Return to the Hills
A few weeks ago, a friend stopped in mid-conversation to check the weather channel on his phone. “Rain eighty percent likely in this area today,” he announced, in all sincerity, scrolling through the remainder of the week’s predictions. Outside, the sky was leaden grey and the rain was dancing off the roof, gurgling down drainpipes so fast that pools of water had accumulated on the graveled path to the house.
Growing up, I had watched my father look at the sky and like a bloodhound, sniff the air and ‘read’ the weather with mathematical accuracy. Like many of his contemporaries, he also observed the trees, particularly the hawthorn, the holly and the mountain ash, and if something was in bloom too early or too late, he would declare it ‘a bad sign’. With the passage of time and the advent of the meteorological service, he too became more and more reliant on ‘the weather forecast’. Like an airplane traveller distanced from the earth, he had distanced himself from his environment – and from himself.
Many years ago, I overheard a retired pharmacist respond to a woman’s question about trace elements. “Go outside and take a few deep breaths, and you’ll get any amount of trace elements,” he said. Taking it as a rude dismissal, the woman turned and walked away. I, on the other hand, took it on board, thankful for the message, although it has taken a long time to assimilate.
In over half a century of existence on this planet, I have acquired quite an amount of skills but I am just beginning to learn to celebrate both the smallness and the grandeur of life, ever humbled by the magic of nature and learning, from scratch, to drink in its vibrancy. Scientist and Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University of New York, Robin Wall Kimmerer writes: “A Cheyenne elder of my acquaintance once told me that the best way to find something is not to go looking for it, but to watch out of the corner of your eye, open to possibility, and what you seek will be revealed.”
Having been born and raised in a place famous throughout the world for its beauty, I have been blind to many of its features that have always been there. I had never ventured off the main roads, whether walking, cycling or driving; the less accessible routes that afford the spectacular views, the sounds only of nature, the expanse of sky overhead and the air that I can taste escaped me because I was moving too fast, looking at the distant mountains and seeing only the ‘wrinkles in their skin’, concerned only with acquiring skills for survival in the ‘real’ world’.
After years of being desk-bound, coaxed by a friend from my couch, my easel and my laptop, I ventured into unknown territory and found exhilaration in the sun and the wind on mountain-tops, music in birdsong in the sound of gentle brooks, lake water lapping the shoreline and cascading waterfalls to cathedral silence on forest paths. Each time I walk these by-ways, something new is revealed: I have encountered wild deer, wild mountain goats, rabbit, hare and birds of prey. I have watched the changes in light, from minute to minute, and seen the seasonal changes in the trees, grasses, fern, gorse and heather and felt the earth underfoot awaken from frost-encrusted shell and brittle, brown bracken to yielding, moss-sprung suppleness. The resulting endorphin-enriched mood-elevation, improved joint flexibility, sound sleep and joy in my heart is immeasurable. Trace elements in the mix? Hopefully.
Return to the Hills