Thursday, July 17, 2008

starry starry night

I remember years ago climbing in Glencoe (Gleann Comhann in the celtic tongue), being happy to be alone with the sparkling granite and soft dew lapped moss. At night, weather permitting, to lie outside the tiny tent under star speckled skies so clear that the milky way shone and sparkled, a moonlit brook coursing across the firmament. A million miles it seemed, from the smoke and smells of the city and constant ambient light that obscures so much more than it illuminates.

Later in the year, in the autumn months to glimpse with awe the southern veil of the aurora borealis, swift tendrils of smoke high in the atmosphere as if lit faintly from within, fleeting across the sky, constantly changing, wisps that glow into life then fade to nothing in the blink of an eye.

And although I’m not a morning person, the mornings were the best. My dispute with morning is the sudden rush of information, the tv, the radio, the letters (bills), the drudge of pre work routine, but mostly the people and their bland cheerful or surly, aggressive stupid faces. Alone in this tiny tent the information stream is slowed to snail’s pace, a manageable trickle where half in, half out of sleep many questions may be answered before emerging fully into the world; where am I, does it hurt anywhere, what’s that taste in my mouth, is it raining....

Then luke warm tea and a damp fried egg roll all cooked on the smallest gas stove imaginable, sometimes in the sunshine but more often sheltering from the rain or sleet and occasionally snow in the lea of the zippered tent door. Sometimes in the sunlight, sometimes pre dawn, always when your bladder yells at you that it is time to start the day.

Once, on a crispy cold morning at sunrise through a yard tall thick mist that rolled down the steep mountain face, around my tented island to a sea of grey in the valley below, to glimpse reflected in the azure blue above - another mountain - reversed, hanging like a giant stalactite, peak down from the roof of heaven. It’s one thing to understand the science (a layer formed between warm and cold air rather than a gradual transition between the two forms a mirror reflecting objects beyond the horizon), but still it’s difficult not to think in terms of one of God’s chandeliers.

The tent is a little larger now, but not much, I have to carry it after all, and there’s more to carry with the boy’s stuff too. At night we start apart, but pretty soon there’s a wet nose draped across my neck and invariably we wake up in a tangle. There’s no climbing now, we are better (as a team) at rolling hills than sharp inclines. It’s more complicated, still fun, but in a different way.

We go away as often as we may, I’m still a man of leisure you see, and it’s beginning to get on my tits.