The sad passing of my Grandfather (Papa) earlier this year, as the passing of loved ones often does, prompted a lot of thought and re-evaluation. As well as the obvious personal loss, it really put to the forefront of my mind, a lifestyle, which is sadly being slowly lost in the 21st century. We often think of our lives being made easier with the development of technology and communication, and in many ways, it has. But as I think of my Papa’s upbringing, in Scotland’s last wilderness of Knoydart, I can’t help feel that there are aspects of that lifestyle that are slipping away, when they really do not have to.
We live in a world now, dominated by technology and responsibilities. We connect to the world through these technologies, but don’t get to see it due to these responsibilities. We are more educated than ever before, but how many of us get to experience a lot beyond our own neighbourhood? Yes we will go on holiday maybe once or twice a year, but due to the stress of modern life, the sole aim a lot of the time, is to find somewhere, where we limit physical and mental brain activity, in order to recover from our daily lives.
We now live in a world, where multi million pound technologies are being developed in order to get children, and adults, active. The recent Pokémon Go craze is a case in point. Now, while it certainly gets people out and about, how many of them are REALLY appreciating what is around about them? They are staring at their phones, while, you can be sure, checking their social media and talking to some friend 500 miles away, rather than who is right beside him.
I was very fortunate with my upbringing in the North West Highlands, a safe adventure playground, where we would be put out after breakfast, and parents wouldn’t see us until we got hungry again, as we explored the world around us. My Papa, brought up in even more remote surroundings, would run up Munros, just for something to do. This is something, those living in cities, have slowly lost touch with, the simple things in life, such as being out in nature (not necessarily RUNNING up Munros).
We are lucky, in Scotland that we are not far away from the mountains, wherever we are. Here in Glasgow, it is an hour drive or train journey, yet how many of us actually get out and explore? How many people in Glasgow can name you a small town between Glasgow and Fort William? How many have heard of Fort William?!
I look at my days in the hills, as a day away from the grind. I literally look in my rear-view mirror, as I leave the city, and say good bye to the stresses for a few hours. You can almost feel yourself becoming alive again, living the day for YOU, and no one else.
The journey itself to the mountains can be such an experience. You can plot out areas you wish to explore in the future, remember past experiences in particular spots, or just admire the beauty of an area. I always think of how long it takes me to experience such places, for example, 20 minutes ago, I was stuck on a motorway, now I am passing an iconic loch, looking North to the mountains, and worries just drift away.
Upon arrival at the start of the climb, you have the excitement of planning your route. Where are you going to go? What are you going to see? What parts are you most looking forward to? Maybe the most important, though, and maybe most apt to life, is what dangers/challenges are you going to encounter, and how are you going to overcome them. I look up to the mountain, towering majestically above me, almost like a giant laying down a challenge, and think, “Let’s be having you!”
The music of the mountains starts to be heard. The famous line, “The hills are alive with the sound of music” isn’t just a catchy line from a film, it really is true. From the sound of your feet hitting the crispy frozen grass in winter, to the buzzing of the bees in the bushes in summer; the rivers cascading down the mountain, to the whistling of the wind through the trees, you can immerse yourself in your surroundings, and let everything else fade away.
In life, you can follow the path most traveled, or you can create your own path, and this analogy really comes to life in the hills. Yes, the safest path is the well-trodden one you see in front of you, and yes, for the most part, you will follow this path, but every so often, you want to experience something different. In these situations, as in life, you plot the best way to explore this new avenue, and if appropriate care is taken, you will experience something less people haven’t, and feel the satisfaction that brings.
On your alternative path, you may come across a barrier or two, both mental and physical, how do you overcome this? How do you feel once you have achieved it? There is always a way around a situation, it might be more difficult, but never admit defeat, even if it means retracing your steps.
Life coaches, psychologists etc. the world over, will metaphorically blab on about life being about the journey, and not the destination. On the mountain, this takes a literal form. A day in the mountain can last between 5 to 12 hours, with a grand total, of 30 minutes (sometimes even just 1 minute depending on conditions) spent on the summit. Now, if we solely focus on the final destination, think how much we would miss out on. On any given climb, you are passing waterfalls, burns, wildlife plant life, rare birds, challenging scrambles, and of course, and ever changing view every time you turn around 180 degrees. Imagine missing on all that, just focusing on that 30 minutes you will experience, or in some cases not, eventually.
There are times, however, where the journey will get tough. You will hit the mental and physical walls, you will question why you are on this particular path, you will think back to what made you decide to start. It is at that point, you remember! You remember the reason you are here, and you remember that goal you are aiming for. With that target in mind, you take one last look around from the spot you are, brush yourself down, and get on with it.
Once at the top, take a look at what you have achieved. Look at where you have come from, and all the obstacles you have overcome to achieve this feeling of satisfaction! That river you had to wade through to help reach this goal seems pretty insignificant now, as do the rest of your worries. You look down at the sheer size of the world, and think; all your worries are a spec on the radar. Here, in this spot, in this landscape, you are FREE, nothing can touch you. You will access your achievements of the day, and decide, whether you have achieved your ultimate goal, or if you are going to now use this experience to being another challenge? The choice is yours.
As you come off the mountain you have so triumphantly conquered, and begin the journey back to the rat race of life, you know you will never truly be trapped again. You can put things into perspective, knowing that there is a magical world of mountains and nature on your doorstep, where “The Man” cannot get to you. You rest in the knowledge that you have improved yourself both mentally and physically, and achieved some of the “life coaching goals” you may have read in a book.
We need to keep the hills alive, as they were when my Papa was young, and who knows, it might even help keep US alive just that little bit longer, and learn a little more about ourselves.
GO CLIMB A MOUNTAIN!