A Walk Among Elementals

“this journey (…) is not to be undertaken lightly. One walks among elementals, and elementals are not governable. There are awakened also in oneself by the contact elementals that are as unpredictable as wind or snow”

Nan Shepherd, The living Mountain

I don’t know what it is, but there’s just something about this place. These red rocks, these shining snows, these coires and carns. It’s not like other mountains I know.

White clouds are blending the tops of the hills when I begin, and an iron sky advances with mantled wings. Far off I see rain and snow clouds gushing into the forest, filling up its spaces. I walk on firm snow in the sun, but half the world and more is hidden from sight. With one hand the air ushers in a curtain, and with the other it shines a light.

The mountain holds that particular beauty today that is winter. A sharp platinum edge in the light, a curling cloud that shrouds and shrouds. Above me on the mountain stair a mountain hare sits and waits. Its dark silhouette beckons me up, but it leaves me nothing but footprints.

A sudden rush of cold, and I know what is going to happen. In the nick of time my hood is up, my gloves in place; then I am engulfed in spindrift. The air turns grey, the sun shrinks away, and the snowlight banishes distance.

I tread and tread and tread this snow, this heather, this stone. Every motion a little further up; a little further in; a little more mountain below. I spill my soul into this place, and it gives it back, but better. To walk here is life. More than this, it is an act of creation.

As I reach my summit the mountain reveals itself. Distance and colour come back to the world, unveiled like new inventions. A tendril of cloud hangs on to the top of the ridge, that it shows an edge, but softly. I find cloud-born feathers of ice, clinging to crystals of granite. Around the cairn I caper, seeking the best way to frame it.

For a while longer I carry on, walking on, chasing the idea of ‘further’. And then the mountain says ‘This far my friend.’ with a cold hand on my chest, but the other kindly across the shoulders. Between houses of rock I take shelter as the snow earnestly returns. Grey light, grey shapes, grey lines, grey snow. The wider world is gone.

‘Place’ is a word that shrinks within the cloud. From Cairngorms to Coire to Ridge to Slope. This Place is only a few metres wide now, bound by intangible snowy walls. I walk to one and it retreats, but advances behind me too. To every side it stays the same, but beneath me it changes and flows.

I tread and tread and tread this snow, turning the world beneath my feet. Making shapes move into and out of this Place, letting up the ground below. Up it goes, up it goes. Until light and shape and distance meet; up it goes, up it goes.

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