HEADING FOR THE HILLS
these starbursts of hues, ... are typical of so much of what I once abjectly failed to notice
I am an animal.
The shiver between the shoulder blades crawls up my neck. The pound of my heart echoes in my ears and resonates down to my fingertips as I stop to haul in air. The going is getting tricky, and the zigzag climb up through the tangle of leaf and branch of the vast escarpment disorientates me.
I grip the willowy stem of a bush of yellow-tipped broom, turn and dig my heels into the slope of leaf loam, wedging my bum onto a lip of rock. Acorns tumble away. It always appears steeper looking down.
The damp red sandstone, mottled with the firework lichens of cream green and ochre, stains my hands. I absorb the detail. Lichens garland the necks and limbs of the oaks. They cloak dead branches, pattern every rock. Lichens colour and fill our world, yet these starbursts of hues, one of the greatest symbiotic successes on the planet, are typical of so much of what I once abjectly failed to notice. They are such a huge part of the palette of life. They cover up to 8 per cent of all open air surfaces above sea level. Look at the pavement to your door, the guttering, the gate, trees in the park. These are not plants, but the land corals of the woods, forests and our man-made world, and they are survivors. A map lichen – there are thousands of species – found in the Arctic has been aged at 8,600 years, by far the oldest living organisms on the planet.
To my back, above the rock, is a cushion of emerald moss with flourishes of tiny ferns, both relishing the dampness of the north face shadows. They too are everywhere, like the mosaic of decay and rebirth - the complex nutrient cycle with fungi at the heart of it, fundamental to the ecosystem and regeneration. Genius.
Veering off the narrow path to aim for a cave higher up the face of the escarpment, a sliver of blackness I can no longer see, may have been a mistake. I look around and glance back down into the shadows and tangle. I am in deep and the forest and rock breathe with the cold silence of a tomb. The quest remains. Are there more Neolithic artworks and hand tools? How deep can I go? Not today. The light is fading.
It is sublime. Yet it is still merely another toe dip. The umbilical cord, the wiggly, narrow path back to shelter and love of home, and the cogs, egos and obsessions of a global society on overload, may be out of sight but I know it is there, somewhere below me. Heading out as I love to do, I am forever reminding myself I need to learn to live, with myself, in the moment, to find my balance, and some sort of peace, not least for the benefit of those I love and value so much.
It is unthinkable to not delve deep into the mysteries of this Catalan valley that is home, the serra I stare at every day. Another book is germinating. This little known wilderness holds so many secrets and astonishments.
Moreover, I find perspective, patience and that balance, to counter the white light glare of gross obsessions and to calmly appreciate all the more the candle warmth of loving relationships, what is tangible and of the greatest bearing on the trail of a fulfilling, peaceful life.
If that is Taoism, then I am in. I will follow the path. Slowly. I don’t want to miss anything. And, yes, Maggie, my love, I will be careful.