Saturday, December 18, 2010

Hill-walking with Janko

During our recent family reunion in Shrewsbury and the surrounding Shropshire countryside, I came to the realization that we are a pretty diverse and eclectic bunch. Among our number are a glass artist, a naturopath, a newspaper journalist, three linguists, two kindergarten teachers, two community social workers, a housing consultant, an organic farmer, and a renewable energy specialist.

It was important for me to spend a day out walking with Janko, my nephew and the recent graduate in renewable energy studies in Berlin. We have a common love of wild places, open country, the great outdoors, so it was only natural that we chose a walk up on the high Shropshire hills, with magnificent views in all directions. We set out at the ancient stone circle of Mitchell’s Fold, which sits high in the Shropshire hills, on the long ridge of Stapeley Hill, 1000 feet above sea level and close to the Welsh border. Its exposed position gives fine views of the Stiperstones to the east and the Welsh hills to the west. From this heathland height, we clambered down the steep valley slopes to fenced woodlands. Here we were happy to stir up no end of pheasants and were taken aback by each new sudden ruffling and noisy flight of pairs. We stopped at an old ruin of a homestead tucked into the fold of the valley, a pastoral setting at one time for a sheltered orchard and meadow. On the slopes above grew corn and grain, carved out of the autumnal brown ferns and the green uplands shorn by roaming sheep. As we climbed again past ponds through the soggy soft grasses, light shafts flitted across the distant hills bathing the land in that poetic light so special in British hill country. At the craggy tors atop the ridges, we paused to inhale the clear crisp air and reflect on the splendour of the 360-degree view.

We talked about the endless opportunities for Janko as he sets out exploring possibilities with wind, solar power, super-efficient energy-saving alternative power systems and the places around the world to effect and implement them. Living in Berlin, Janko loves to get away to the woods and lakes of northern Sweden, sharing in food growing, bee-keeping, fishing, living on the land within a local community with a number of friends from several countries. To return to the land after an arduous spell of urban confinement is to let out a primal roar and then open up one’s soul to wonder. I am fortunate enough to be opened up most of the time, living in the hills, working the land, and growing fresh food for Gundi and myself and to take to market. However, I do envy young man Janko as he sets out on a fascinating path that – I have no doubt – will lead to much invention and fulfilment, as he helps to introduce brilliant, simple energy-saving systems that make homes, communities, businesses smarter and more efficient. “Why didn’t I think of that?”, they will all ask about each new innovation. If I had my time over – with more of a pragmatic bent - I would be following Janko’s path, effecting change based on simple, natural methodologies.

Our walk ended at dusk, up on the Long Mynd, with spectacular views to the distant Brecon Beacons, Welsh Hills, and the Malverns. It seemed we looked out on forever, with the bewitching lights twinkling on in the farms, towns and cities all around, and we two blown away by the cold wind, steep drop-offs, and a deep sense of communion.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Autumnal Killarney

The afternoon paddle to our campsite home for the next four nights and days is leisurely as we glide over translucent aqua waters against a backdrop of vibrant October foliage and a deep blue sky.

Arrived and settled in, the late afternoon sees the sun sliding down to the west and an orange glow illuminating the white quarzite mountains rowed up on the north side of Killarney Lake. Dotted with a variety of trees in resplendent autumnal colours, the knobbly ridges become increasingly electrified as purple shadings alternate with ever deeper sun-dappled ochres and burned golds.

We sit perched on our rock-face, overlooking the rippling waters stretched out below, sipping a beer, as dusk descends, and then – oh, wow – the plumpest full moon comes popping up over the dark silhouette of white pines on the eastern horizon. The waters ripple in a frisson of vibration, as a faint breeze whistles through the trees.

The campfire - primed with paper, twigs for kindling, and rafts of scoured dry branches from the lakeside - is ceremoniously lit; sparks drift up through the high pines and fade away into the night air. Our senses blaze with the wonder of being truly out there, wrapped in the welcoming embrace of ancient rock, primal forest, clear lakes, and open skies that reveal worlds, planets, constellations, nebulae beyond our tiny temporal home. For this fleeting moment in time, at this pure place on Earth, we feel centre-stage, truly here now, supremely alive and transfixed by the beauty of it all.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Up on Kinver Edge

Kinver Edge is a spirited ridge overlooking glorious rolling countryside in the middle of England. Below and around are forests, heathlands, farms, fields, villages, and at the foot, the busy little town of Kinver. As one climbs gently towards the ridge top, spectacular distant views open up in all directions. Walkers sniff the fresh air and exhale heartily, in thrall; unleashed dogs release their pent-up energy.

Up there now - as was their expressed wish - co-mingled and fully re-united are my dear Mum & Dad, Mary (Mullins) Finch and Jack Finch. Dad ascended first, around five years ago. And now at rest, my Mum has made it there too, her ashes spread on and around the bushes, saplings, trees, some of which my Dad planted in covert missions several years ago. Their three children, four grand-children, one great grand-daughter, son-in-law, and grandson-in-law together strewed the remains in a tender family ceremony that signalled both the end of Mum & Dad’s happy ramblings on this Earth and also peace of mind and closure for the surviving family.