We’re visiting relatives. It’s friendly. We have a light meal and some cake to follow. But then someone mentions Brexit and a cold frost descends on the room…
My wife and I bite our tongues, knowing our hosts are firm believers that Britain’s post-colonial destiny lies in a renewed ‘Little England’ reborn from some poster of decades ago. Until my wife’s uncle says, “Besides, the EU isn’t democratic..”
If you know her, you can hear something snap. She leans forward to take another piece of cake and refreshes her tea from the beautiful Royal Albert tea service. “Who is your MEP (Member of European Parliament), Uncle Norman?” she asks.
“Well, I’m not sure… I don’t bother with that sort of thing,” he says, wrong-footed by the lack of the simplest fact. But the question was designed to show that the EU is as democratic as…
After the odd meeting with the woman at the pub, we now felt we had to visit Hadrian’s Wall. It had been on my mind for a while, for some reason, and had cropped up a lot in odd places as I read and researched various things. I admit that I felt that Stuart should one day see at least part of it… I have fond memories of time spent in the area and at the isolated Mithraeum on the moors in particular. The trouble was, well…Romans.
Now, it has to be said that, along with plumbing, central heating and a host of technological and educational innovations, the Romans brought a ‘civilising’ influence to the country that came to be known as Britain. But you have to take the word in a literal sense… they built cities. And with cities, you get administration, record-keeping, statutes and organisation… and control. In…
With its new tyre, the car was flying south, but, after the marathon drive of the day before, we had decided that a brief stop every couple of hours, to stretch legs and refresh minds, would be a good idea. I had already driven over two thousand miles over the past few days and we still had a fair way to go, with yet another long drive to come the next day. Which is why, just after we crossed from Scotland into England, I pulled off the motorway, looking for a café.
Instead, we found a pub by a church in the pretty village of Crosby on Eden. We sat outside in the sunshine, supplied with a mug of instant coffee that nonetheless tasted like nectar to me and a pint of Guinness. The fact that the pub was called The Stag, after the encounter of the night before, was…
It’s a word you don’t hear much, now. Old English, I believe. It describes an agitated state of mind – and possibly body – when something nagging can’t be solved.
What I’m vexed about is the entrenchment of nationalistic opinion across the world, in the face of much more important issues – like the world’s climate problems and the undermining of democracy as a new type of war carried out by authoritarian regimes.
I’m vexed because I think I’ve seen beneath this to the psychological mechanics of something that has the potential to kill the world.
In Britain, with Brexit, we are marching, like lemmings, towards a clifftop that will bring chaos and self-inflicted harm to not only this generation of voters, but our children and their children. They will look back at the devastation and ask why somebody didn’t do something to avert it.
As my husband and I continued our journey up the quiet mountain, I stopped now and then to place my offering of tobacco leaves in the nooks of trees and rocks. Noting, as I did, how sometimes others had made their own offerings. Small and large stones nestled into crevices of wood and stone, along with the more permanent and not so mindful markings of names carved into the skin of trees. I saw the carvings as a sad reflection of the ego’s need for permanence, forgetting that the mark that lingers is a mere shadow of the true self that never dies. How we yearn for something that is false, so often forgetting the harmony that beats around us. I found the buzz of the mosquitos oddly comforting, in its reminder of the cycles of life. The sacred spring below having given birth to the insects that followed my footsteps along a path older than the trees surrounding me.
The mountain remained, to me, quiet and reserved. Welcoming, yet not offering too much. Not yet. This was my first visit, after all, and as the miles slowly rose, I realized that I would likely return someday. Perhaps not to the same trail. Perhaps not with the same companion. I didn’t yet know, and that was okay.
Life cycles as it will, and it behooves us to allow it to play its rhythm without resistance. When we push, we are often met with a counter-push. A simple law of physics. Perhaps this is why the snake appeared. Not once, but twice, as we hiked the long, winding trail, slowly losing the mosquitos as we gained elevation.
I have found the snake to be a frequent messenger that appears at points in the cycle of life that call for a surrendering. A letting go of the old “skin” I choose to wear to make way for the new, lighter sheath. They remind one of the wheel, ever-turning. Endings moving into beginnings, endlessly repeating.
I had thought that the mountain might harbor hurt. A long held wound from the legend of the chief who fell from its summit. Cursing, as he met death, the white man who had poisoned his son. As I walked the first half of the mountain, I found that I was also, in essence, curing the “white man” who had felled all the trees, and placed the wall of stone beside the path of the sacred waters. Yet, as the snake reminded me (twice), time moves on, whether we allow it to or not, without judgement. The cycle weaves its circle of life and death, over and over again, and we can be a part of it, or we can use defiance to try to resist its flow.
I could not forget that I had breathed acceptance into my body before I had left my hometown that morning. There are no true accidents to life. I realized, as I walked, that it mattered little, if at all, that I was not seeing the faces of the long passed in the rocks, or feeling the pull of the familiar through my cells. Instead, there was that quiet harmony of belonging. Of being present with my beloved in human form, and the sacred landscape around us.
There was no denying the many gifts that had been offered. The crow who had welcomed us, the “ghosts” beside the stream, the white feather in the path before the call of my feathered seer, the snakes of renewal, and even the mosquitos buzzing life. There were also berries, full and ripened to the deepest blue of truth as we approached the final mile. Tempering greed, we reached, now and then, to pick small handfuls of the fruit and felt the renewal of life in each magnificent bite. Agreeing that there was never a better blueberry than those grown on the nearly soilless top of this mountain. A grateful gift that was even more welcomed when we discovered how little water we had left and how warm it had become during our journey, as well as how unsatisfying the apples were that we had brought. Mealy and soft, whereas our mouths hungered for a cool, crisp bite. I thanked the land for the blueberries as I offered it more tobacco in return.
As we sat on the granite ledges and took in the views of the landscape around us, my husband and I noted the time and how far we had come. We felt the ache of the climb in our bodies and the hunger in our bellies. Ahead of us was the head of Chocorua, perhaps another half mile away, we could not be sure. Its side looked steep and a bit dangerous as we realized we would either have to make our way around it to find a more gentle side, or allow ourselves to finish our journey below its peak. I was surprised that I did not feel disappointment. That there was no resentment bubbling up inside at the possibility of not “completing” our journey. Instead, I felt acceptance. It was enough, all of it.
We did not turn around then, though, but decided to walk a little further. I was grateful, as we continued on for this small final leg of our journey forward, for the soft presence of the land and it’s hallowed feel. For the berries that continued along our way, and for the knowing that we had just enough daylight ahead of us to get back down, and just enough water to quench our thirst if we needed it. I thought of that sacred stream and the yearning of my body to feel its cool release. And, as I turned my gaze one last time to follow the path of a vulture around the neck of the mountain, the mighty bird moved toward a cloud that hovered beside the rock face. Perhaps it was my imagination, but to me it looked like the head of a chief in profile. Its face pointing away from the summit that would need to wait for another day.
It was already midnight as we drove along the shores of Loch Lomond. The black, shimmering banks seemed far less than ‘bonny’ as the water lapped at the kerb, the rain blurring the lines between the loch and the road that runs right along its edge. The roads and visibility were terrible… we hadn’t stopped for hours… and seeing a lay-by at the water’s edge, the decision was made to pull in and get some sleep. So much for the hotel that had been paid for… and any plans we had for recharging our own and our technology’s batteries.
Oddly enough, when I looked up our route on Google Maps later, I found we had given in and parked just below Lochan Uiane, the Fairy Loch, a sacred spring so named because in certain lights geometrical shapes in blue and green appear in the water. Science attributes this magical rainbow…