Thursday, February 26, 2004


Entries here have been rather sporadic of late. Plenty I could write about; yet until today little I seemed able to write. Facing truths that are uncomfortable – or even the opposite; truths that are too good to be true, yet are so – I withdraw from them, withdraw from experiencing them, and so withdraw also from all experiencing, which is the source of inspiration and expression. It seems it is not possible to engage only with selected parts of experiencing, with the easy, comfortable bits. It’s an all or nothing thing.

Logic tells me today is beautiful. Clear blue sky, bright winter sun throwing long sharp shadows, crisp still air – I see all this, but I don’t experience it. Even the cold (minus two Centigrade) is something distant – the surface of my skin is a long way away from me. Not that I’m feeling gloomy – just wondering why it is that I see all these things that I know would usually create a felt response in me; yet all I feel is the memory of past responses.

It’s that desire to be engaged with experience that was behind yesterday’s wish to be up a mountain somewhere. Mountains bring a vibrancy, a totality to experiencing, immersing you in it [aside: I wonder if there’s a link there to Denny’s comment yesterday…] in a way that’s impossible to ignore, involving all the senses at once.

Visually, the views are obvious of course, but there’s all the detail too – little rock plants, grasses bending and waving in the wind, imprints in the soil of feet that have gone before, shape and colour and texture of rock under my hand as I pull up over an obstacle, blankets of mist blowing across the mountaintops, revealing tantalising glimpses of further summits and then hiding them again.

Sounds of wind whipping shell clothing, or rain beating on the fabric of a hood pressed against an ear; or the roar of a waterfall, or the incessant friendly chatter of a stream flowing down a staircase of rocks; smells of fresh clean air – yes, what is it about mountain air that smells so good?

And most of all the sheer physicality of it all – the joyous feel of joints and muscles doing what it seems they were always designed for; thighs and calves propelling forwards and upwards; ankles holding balance finding uneven footholds in rocky descents; shoulders and back bearing the load of essentials necessary for survival in wild places. Buffeted by the wind; hammered by the rain; fried by the sun; hidden by the mist – you cannot be distant from experience when in mountains.

Even when surrounded by mountain landscapes, there’s a world of difference between merely being amongst mountains and giving yourself to their presence. From the valleys, the mountains look smaller, contained and controlled by the fences and tarmac roads that surround them. You can wander around their edges in safety, as you might wander around a caged bear in a zoo. But venture far into them and their size and power and remoteness take hold; even when the tarmac roads may still be in sight, they are far below, they occupy a different world, a world of order and control where humankind is in charge; up here no person lives, although some may visit for a while.

It wouldn’t be easy to find words for the freedom and joy that being in mountains brings, even when actually there, within the full experience. Sitting in London, it seems next to impossible. But I’ll try. Although at times it can verge on the mystical, those are very special, unique occasions - what I’m talking about here isn’t the full-on “mountaintop experience”, although that does happen; this is something more subdued, more subtle. A feeling of wholeness, of rightness, loving the very stones under my feet. Height does have something to do with it; being separated from the mundane world left far below, by a barrier that is not easy to cross in either direction, so whilst on mountains there is little chance of turning a corner and coming face-to-face with “civilisation” (may the Cairngorms funicular be torn from the land and dashed to pieces and it’s owners rot in hell…) It’s a different plane of existence – moving higher I leave the physical reminders of daily life behind; break too, for a while, some of the emotional strings that tie me to this flat world below, and on occasion feel a connection with something altogether higher and more universal.

I think I need a fix…

And I think one day I might make a longer essay of this…

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