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.

Trossach Mountains

The Blue Lochan

Loch Drunkie

Loch Drunkie From Lookout

Scenic Scotland

What challenges have you recently engaged in and what has been your reward?


May 5, 2008. Environment, Photography.


  1. Karen Swim replied:

    Amy, what a vivid description of the Scottish countryside. I felt your journey in my own legs as I read the post. My last challenge was losing my nephew and pushing through the grief one day at a time. My reward has been a renewed celebration of friends and loved ones and gratitude for the moment that I have right now. I greet May with clarity, purpose and a renewed passion.

  2. Mandy replied:

    What beautiful sites! Thanks for sharing you hike. My latest challenge was finishing my first year at college. It was hard because I began having many difficulties with my allergies and that lead to many missed classes. I just finished last week proud to have struggled thru the hard times. My reward was realizing more about myself,my abilities,and how grateful I am for my friends that help lift me up from sadness.

  3. On a Limb with Claudia replied:

    This is very lovely, Amy. You write beautifully – and take us along with you on your journey. Of course, the writing is only second to these amazing pictures.

    Erm.. my challenges are all bee related this time of year. Rewards? Hopefully some honey come September – we’ll see if we make it there.

  4. Darren Daz Cox replied:

    I struggled with my printer and finally made a nice little brochure instead of a typical letter for my grandmother that was challenge and a reward of satisfaction!

    I really want to take a walk over there now!

  5. Rosa Say replied:

    Amy, your writing is so richly descriptive; in reading this I felt so in step with you and your β€˜ohana, as much as if your boots were laced tightly on my own feet. You know how much I love your photographs Amy, yet this time I must say that even sensing they were coming, I was so pleased you left the photos for the end. Perhaps it is because of the emails we have exchanged recently; this time I reveled within the words and writing, with the photos a desert for a meal which had already left me completely sated and nourished – so much so that I cannot even answer your question about a recent challenge!

    Mahalo for sharing your sense of place Amy. I fall more deeply enamoured of your Scotland each time you describe her for us.

  6. David replied:

    Amy, your writing is beautiful.

    My challenge lately has been finding a passion. Searching for a job next year (yes, I’m entering the real world…) it’s always easy to see how different jobs aren’t exactly what I’m passionate about.

    And then slowly, as I think about it, I see my passions in each of the jobs. The job working with students – a passion for study; the job working the the homeless – a passion for justice and the disadvantaged; the job educating others about organic gardening – a passion for soil, for earthiness and groundedness at the roots of human life.

    And then, as the passion builds for each job, so does the desire, and the nerves, and the fear. One interview is gone already – you spend an evening in agony when you haven’t got it. For the others, I can but hope.

  7. Teacher Girl replied:


    Your lovely blog makes me pine for Scotland, a country I have not yet seen. My last name is McDiarmid and my father’s family moved to Canada from Scotland seven generations ago. When Canadian friends ask where we are “from”, my family still says Scotland. Imagine that!

    A recent challenge has been taking on the role of AP (Advanced Placement) Coordinator at my high school. Both of the people who were familiar with the AP program have moved on to new schools so there’s just me… learning by doing. (That’s the motto of the 4-H Club in Canada… “Learn to do by doing.”) It’s been a bit stressful and, as carefully as I have read the manuals, there have been obstacles large and small. But I just finished proctoring my third exam today and I feel GOOD! I keep learning and making notes for ways that I can improve for next year.

    Thanks for the walk in the Scottish countryside. After a stressful day, I needed that!

  8. amypalko replied:

    Karen, I was so sorry to hear of your nephew’s passing. That was such sad news, and indeed is an example of one of the most difficult challenges we can face in life. It is a reflection of the wonderfully positive person that you are, that you have been able to experience your grief and your sorrow for what is lost, and to then turn your gaze forward by celebrating life and the loved ones that surround you. For they are the reward we should all be more conscious of.

    Getting through a degree, Mandy, is one challenge I am very familiar with! Fortunately the reward of completion, and the pride that comes from that completion, is also familiar. Congratulations on your graduation, Mandy. I hope you enjoy your celebrations πŸ™‚

    Mmm, honey! Enjoy some on thick-sliced fresh bread for me, Claudia πŸ™‚

    Printers are the bane of many people’s lives, Daz! I remember in my undergraduate degree a time when my essay was due in the following day, and I had run out of black ink. It was a colour printer though, so after about 2 hours of begging and pleading with it, I finally managed to get it to print my essay out in a lovely dark blue. The reward came when I got the grade I wanted a fortnight later! Hope your grandmother enjoyed her brochure πŸ™‚

    Rosa, thank you so much for your wonderfully encouraging words. I really cannot express how much they mean to me, so I’ll simply say thank you, once again.

    Ah, yes, David, the ‘real world’! I believe I’ve heard tell of that world, although I’ve yet to enter it myself πŸ˜‰ However, with your focus and your clear sense of your own values I’m sure you will do just fine. Best of luck in the job search, David. I know that your rewards are waiting for you just around the bend.

    Us Scots really do get everywhere, Teacher Girl! Learning to do by doing is a great motto, although undeniably rather challenging. I’m glad that you’ve discovered yourself more than capable, however, and by the time next year comes around, I’m sure you’ll have it all down pat.

  9. spatially relevant » Blog Archive » May 13th - Relevant Links replied:

    […] The Ground Beneath Our Feet […]

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