My partner and I recently travelled to Scotland where we spent a week walking a 65 mile circular route in the Scottish Borders, a wonderful experience. I loved the pace of walking, understanding that humans have travelled at this speed and in this manner for hundreds of thousands of years before horses were mounted, the wheel was invented and the mechanical age arrived. It felt so RIGHT, as if my body is still tuned in to that speed and rhythm on some primal level. And for the first time since I was a child I slowed down enough to experience my days at this natural pace.
The first day we climbed three prominent and distinctive hills, which we spotted many times off in the distance over the next days. It was amazing to see them on a far horizon and know that we had walked the distance.
Ancient human history is present everywhere in this section of Scotland. Ruins of forts, castles, and abbeys are prevalent, built as early as 1100 AD. I was moved by these ancient efforts, these human creations that gave me a direct doorway to people who lived hundreds of years ago.
This stairway led to the bell high above Melrose Abbey. How many hooded men of god climbed those stairs? And why is it so moving to see this result of their devotion?
As I was pondering these questions I found this Pablo Neruda quote.
“It is good, at certain hours of the day and night, to look closely at the world of objects at rest. Wheels that have crossed long, dusty distances with their mineral and vegetable burdens, sacks from the coal bins, barrels, and baskets, handles and hafts for the carpenter’s tool chest. From them flow the contacts of humans with the earth, like a text for all troubled lyricists. The used surfaces of things, the wear that the hands give to things, the air, tragic at times, pathetic at others, of such things – all lend a curious attractiveness to the reality of the world that should not be underprized. In them one sees the confused impurity of the human condition, the massing of things, the use and disuse of substance, footprints and fingerprints, the abiding presence of the human engulfing all artifacts, inside and out.”
This trip was not my usual “busman’s holiday” focused on learning new ways of approaching clay. But the images and experiences of being in a new part of the world engaging in an ancient activity are with me now informing all that I do.