heartening

I’ve been corrupted.

Yesterday I walked up a hill, as I often do, following a burbling burn with pretty pools and falls, and up onto a rounded top covered in boulders of shattered blue-grey quartzite. Behind me the western mountains rose from the sea like petrified waves and ahead of me eastern Sutherland spread out in all its low and dappled brown glory. Everything was gleaming in the clear summer sun – the rocks, the lochs, the distant sea – but all I could see were good builders (large and squareish with clean faces), fine pins (long and slender) and some excellent (tapered and triangular) wedges.

The summit itself was covered in hefty slabs, perfect for making cheek-ends, and previous hillwalkers had used some of them to make a bench, a sound construction, far better built than the low stone wall around the trig point which looked distinctly shoogly. I secured one end of the wall with a handy wedge, sat on it and ate my lunch, then slept heavily for a while on the stone bench in the sun.

“Have you started dreaming of stones yet?,” the waller who is training me asked recently. I had. And now even my waking thoughts are stone-shaped: sometimes rough, sometimes smooth but substantial and with a satisfying heft. Even the little thoughts have their uses, like the hearting in a wall, supporting and securing those of larger dimensions. Nothing is wasted.

I think about this as the mountain carries me along, this heightened attunement to rock. It’s not only in my mind but my hands too. I can almost feel the stones that I think about: their grain and texture, their corners and edges, their linear or complex forms (the even grain of Torridonian sandstone, the sheer faces of Cambrian quartzite, the lumpy curves of Lewissian gneiss).

I’m being changed by them, and it’s disorientating, as change often is. But as I recover from the fragility of a brain injury, I sense that working with stone is good for me, that it’s therapeutic in some way. In lifting the stones, handling the stones, placing the stones, I’m being consolidated. I’m being built up. I’m being heartened.

long slender pale stone embedded in dry grass pointing towards distant blue lochs and hills

Ben Hee, Sutherland, Scotland
4th June 2023

from the north, clockwise

Foinaven
    Arkle
  Ben Stack
     An Lèan-Chàrn

               Quinag
                    Glas Bheinn

            Canisp

        Suilven

               Cùl Mòr

           Cùl Beag

     Stac Pollaidh
Ben Mor Coigach

A litany of beauty
A snow-struck ring of grace

Cnoc na h-Iolaire, behind Lochinver, Sutherland, Scotland
10th April 2021

Villingardalsfjall

After that moment of pure terror on the mountainside – when I clung to the sliding scree in desperation, the fjord deep and blue below me – I’ve finally reached the summit and sit at its northern precipice, looking down. Fog blows up at me in cold gusts. It’s hardly a surprise: the whole summit has been crawling in cloud since I arrived but, unlike the dull clamminess I’ve come through, this fog is lit from the inside. It seems sourceless, blowing up out of nowhere in swirling puffs and, other than the lumpy rock immediately around me, I can see nothing else. I would have thought I would be disappointed: to have come all this way – by sea, by bus, by painstaking foot and hand – and not be able to see the view from this most northern Faroese peak. Yet I find I am grateful. After that terrifying moment below, to be here now in the presence of this unseen luminance, this blind light…

I become still and let it absorb me. I hear birds cackling, wind in small gusts; I see moss shining quietly when the fog is blown thin for a moment. And it’s such a beautiful fog. It fills my brain, like a dream I can’t wake from – a bright mist, a lucent opacity, a billowing emptiness I don’t ever want to leave.

Villingardalsfjall, Viðoy, Føroyar / Faroe
22nd June 2019