When I walk I am usually searching for something: a different perspective, peace, escape, information, connection, understanding, or sometimes just to get breathing space, to find a return to my own head after a day with the kids; walking is a conscious act with agency behind it and within it. This morning I am woken just after 5 by Keir, who climbs and plays around us until I register that it is light. Having just finished Gary Snyder’s The Practice of the Wild, and also having the class instructions to go for a walk for a class that starts at 9 today – meditating specifically on Snyder’s thoughts in the book – I decide that now is as good a time as any. I reckon that starting the day with a conscious connection to the land I inhabit can only be a good foundation to build from (combined with the mortar of morning coffee of course.)
The wilderness pilgrim’s step-by-step breath-by-breath walk up a trail, into those snowfields, carrying all on the back, is so ancient a set of gestures as to bring a profound sense of body-mind joy.
The point is to make intimate contact with the real world, real self. ‘Sacred’ refers to that which helps take us (not only human beings) out of our little selves into the mountains-and-rivers mandala universe.
Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild
So, having first checked it was okay with the larger Lawrie that I could abandon him to the breakfast routine, I chuck waterproof trousers, jacket and wellies on over my jammies and head out into the universe.
My intention is to do a quick tour up the back of the croft, but I can’t help following the deer and sheep tracks that are so clear on the wet ground, tunnels of flattened grass with their tips pointing away from me like arrows, to end up at the boundary with the sliver of common grazings that lies between us and the landfill site. I stand and watch the ever-present sea of gulls that flock over the raised-up hollow of earth that holds the detritus of human lives. Hundreds of the birds lift off out of this basin in a white wave, a cycling swell of movement that brings them back round and down again like water swirling down a drain; once settled they coat the surface and line the rim like dots of icing around a cake, three ravens continuing to circle above them. The sound of the seabirds’ raucous burbling sweeps towards me, and I want to wait to see if they will lift off again, but, conscious that I have been away longer than planned, I turn for home.
Splinters of white, blue and red catch my eye here and there, plastic caught in the lee of the stone wall, in the long dead grass, and quivering in the bare branches of the birch like prayers for the sick in a clootie tree. At one point I think I see some white-brain fungus, whose gelatinous folds I am equally repulsed and amazed by, but it turns out to be a crushed plastic takeaway cup enmeshed in the sphagnum moss. Stopping at the fencepost that sits roughly where one of the ruins has been dug away for the betterment of another area of the croft, I decide to make my own wee offering to this piece of recovering land, inspired by Snyder’s spiritual approach to the landscape. I choose to make this fencepost my personal sacred marker of this sad but necessary act of demolition, and the loss of a living memorial to the people who made this land their own before us. I look around for something to put on the post and a scrap of sheep’s wool catches my eye. Though perhaps an ironic choice, given what drove the creation of crofts in the first place, I bend to pick it up – it turns out to be an opaque polythene bag.
Instead I place a piece of dried common bent grass, glistening with tiny wee stars, remnants of rainwater.