Another crack of thunder. This one loud enough that the windows rattle. I can hear rain hammering on the roof, pouring from the gutter into the rain butt which tomorrow I’ll use to wash. From the warmth of my sleeping bag I remember seeing when we arrived that the cabin was supported at each corner by a seemingly random pile of stones, and I wonder what it would take for the structure to slip. Outside the wind is howling through the endless sea of pine trees as if gripped by an otherworldly fury. I see the lightning flash through my closed eyelids and count the space between light and sound as I did when I was a child. After a little while, consoled by the knowledge that there is nothing concrete I can do to improve the situation, I drift into a fitful and wary dreamscape, populated by snow bears, thunder, and Marie Kondo.
It is the night of Saturday 31st of August 2019 and I’m lying on the floor of a log cabin at the summit of a forested hill, somewhere on the north west coast of Sweden.
*record scratch* I bet you’re wondering how I got here. (And also why I was dreaming of Marie Kondo.)
Well, around 3 months ago lover casually dropped into a conversation that we should do the Hoga Kusten way (literally: The High Coast Trail). A 128km hike through World Heritage Site Swedish wilderness. I said sure, then went back to my work.
Cut to: a Monday morning (just over 2 weeks ago) when I found myself waking at 1:45 in the AM to: drive, then fly, then train, then train again the 2000 or so miles to the trail’s beginning.
Each day we walked. And as we walked we shed the detritus of city life, piece by piece. The weather had been unseasonably hot, which meant that (for the first week at least) streams were dry and many of the wells marked on our maps were nothing but dusty holes. Our packs were heavy because we took food and supplies for the whole trip, not knowing when we could resupply. Our days became simpler, mostly revolving around the logistics of finding potable water.
Each night we slept in a different wilderness cabin. Log structures, with some kind of place to sleep, a simple table and chair, and a woodburning stove (stocked with wood, saw, and axes.) Each morning I’d make coffee and we’d go about our routines before packing up and heading out. The internet was not a factor. Life was simple. Life was good.
I kept a small red notebook with me and wrote in it every night. I’d record the events of the day and any thoughts that had occurred to. To say I learned things from the trip would not be fully accurate. Rather: I remembered some important truths that had become buried by the wilful harness of my day to day working life:
1 – I remembered how important space is.
There’s a reason Bill Gates routinely spends blocks of time (usually a week at least twice a year) unplugged in a secret cabin in the pacific northwest, with only his own mind and a stack of reading for company. There’s a reason Carl Jung built a stone tower without running water and retreated to it several times a year. There’s a reason that those who know say:
‘Poetry is born in silence.’
Balance in all things, but especially between tension and relaxation, between profusion and space. For space is the ground in which all good things grow.
2 – I remembered how kind people are.
I don’t think people are less kind in cities, I think the animal simply shuts down to some degree as a defence mechanism responding to the unprecedented amount of people and information it’s forced to deal with.
I’ve found that, as a rule of thumb, when you travel to less populated places people are more inclined to connect. It happens in the Highlands and it happened on our walk.
Almost every single person we met, young and old, offered us something. An old lady literally ran out of her house to give us apples from her tree. A man with a black labrador stopped to offer us water. A kindly fellow in one of the 2 shops we found offered us his cabin for the, night free of charge, because it was about to rain.
People are fundamentally good. They’re sometimes just overwhelmed, which happens more often in crowded places.
3 – I remembered no pain is forever.
A little over 2 years ago I wrote about trashing my leg to the point that I couldn’t walk on it. I’d almost forgotten that, but was reminded of it as we finished the trail. Recovery from anything isn’t a straight line and there were dark times for me along the path but (at least in this case) the work I stubbornly forced on my meat vehicle paid off, and I found myself doing something that had, at points, seemed very far away.
Nothing lasts forever and change is the only constant. Put forth your best efforts to improve that which you are able to, and (at the same time) work on accepting That Which Is with equanimity (just like the prayer). Things can get better. And they do. Hope is real.
I’m back in Edinburgh now, writing this from my studio. Yesterday I recorded new music. The next thing is taking shape. Wait with me and I promise it will be worth it.
*Oh. The Bear thing. OK. Before we touched down lover told me that there were maybe some bears on the route and that you should clap and talk loudly as you went to let them know you were around. Which I poo-pooed. Then, halfway through the trip, I was researching where to find water and the very first thing each site said was watch out for the bears. And clap also. (So much for my hubris.) So the last (half) thing I learned was: listen to your lover (and also clap like Marie Kondo to wake up the forest).
In the end we didn’t see a bear. But we did hear a really big moose.
**In case you’ve been wondering about the photo at the head of this post: There are some architectural experiments on the trail. This one is called ‘The Cube’ and, on 30th August 2019, was where we slept.
I took some incredible photographs on this trip. If you’re interested, I’ll be posting more of them on my Instagram.
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