The Ground Beneath Our Feet
Mud. Squelchy, slippy, gritty black mud. It covers the road surface, dragged over by the heavy lifting equipment used by forestry workers to harvest the swift-growing, tightly-packed pines. Tracks of vehicles, bicycles and hiking boots are impressed into the malleable muck. We pick our way gingerly through, trying to avoid the worst of it and walking through it anyway. The soles of our boots caked with it.
Striding uphill and off the path, the mud has given way to lush green grass and a luxuriant selection of mosses. Steep inclines forces us to walk with our feet turned sideways. Helping hands and friendly shoves keep us all moving in the right direction: upward. The sun beats down through the dewdrenched canopy warming the undergrowth until the atmosphere turns heavy and humid. Breath becomes laboured, sweat begins to pool in the small of the back and the lactic acid builds up in the muscles.
Heading down now, and our feet walk a different surface once again. This time, last year’s bracken. Rust red and brittle, it crunches, disintegrates, crackles beneath the weight of our tread. Beneath the bone dry leaf matter, however, rest the logs of previous forestry exploits. Wet, slippery and rotten, they lie in wait for the oblivious walker to place their weight upon them, expecting the solid ground but finding nothing. We all fall over at some point on the way down.
The ground evens out. The body and mind unite in the relief of some flat surface. The moss feels spongy and soft, springy underfoot. Great hummocks of grass and heather lie strewn across the landscape, and pretty soon we’re hopping from one to another trying to avoid the bog that the moss has given way to. Everyone stands in awe and fascination as a small brown frog, no bigger than an inch, is spotted jumping nimbly across the boggy earth. We continue our leaping, inelegant and ungainly, from hummock to hummock.
Back to forest road, except this time it is surfaced with blue slate shingle quarried from the local hillsides. Smooth and unstable, it shifts beneath our soles. The deep bluegrey of its grain magnifies the blue of the sky and the loch, melding water, air and stone into one. It glints in the light of the sunbeams that have penetrated those thick pine branches which exude the sharpsweet sap fragrance that delights our noses and reminds of Christmas. The clatter of slate against slate accompanies us back to the bemudded road that leads back to the car park.
The terrain we traverse is the challenge: the sights we see, the reward.
What challenges have you recently engaged in and what has been your reward?