have margins and Sabbath but also must explore a hedgerow now and then. Perhaps even often. We gain perspective just by looking at the world differently. We follow a trail just to see where it goes; and if it goes nowhere, or to the dump, where we might find some piece of junk we discovered we need in our pocket, so much the better. When we’re used to exploring hedgerows for ourselves, we’re ready to guide others in that same quest.

When we listen, we listen for the interesting bits. Not the parts where people are regularly cultivating a field. When I coach, the areas where my client has neatly plowed and planted, the parts of their lives that are in order, are not the places where we can discover anything new. We won’t find the interesting rock walls to climb, the juicy blackberries to pick, and we won’t spot a skunk in their neatly plowed fields. But if there’s a bustle in the hedgerow, I follow it.

How do I schedule time to be in the hedgerow?

The main tactic to make space for this is to loosen up your schedule. I just re-took the MBTI personality test and discovered that I’m borderline between Judger  or “J” (the type of person who likes to have a strict schedule) and the Perceiver, i.e. “P” (the one who likes to keep their options open). I believe that Personality Type isn’t static. I used to be a pretty intense J, but it’s the P who likes to make up stories. It’s the P who has empty space in their schedule, and likes to keep it that way. In other words, partly because I learned to coach and to write fiction between 2009 and 2014 while being under-self-employed meant that I naturally had a lot more room in my schedule than I used to, and I had to adapt to that lifestyle, which meant becoming comfortable again in the hedgerows.

I can’t tell you excactly how to loosen up your schedule. That’s a problem for you on an individual level. (If you’re having trouble doing it on your own, you’re a candidate for a wax job). After all, it was somewhat forced on me by a variety of circumstances. One thing I can say for sure is that without it, I wouldn’t be the motivational listener and storyteller that I am today, certainly not with the same quality and excellence.

I think this is something that business coaches often don’t really find their way into. They move from high-powered executive positions to hard-charging coaches who are constantly selling and networking, rarely with time themselves in the hedgerows. This makes it difficult for them to invite people into the hedgerow. For those of us in a busy Western world, or in a busy business environment generally (and they tell me now that things are even busier in Seoul and Singapore than they are in the USA). But business people don’t need your help with more cultivation. They need help exploring hedgerows.