Writing down the common miracles
At the start of this year, 2021, I was sitting exactly where I am sitting now- poised at the start of 2022.
On a squishy, tired old blue couch, next to a Christmas tree, its lights valiantly flashing away, keeping the Christmas spirit alive in the strange adrift-between-old-year-and-new-year days when the parties and forced family merriment are temporarily on pause. (Today: I’m waiting for Dan to come back with our dinner supplies, before we have a quiet New Year’s Eve, just the two of us.)
And… I was inside, wishing I was outside… both then and now.
Here’s what is different:
Last year, I hadn’t yet hiked and wild camped the West Highland Way on my own.
Last year, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to have kids or not.
Last year, I hadn’t had a whole range of memorable experiences that I had this year: watched Portrait of a Lady on Fire, got engaged, sat in a waterfall with my girlfriends on Dartmoor laughing on one of the hottest weekends of the year, supported a friend through a mastectomy, made a delicious tomato tart, watched five new species of birds find our new bird-feeder, sprained my ankle (it’s still sprained, which is a key reason I’m not outside right now), talked to my boss about my mental health, told myself sternly when upset about somebody else’s feelings that not everything is about me*, hiked for 10 miles in the pouring rain and got lost in the Somerset countryside, hosted a Christmas party where 50% of the guests cancelled because they had COVID, talked honestly with my sister about our relationship with our mother, wild-camped on the Devon coast in sub-zero weather, stopped drinking red wine from the corner shop (we finally ordered a box of wine that doesn’t taste like floor cleaner!), or had a drink sitting outside a country pub in Yorkshire so sun-drenched and delightful that I kept interrupting my own conversation to remark on the sheer joy of having a drink outside this particular pub on this particular evening.
All of these little moments are so easy to let pass without examination, particularly during this pandemic. Life has become vaguely colourless; the ups are less up, and the downs less down. Our worlds have shrunk. We incessantly make coffee and tea and leave mugs all over the house, stained and cold. Our steps describe the same path every single day.
I realised today, while reviewing my diaries from the West Highland Way, that I was letting all these moments I’d experienced slip away from me, the small ones, and the big ones, and was leaving them to get cold and forgotten among the stained coffee mugs. So instead, I want to write them down.
What do I want to write?
A lot of my posts I anticipate being about walking, exploring the outdoors, including preparation and training for major hikes. I’d like to share some past experiences as well as what I’m planning now. This might include the Snowdonia Way, the WHW, the South West Coast Path, the Skye Trail (planned for September 2022) and other trails accessible to me and which I frequent like the Cotswold Way, Brecons Way or Monarch Way. It might even include my experiences exploring within 5 miles of my home, if we get stuck in lockdown again.
But what makes those journeys most meaningful is knowing what ‘stuff’ I’m walking with (the emotional baggage) and where I’m walking from, so to speak, so I might post about other things in my life as well. I love travel writing, but I hate travel writing which simply describes locations, equipment, what time someone arrived at the station and the food they ate. When I read about a journey, I want to feel something; to hear about the author’s anger, or nostalgia, or joy; to relate to their experience in some way. So I’ll write posts in which someone feels something. Even if it’s just me.
I was inspired by Peter Matthiesson’s “The Snow Leopard”, a beautiful book (which I also read this year!) in which the narrator goes for a wild adventure into nature, sleeping outside and walking many miles a day in the Himalayas, and through this, discovers a sense of humanity and connection. The quote goes:
“Also I love the common miracles — the murmur of my friends at evening, the clay fires of smudgy juniper, the coarse dull food, the hardship and simplicity, the contentment of doing one thing at a time: when I take my blue tin cup into my hand, that is all I do.”
I think it captures perfectly what I want to remember about my journeys and the kind of joy I want to hold on to and write about.
I hope that this post is the first of many.
*Actually, that’s a lie: I do this a lot, but this year was perhaps the first time I believed and accepted it.