Life cycles…

Towards the back end of 2007 a walker went missing in the hills above Colintraive. I wrote about it here, and here.

The area in which she went missing is not particularly dramatic- it is rough hill country, rising to a maximum height of around 300 meters, and heavily forested. The woman concerned was fit, well equipped and very experienced- a former teacher from Perthshire in her early sixties.

Despite extensive searches of the area, she was never found. I have often thought of her as I have driven, walked and canoed around where she was lost.

A couple of weeks, two sea kayakers were exploring Loch Striven, and set up camp in an area I know well- a flat patch of land that is only reachable by boat, and has signs of old habitation- I have canoed there with my family, and explored the remains of the houses. It is a lovely, romantic spot. We took a trip there in 2008-

The two Kayakers ventured a little further into the woods then we did- climbing up a steep gully through the trees.

And by some miracle, they stumbled across an orange survival bag and a rucksack.

More out of curiosity they cut the bag open- and discovered the remains of the missing walker.

I feel strangely satisfied that the walkers body has been found. It feels like a circle completed. Family are able to lay their loved one to rest, and a mystery has been solved. Or at least- partially solved. We will never know why she died, or what combination of circumstances contributed to her death.

The other thing that feels right is the humanity that the community celebrates in relation to this lady. The extensive searches- by police and by her friends in a mountaineering club (searches that must have passed very close to where she actually lay.) These searches were not done with even a flicker of resentment- just concern and care.

Then there was the final discovery- the kayakers, the doctors who examined the remains, the police who stayed with the body all night before it could be recovered, the contact with family…

It sometimes seems that our hold on life is so tenuous- a bit like the settlement in the photographs above, all too soon we are overtaken by time and sucked back into the ground.

But humanity is not just bones and buildings- we also have spirit and soul.

May one soul be climbing still.

The old birch woods above the Kyles…

I have had a lovely day today.

It has been a gorgeous warm spring day, and I took a walk in the hills with Andy. We drove over the Cowal Peninsular to Colintraive- around a 20 minuite trip- and walked up through the farm into some lovely high country- broken craggy tops with little walkways and ridges to climb through. We disturbed only the odd sheep, accompanied always by lambs.

The views out over the Kyles of Bute were great- a little hazy, but full of the movement of yachts taking advantage of a favourable wind to fly through behind brightly coloured spinnakers.

We came down through some birch woods, just coming alive. We were surrounded by the noise of brooks and birds, and walked through a carpet of cowslips.

I have wanted to explore these woods for ages. They look so inviting from the road at any time of the year. In the winter they are almost purple-bare, but around the spring time, they start to wear a bright bright green as the buds come through.

A couple of years ago, a woman who was staying at the Colintraive hotel went for a walk somewhere in these parts. She was never seen again, and not a trace of what happened to her has ever been found, despite extensive searches. It must have been incredibly sad and difficult for those she left behind. She kept coming to mind as we walked. It must be incredibly difficult for the loved ones she left behind, but today, it did not seem to me to be such a bad place to have your last resting place. May she rest in peace.

A few years ago I took a little walk in these parts on my way home from work- and wrote a poem. So here it is!

With all the optimism of the early spring

I turned the car from the road home and looked to the hill

Taking the camera more for motivation I head for the high point over the Kyle.

I feel the old excitement in the smell of wild places

All around I can almost hear the soil coming alive

The whisper of the wind in the larches sounds like blood flowing

Sap rising

And, unconcerned as my unsuitable shoes take on water,

I climb through heather and the old years dry grass

Up through ancient Gneiss outcrops

Still holding the shape of their birth in lava poured out in days so distant

That there seems no point calculating.

My feet cut into slow growing mossbanks

And scatter the stalks of bracken

And in the moment, I fear that I bring a human rhythm,

In this place unwelcome, discordant

Drowning out the stillness

Oil on water

I notice blackened heather stalks swept by fire

Perhaps lit by a smouldering cigarette last summer

And remember that this place is everywhere marked by men

Close cropped by the sheep, the land curves towards

The regimented contour crop of Spruce trees in the valley below

And half hidden, there is the evidence of older dwelling places

Now memories in the soil

Barcodes in bracken and dead nettle

Feeding on the residual richness

Leached from these poor houses

Whose people drained away.

Then perspective shifts again

To the far horizons

Across the sparkling Kyle lies Bute

Then beyond, Arran’s hills rise above Lochranza

Still wearing winter white against the blue sky

I stood and gloried.

Awed by things much bigger than I

By creative forces far beyond my understanding

But by Gods grace

Not beyond my reach

Blessing received, I take photographs recording only human spectral light

Then scramble back to shiny car, and head, too fast, for home

Anxious to see my loved ones

Eager for my own slice of civilisation.