Here is an invitation: come with me on a journey into the Cairngorms.
Perhaps, like me, you live here; perhaps, like I once was, you are a visitor. In some senses they are the same. Next to the deep time of the mountains, our sojourns here, whether a lifetime or a holiday, are but a flicker. And yet, however brief – and even if we have never come – we make our mark.
These ranges and valleys, with their forests, rivers, moors and marshes, may be ancient, but they are not invincible. They live. And the collective effect of all of us who have shared their life for thousands of years has shaped and changed them, just as they change us. They and we live together.
And we belong here. In the same way as the capercaillie and the stag, the mountain willow and the scots pine, people belong in this place. Why not? People are not aliens or machines imported to this planet from elsewhere, and nor do I believe the world would be a better place without us. People are of the earth; as much a part of nature as the rocks and trees and creatures.
But too often we have forgotten it. Too often we live on it rather than within it, not noticing how much the damage to the earth is damage to us, or how much the thriving of the earth is our own thriving.
So I am learning to take notice; to find and feel my belonging to the natural world around and its belonging to me. That is the journey of a lifetime, but 2019 is unique as I am privileged to be Writer-in-Residence for the Cairngorms National Park. I am already a writer (since childhood) and already a resident (since 2006) so what does this role mean? It means time alongside other folk sharing our experiences of this special place together, whether in workshops, story-telling sessions or reading each other’s work. It also means time for me to write with a particular focus on our life here alongside nature.
I don’t know yet what I will write or what form it will take. My plan is not to have a plan, but to explore the territory, both physically and creatively. That feels at once exciting and frightening, because I don’t know where it will lead or what I will have to show for myself by the end. But it also feels right. This year is a kind of pilgrimage; it has a goal but no fixed destination. It is a journey into the living landscape and a pledge to listen to it; a traveling in stillness as well as motion; a commitment to presence. As Nan Shepherd wrote in the first page of The Living Mountain, her iconic hymn to the Cairngorms, “it is to know its essential nature that I am seeking here.”
And so I invite you on this journey of seeking. You can join in the workshops and your own writing by following the news at Cairngorms National Park; and you can follow my pilgrimage through this blog on my website. However you live in and love this place, I hope you will share your story.