I saw the front in a distance. A solid wall of water, just obscuring where Kings House once stood (a view improved, I dare say). It was upon me before I had the tent up, a scramble to get inside, wait it out by candle light.
Half an hour or so and it’s over. A tiny light on Beinn Bheag, a kindred spirit I imagine. But there is no sign of the blood moon (unlikely as it was, the reason I rushed here this evening after work). Though the cloud has cleared somewhat, so there is still a tiny glimmer of hope, some time left.
Alas, it’s not to be. I notice a white cloud oozing from Lairig Gartain, then a rather menacing black one emerges from behind the Buchaille. But the real weather is behind my back. The wind has done a half circle turn and another wall of rain just passed Beinn Fhada and is advancing my way, fast. The torrents hit just as I am unzipping the tent. More time for idle thoughts by the candle light; much to be recommended.
The first lightning takes me by surprise. Sure, it was forecast, but out there just now it did not feel like a stormy sort of a day. One elephant, two elephants, three elephants, four elephants. One elephant, two elephants, ... eight elephants. Good. One elephant, ... three elephants. Less good; glad I didn’t camp any higher up, sparing a thought for the tiny light on Beinn Bheag.
It lasts another half hour. Time to put the boots on again, just in case the moon has appeared; there is still a little time left. But, naturally, there is no moon, just some sheet lightning far to the east. For some reason the road is very busy just now, so I decide to take some cliche long exposure pictures, but the rain returns before I am ready, so back into the tent. More lightning. This is it, out of time, turn in for the night.
When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I see are two unfamiliar blotches. As my eyes manage to focus, I make out two birch seeds stuck to the outside of the inner tent. They must have come on the wind during the night, possibly a long way – I can’t recall any birches around here.
They make me smile. Symbols of new life, of change; of the very possibility of change. But they make me sad at the same time, for, unwittingly, by my being here, their progress came to a sudden halt. Another hard to escape symbolism.
I know, it’s just a couple of birch seeds. But symbolism matters. As every religion ever understood, symbolism makes it possible to participate in what we do not see, in what is not (yet) here. Symbols turn the abstract and theoretical, into personal and tangible; they turn thoughts into surrogate experiences.
Take the plastic straw. It’s been pointed out (unhelpfully) that if you, and I, and everyone else, give up on plastic straws, nothing much will change, for most of that plastic pollution in our seas comes from fishing nets. Perhaps, but that is to miss the point.
The moment I decide ‘no more plastic straws’ is the moment I, personally, start owning the bigger problem, the moment I accept my complicity. The symbolic value of this act is immense, for without such an ownership, both individual and collective, real change cannot happen.
Perhaps that is also the reason we need the lynx back in Scotland.
I will be honest, I have read the NGO materials, the economic forecasts, the description of the methodologies used to derive these. They leave me cold – they do not read like economic forecasts from people rushing to make money out of the lynx. They read like statements from people who believe it is the right thing to do, but the only way to achieve that is to convince the world at large there is money to be made. I, for one, am not sold on this Lynx-the-tourist-attraction, not least because should the economic case fail, the whole project is doomed, and doomed for a long time after.
But the argument that, ecologically, and I think also morally, it’s the right, even necessary, thing to do, seems to me very strong. Lynx as a symbol of change, of accepting that our natural resources cannot be managed purely form the perspective of primitive market economics, that repairing damage done in the past rather than merely maintaining status quo has to be part of modern environmental ethos, that is, I think very potent and could have ramifications beyond the few roe deer that will not need to be culled.
Perhaps. I am neither an ecologist, nor a sheep farmer, but, FWIW, I know a bit about religion and symbolism.
I forgot all about my two seeds until just now, drying the tent in the garden. They are no longer there, just two small stains on the fabric. And now I am not even sure they were there in the first place. Did my eyesight deceive me? It would not be the first time.
It doesn’t matter. Just now there are birch seeds everywhere I look. There are thousands of them in the air, in my hair, they fall behind my shirt, and land in my pockets, my shoes are full of them. And the wind? The wind is picking up again!