Where the spirit finds home

Ben Nevis

Walking track on Ben Nevis, Photo by Damien du Toit, Flickr Creative Commons

Sunburn in Scotland

Sunburn was the last thing I expected when I set out to climb Ben Nevis. You can start out in sun and get caught in fog, gale-force winds or pelting rain. Stumble into one of the gullies or off a ridge en route to the summit, and the next stop is the bottom of a sheer cliff. On the other hand, in spite of some steep sections, the trail is mostly a steady switchbacking up relatively gentle slopes.

I started off with only water and a sandwich in my small pack. Instead of sturdy hiking boots, I wore lightweight sneakers. I had no map, warm clothing, hat, gloves, first aid gear or whistle.

I did tell the proprietors of the bed and breakfast where I was staying that I was planning to hike up Ben Nevis. They warned me to watch for runners trying to break the record of less than two hours from Fort William to the top and back. (That’s compared to the 5-7 hours for normal folk.)

The bed and breakfast was less than a mile from the trailhead. My hosts’ directions were good enough I didn’t really need a map. The trail was not only clearly marked but heavily traveled. Though I walked alone, I was soon one of dozens making their way up the side of the mountain.

Reward at the top

At every switchback the views widened. Surrounding hills flattened as the trail climbed above their tops. Then the bucolic, sheep-dotted hills gave way to barren, rocky slope where the trail was hard to make out. Not trying to set a new record, I reached the top in mid-afternoon and spent a long time eating my sandwich, checking out the old observatory, and rotating slowly in all directions. I was reluctant to leave the view over endless ranges of hills and lakes.

By the time I started down, my arms and face were grilled meat. Then I saw a vision I’d missed on the way up: the sparkling waters of Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe. It seemed incongruous, lying in a saddle where the only source for replenishing it was melting snows. I left the track and wandered toward the lake.

The cautious part of me figured I should stay on the path and not wander off alone. But the sunburned part of me was aching for some cooling water.

The latter won. I reached lake’s edge, spent a good ten minutes looking for signs of other hikers, and then stripped to the buff. Cool water never felt so good.

Where the spirit finds home

As I soaked my burning skin, I watched the backs of other hikers recede in the distance. I felt both gloriously alive and completely at peace. Far from anyone I knew, away from any place familiar, I was at home in my own skin. Water, sky and earth embraced me, welcomed me to claim my place in the universe.

Peace can be elusive in our busy lives. Perhaps that’s why this simple event stands out in my mind thirty years after I slipped into the cool welcome of that mountain lake.

My spirit found home, and I learned it is a place I can return to at any time, wherever I may be.

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5 comments for “Where the spirit finds home

  1. July 4, 2011 at 5:06 am

    Today you wrote: “Perhaps that’s why this simple event stands out in my mind.”
    Today I wrote: “And now I wonder, why do I make distinctions between the sacred and the everyday? There are none.”
    Once again, I have to smile.
    Beautifully done, Cathryn.

  2. July 5, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    The spirit is so often replenished and nourished when exposed to the solace of nature. This is where I find the most peace…in the mountains, near the ocean, walking in the woods. Of course, the opposite is true as well. If the mind is left to wander and incessantly repeat focusing on old wounds, the beauty of the moment will be lost.
    Enjoy your posts.

  3. July 5, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    I feel grateful to be at a place in my life where old wounds are curious scars, with stories attached, instead of gaping holes. So I can find peace walking to the grocery store these days.

    I just read the Mary Oliver poem on your blog. Her poetry opens my soul.

  4. July 9, 2011 at 9:37 am

    A wonderful post Cathryn. And, one that resonates with me.

    Not only did I “find my shoes” and the travel bug, but also my spirit’s home while travelling solo in Germany and Scotland. I had lost that “home” somewhere between Haidai Gwaii and Germany, so am very glad to have found it again!

    It seems that often, one does find their “home” when away from home.

    Thanks again for the post.

  5. July 10, 2011 at 10:07 am

    Sometimes when we’re in our physical home we feel unrooted, and a journey outside our comfort zone puts us back in touch with the home we carry inside.

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