Back then we sailed on sunlit seas of blue, riding the crest of the wave of hope and optimism in the belief that anything was possible. We surged forward, full of zest and energy, forging our path and guiding others in the same direction.
And how I wished that nothing would change. But, of course, it was never going to be. Everything changes. Circumstances. People. Places.
I came back and my 49-year-old self looked with 47-year-old eyes, that squinted in vain hoping to see it as it was, not as it is. The conundrum of LIFE: FILE (under “memories of another time and place”).
A gradual realisation these last few months, but a realisation nevertheless: I am not the man I was. But how to reconcile to this? How to be comfortable with what I've become and what I will be?
Sometimes everything moves on around you and you’re faced with the fact that you’re still clinging to that upturned hull in the midst of a storm.
It was a relatively mild morning, with a threat of drizzle in the air, enough to wear a coat anyway (which proved to be a bad decision). Out of the door, cross the road and head towards the sawmill. As we neared it, we took a sharp left down into the ancient woods.
Sam knew where he was. He recognised the landmarks, his acute senses picked up familiar smells, and memories came flooding back of trotting through here, guided by his dear departed but never forgotten brother.
It’s been a long time since I was able to run. An injury has never before kept me out this long. Nervous at first, understandably, my brain kicked in and I picked my way through the arboreal debris and along the edge of the burn, to emerge on the shinty field.
We crossed the road and headed up through muddy fields, to mount the stile onto a path which, when we’d first arrived here, was no more than a trod and yet now bore the marks of frequent use. Not much running between the stiles, but a trot as we headed up onto the ridgeline, to rest and gaze awhile once we got there, a red kite circling overhead.
Up the path and along to the cairn, to look out at a familiar view - the Ben towering above it all, snow-clad and cloud-topped. But, even from here, much had changed, forested land now denuded in every direction, new wind turbines dominating the view. My heart sank.
We stopped for a nice chat with a local character as we descended towards the kissing gate. He told me tales of post-war tree-planting and recent shenanigans with felling and I could have chatted for much longer. But down we went, to arrive at the point where we used to enter the “secret” path through dense woods around the side of the hill. Only now it was open, a bare hillside, strewn with the wreckage of man’s destruction. It felt different. It felt wrong. It wasn’t, of course. In fact, stop for a moment, and consider that the view is now far-reaching, down to the snowy Cairngorms in the distance, and all before that. But it felt wrong.
The path beyond was muddy, the result of run-off from the eroded slopes, with nothing now to absorb it. I slowed to a walk again, before the path turned to the south and I picked up some pace, feeling my way back into some rhythm.
We dropped all the way down, and almost into the village, before heading back up via the steep path up the “north face”. What a change here, the barren land of two years ago now transformed by saplings over four feet tall. Nothing changes once the gradient steepens though – toil and sweat, a never-ending climb until you turn that final corner to the stile.
Back along the ridge to plunge down the slippy race route, the ankle bizarrely providing no obstacle to this at all (a mental note stored to tell the osteopath this). We got down to the main track and tried to head down to the stone maze, but all paths are seemingly blocked now by trees toppled by the recent storms so, much as I’d liked to have gone there for old time’s sake, it wasn’t to be.
Instead, we headed along the path to drop down the way we came up. We were minutes from “home”, suspecting that Kirsten might be back already…..but then met another local “character” and, I may seem like a antisocial, miserable grump, but I’m a sucker for a good natter and some interesting tales. Thirty minutes later(!), we were still struggling to get away, having been regaled with stories, educated with local knowledge and passed comment and news on a mutual friend.
And so we trotted back through the woods that we’d come to know so well in our 18 months here. A sharp right at the sawmill and we slowed to a walk to return to the cottage and be welcomed in with smiles and warmth.
“How was your run?”
“Aye, it was alright. Sammy enjoyed it”.
Sometimes there’s nothing more to say about it in the moment. Sometimes you need to reflect and gather thoughts. Sometimes you don’t let go of the past easily enough, in order to move forwards. Sometimes you look back through rose-tinted spectacles and forget all of the things that made it so in the first place, forget that they all still exist in abundance.
The beacon still shines. The fire still roars. The rainbow rises over the loch and it’s as clear now, as always, that the crock of gold isn’t at its end, it’s here and it’s now. It’s wherever you choose for it to be but you’ll not see it if you don’t open your eyes.
Future direction? I’ve no idea right now. Reconciled to this ageing body which won’t respond in ways I want it to anymore? Not a chance! But that’s a good thing, right? “One step at a time keeps you moving forwards”, that’s what I’ve always been told and believed. It seems as good a place as any to start again.