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Hill Walking


Snow-cleansed air hurts my lungs; the tips of my fingers are frozen inside my gloves and the sky roils grey overhead. The muddy, ice-slithered path ascends through rough heather and tussock; sometimes sheltered by drystone walls and more often completely exposed to the biting wind sweeping in from the Baltic and the North Sea. It's almost silent apart from the wind buffeting my hood and an odd ragged rook; even the seagulls have decided against scavenging this far inland and upland today.


The dog bounces happily in front of me, occasionally darting off to the side to roll ecstatically in patches of frosted snow; scooting along on her tummy then flipping onto her back and sides, tail wagging furiously. She has everthing she wants in this moment: an unfamiliar route with lots of new smells to explore, the company of her lady-in-waiting, her tug-ball for when she feels the urge to shake something to death. Her joyous enjoyment makes me smile; she could teach us a thing or two about this modern trend of mindfulness.


My idea of a pleasant walk is more along the lines of an amble beside a bubbling brook, a stroll through dappled woodland or a sand-between-the-toes saunter on a beach. Something with a mild incline, a long gentle decline; ideally with an artisan-roasted-decaf-coffee-cafe somewhere along the way. It's not this relentless pushing forward against an invisible, gap-in-clothes-seeking, breath-stealing force. Definitely not all uphill with no clear idea or sight of when the uphill might relent. Surely I can't keep ascending forever? Can I? ...


And yet I find that I'm enjoying myself. The blood starts pumping to my extremities; there's brief discomfort as it trickles back into my fingertips and then, a miracle, I'm warm. I focus on the rough ground under my feet, notice the faint whiff of manure from the fields away to the right; straight back to childhood and herding cattle with my father. The dog's enthusiasm is infectious.


I stop where a stone wall blocks forward progress; the steps in the stile dip in the middle where generations of hill farmers and walkers have passed from one valley to another. I turn around for the first time and see the ribbed sails of the Queensferry Crossing and beyond that the white-tipped hills in Stirlingshire and Fife, the outskirts of the city away to the right. I hadn't realised I'd climbed so far or that the view would be so wide.


I don't really know where I am and the destination is beautiful. I started out with a vague idea of the direction I would take, set my face to the wind and took a step. The path wasn't always clear; in parts it was quite treachorous and there were plently of dog and human-sized obstacles along the way. And after a short while I forgot that I was uncomfortable and started to take pleasure in just moving forward bit by bit.


The dog butts my leg impatiently; she's not one to pause for reflection. We negotiate the stile and set off once more. I don't know where we'll end up and I'm content in the not knowing; we're moving and we're having fun (and my fingers are warming up again).




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