I will have a lifelong love affair with the writing of Laurie Lee. His descriptions are both poignant and seductive, and bound by a sensuality which is both beautiful and unsettling. Reading him is at once blissfully comforting and yet harrowing, as real life is. I am also deeply enamoured by a poem of Derek Walcot, and I thought about this poem today. When I try to write I often think of both writers, and desperately try to draw upon their wisdom. Their way of interpreting being alive, and fully present in the world. I am particularly moved by them when reflecting on the past, and on past journeys and experiences, both mental and physical. So it was that recently I heard Walcot in my head, instructing me to ‘Sit. Feast on [my] life’, and Lee, encouraging me to describe myself at an age ‘which feels neither strain nor friction, when the body burns magic fuels’. All of this crystalized today, when I was boarding a train and suddenly felt myself transported within my mind to one Summer’s day .
I was 21, and free from any serious or mundane responsibilities. Beholden to nobody, my only deadline was a return air ticket, dated a month from the [then] present day. At that point, adventures began with a train journey, and a backpack slung from my shoulders. I was off hiking, around Mont Blanc with a kindred spirit. I have neither the right or the intention to speak for my fellow hiker, indeed I have no idea whether they will ever read these words, and so I shall write and speak purely for myself. Indulgent, but honest. As I write, I understand why I was so drawn to these two writers, at the beginning of a journey. They both represent a taking stock of life, and a halcyon reflection of time spent. Spent in the past, when younger and more uninhibited, unbound and carefree.
Twelve years after the aforementioned hike, I reflect that I could not possibly undertake such a trek today. An eleven day, 170km hike up and down Alpine hills and valleys, with a mass of camping equipment on my back. I had no mobile phone or computer, or any other device for communicating, save an emergency whistle. It was a huge undertakimng that took me through three countries, a terrifying thunderstorm, a landslide and horizontal rain. I adored every step, and the freedom that it gave me. One moment is keenly vivid. I was moments before sleep in a mountain barn, with sunset rays cast across the room. The hike was nearly half over, but with days and days to go. I remember revelling in the fact that apart from my fellow traveller, nobody knew where I was. Despite poring over maps all day long, I was not traceable. There was no dot on the map to signify me. It felt wonderful.
I am now older, more experienced and perhaps a little wiser. I sleep lightly, and my mind is filled with thoughts of tomorrow, tasks to be done and things to be tackled. I welcome all of this, and am thankful for what I have. Stepping on to the train today though, with the sound of the engine in my ears, I could not help but recall the utter joy of being able to disappear off the map for two weeks. Being invisible. Taking in beautiful scenes by day, and replenishing by night, even though sleeping on hard ground. As Lee so eloquently put it, even sleep is a sensual experience when young and adventuring. Even ‘exhaustion, when it came, had a voluptuous quality, and sleep was caressive and deep, like oil’. I remember it well.
© Tom Tide 2016