A reflection from late autumn finally posted in the chill of early January. Call it late, call it a symptom of these new year days and pandemic years, when time seems to slip and slide and leave you grasping.
I’m not sure if this moment is full on autumn, or the first bite of winter. We left town for the hills one Sunday. Clocks claimed it was mid-afternoon but the oncoming dark made it hard to place, hard to shake the sense of enclosing night. Given the hour, I say ‘hills’ but really it was ‘hill’. One hill. Height enough to let go every sigh and find the corners of ourselves that the countryside seems to guard in our absence. Our feet found one hill, but maybe it really was ‘hills’. One folds into another, a ridge that you could follow on your way to the Cotswolds, or turn the other way to skirt the edge of London. We stay where we are. On one hill. Eyes resting on another, and finding the pocketed fields below.
We left. Left the warmth, encased ourselves in winter coats (should have been washed before this first wearing?), scarves, hats that didn’t quite keep out the gnaw of the wind on one side. An ear bore the brunt of this foray. Pass indifferent flocks, turn right at the trees and enjoy their shelter before heading up again. A slope that felt gentle but, on turning round, had opened up the sunset sky. Stop. Breathe. Exchange humble notes on this messy and beautiful world.
“To those who are enthralled by mountains, their wonder is beyond all dispute. To those who are not, their allure is a kind of madness. What is this strange force that draws us upwards,
This siren song of the summit?”
– Robert MacFarlane, Mountain
I’ve been spending time with mountains. It started with the British Film Institute’s London Film Festival for a showing of ‘Mountain’. The film is a collaboration between director Jennifer Peedom, the Australian Chamber Orchestra and writer, Robert MacFarlane; an experiment in stomach-soaring cinematography, sparse narration by Willem Dafoe, and a soundtrack of original and classical music. The collaborators explore our changing relationship with the peaks over the last few hundred years. They note, but don’t push, concerns about the destruction that can accompany our quest for the summit, or a high-speed descent down it. They hint at the inequality of relationships – those touristing to the top and the sherpas who get them there (“those that have the least, risk most”). There is admiration and terror of the heights – and the drops – to be found across this world.
It’s been quieter than I would like around here of late. Other parts of life – work commitments, relationship forging, local exploring – have crowded out the quiet and contemplative moments at the laptop. We’ve been gentle with ourselves during this move – reminding each other that building new patterns, routines and habits takes more time and energy than it sometimes seems it should.
October’s pickings centre around persevering. Continuing well, or at least the best that you can. This isn’t to invite concern – life’s rhythms are more extreme than we would choose, but we are learning to keep our heads up while our feet keep walking on. We are fortunate; we know it is not forever.
Friday evening had arrived. The work was done, or at least paused with sufficient peace to leave it for the weekend. It was an evening marked by early autumn – just enough light in the sky, warm enough to begin in a jumper; jackets would be pulled on later. The day’s stories would have to wait for when darkness came. For now we hastily found out high vis jackets, lights, shedding to-do lists and perceived obligations, and got on the bikes before any more light slipped below the horizon.
Holidays have always been a big part of family life for me. Each year as a family we would have a treasured three weeks traveling together, moving every few days, keen as we were to keep exploring new places. We’d take a stash of books that we’d all work our way through, sharing hushed conversations about unexpected twists in the tales, away from those who had not yet read them. As most of our holidays took place on boats, we’d often dine on delicious locally-caught seafood in small tavernas. Continue reading →