Gray. Gray and smooth, slippery. This was the clay that formed the path leading down the hill. Not even a path, really, just a steep track leading downward with tree roots for steps. The afternoon’s rainstorm had wet the clay, and he slid his way down more than anything, grabbing onto branches to slow his descent.
At the bottom of the hill the clay turned to sand. Black and gray and tan. Not quite as smooth, not nearly as slippery, but still the sand reached up to surround his boots as he passed. Small stones were mixed with the sand, and other treasures washed up by the tide. Shells, feathers and bits of driftwood. What stories they would have to tell!
Beyond the sand of course, was the lake. He knew it was a lake from its picture on a map, but from where he stood it reached to the horizon and beyond. Behind him was a cliff, on two sides a beach stretching off into the distance, and in front only water and sky. The water shone bleakly with the last rays of the setting sun, but beneath the surface it was steely, gray and cold. The water held the same colour as the hill, and it was not hard to visualize the small rivulets of rain water carrying grains of soil down with them on their journey. Beyond the shore a stiff wind blew the waves into white caps, and they came crashing in on the sand with a rhythm that had been continuing for eons.
His boots felt the rush of waves as he walked along the beach, his route planned to interrupt their journey to the shore. Splashes of water lifted up and tickled his face and hands, and the gentle drizzle of rain lulled his thoughts into silence. Out on the water he could see the shadows of birds, gulls, rolling easily with the waves. How they could sit so quietly on the roiling water and not be disturbed was a mystery to him, and yet a sign that they truly belonged. This was their home.
He walked, and as he walked he wondered. Wondered about tomorrow, and yesterday, knowing that only NOW mattered. Tomorrow was a lifetime away, and yet it would be here soon enough. Wondering was worthwhile, sometimes, but not worry. Worry was such a waste of time. He wondered what his friends would think of him, walking purposefully in his boots in the water in the rain in autumn. Wondering, and yet knowing that it did not matter. Enough people had thought him crazy in his life to know that; “To thine own self be true” was far more important. He wondered what they would do, those people, in this situation. Why could they not loosen the bonds of being an “upstanding responsible adult” long enough to see through the eyes of a child once again? Not his problem, but he pondered it as he walked.
Mile upon mile of beach was seen, encountered, and devoured in his passing. A few gifts were given him: two feathers washed in with the waves, an opalescent white shell, a smooth polished stone, a tiny piece of driftwood. Not gold or silver, these treasures, but far more valuable for the memories they would hold. The feeling of that time would be locked within them, and could be shared with others who would appreciate their secrets.
But now the sun had set and the sky was growing dark. Turning into the wind, he began his return. The shirt he had worn was hanging on his belt, and the denim jacket was tied securely around his waist. The wind blew tiny shards of sleet and rain, one last test to overcome. “The cold wind is your brother, don’t treat him as your enemy” and the meaning of those words flashed through his mind again. The sleet and rain tore at his flesh, and he laughed. Not in defiance, for he could easily be swallowed whole by one much larger than himself. Rather he laughed with joy, for being given the experience, the chance to know. “In order to truly appreciate this Earth, you must know her in all of her moods.” More words of wisdom, and the meaning sank home.
Sand turned to clay and the slope began to steepen. The going was much easier now, as if the ground itself was helping him up the hill. Not so difficult to believe, if the ground and the person are one being. The climb ended quickly, and ahead was the bare bulb of the cookhouse, illuminating the night. A transition from one world to another, and the walk was done.
Mike Pedde 29/09/90