Monday, September 17, 2007

deafening hush

Sunday afternoon, growing a tad bored with the utter silence of my own company, I set off again, ever intrepid, up a hill, across a trackless peat bog/ heath, compass in hand, in search of a high ridge walk marked on my map with a clearly drawn dotted line. This dotted line, or its equivalent, an obvious track, was guarded by not one but five mangy sheepdogs who came running to surround me in a faintly menacing huddle. One of the collies had a single glaring blue eye, which did not reassure me of its owner's good intentions. Another of the collies was the same size as a bear. One of the collies turned out to be a vast black labrador. Hey. There were five of them and one of me, so being a wuss, I took the road less travelled. I did the nonchalant very fast powerwalk away from the dogs and took an alternative uphill path. This meant forging my own route, compass in hand just like yesterday, eyes peeled for signs of BULLS. After a morning of rain, today's wet landscape was dotted with variations on the malevolent tussock*. As I leapt and splashed my way across this moonscape, I wondered , not for the first time, what the hell I was doing spending a lazy Sunday afternoon engaged in such strenuous pursuits. Then the sun slid out from behind a cloud, the beautiful wide seaview opened up and I remembered why I love walking the high airy places. 

The silence, the solitude and the wide open spaces are breathtaking. The alone-ness is okay too - not what I'd choose, given my 'druthers, but a similiar solitude to the one that I've lived with for most of my working life. Just because I recognize it, doesn't mean I like it, though. Alone-ness can so easily shade over into loneliness. Yeah. It was bloody lonely. Across a narrow channel of water lay Burra, the last place my colleague Harry Horse looked out on before he killed first his terminally ill wife and then himself. That kind of enormity and terrible finality made my view of his beloved landscape all the more meaningful , and also all the more lonely not having anyone to turn to for a simple human touch - a hand on my hand, an arm around my shoulders. Something to pretend that we are not alone. Even if, in truth, we are. 

Sat on a rock and drank Lapsang, ate oatcakes, blew nose and pulled myself together. I looked out over the top of the ridge to the fragmented landscape of many little islands, stacks and nameless rocks, each standing alone, all of them linked by the waters of the pale blue sea. I'm guessing that Harry was beyond any form of connection, beyond being able to reach out and say - help me, I'm drowning. I'm guessing that his wife was his lodestar and that he simply could not bear to find his own way through his life without her. 

The sun on my face and the wind in my hair remind me of the promises, the miles and the life I still have to live. Travelling hopefully. That's what I intend to aim for - not the arrival, but the journey itself.

*These are clumps of grass which protrude from the swamp, seem to offer firm footholds but the moment an unwary walker commits to one of these babies, it tilts sideways forcing you to overbalance and slide into the swamp.

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