Monday, February 13, 2006

Momentary bliss 

Have you ever noticed how the best part of the day is often some little in-between moment, where the flow pauses at a cusp of fulfilment, a transition where one strand of activity slows, stops, and just for a short while the world stands still and the present is all that there is, before the world starts to spin again and fresh activity takes off? The moment doesn’t need to hold any great spiritual import; it can be as simple as the time when you arrive home exhausted after a lengthy shopping expedition, dump the bags unopened in the hallway, and sink those weary bones into the comforting embrace of a favourite armchair.

The first coffee of the morning is sometimes like that (depending, of course on the level of one’s caffeine addiction!) In the flow of a normal day, it may be a cusp that is no more than a minor blip, but when out camping on a wintry February morning its significance is amplified to a moment of sheer bliss.

Out of the cocoon of my sleeping bag, the bite of the chill air immediately grasps me and my body tenses against the cold until I’ve donned enough extra clothes to keep it at bay. Brushing frozen condensation from the inside of the tent as I leave, my feet crunch over frosted grass as I head for morning ablutions in the unheated washroom.

The preliminary steps of early morning routine complete, I turn to more important matters. Fingers rapidly numb as they fumble to attach a gas canister to the cold metal of the stove; my lighter has to be clasped in the hand to warm it sufficiently to generate enough gas pressure to sustain a flame; once alight, the stove mutters busily to itself, and I wait…

Then that magic moment, heralded by the sudden flow of steam released from under the lid of the pan and rising to form a small cloud in the still air, as restrained impatience gives way to expectation of imminent fulfilment. Mug clasped in the both hands, the first scalding sips - the caffeine-junkie’s fix – usher in a moment of serenity; P. still asleep, no sign of activity from the few other tents dotted about, the stream chattering quietly through the woods which surround the site, a pink eastern sky telling of the sunrise hidden from view behind the steep shoulder of the valley in which the campsite nestles.

A moment of calm contemplation not to be repeated until late the following afternoon – after 32 miles of hiking over the moors with a near-40lb pack, an overnight camp on the open moor, and weather that seemed determined to give us a sample of every variety - the best and the worst - that England has to offer; nondescript overcast, horizontally blown snow, clear blue skies with blinding sunshine and endless drizzle.

Watch this space for the illustrated story. I’ll probably have to drip-feed it, as with two job interviews this week, priorities will be juggled even more so than usual. Never a dull moment…

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