Nowadays we spend so little time outside in the environment. It’s all too easy to pass precious family time in the shaded indoors, shouting at the children to watch less TV and to clear up mounds of plastic crap that until a generation ago didn’t exist. Only in the outdoors, in the absence of such vile intrusions, can time away from the drudgery of work and school be fully appreciated.
Amazing and unexpected sights await those who make the effort to get out and about. Last week was one of astronomical disappointments, with both aurora and eclipse masked by cloud. Yet on Saturday I had the unexpected pleasure of the most pronounced sun dog and solar halo that I have ever noticed (see this post from a few years back which discusses sun dogs and related phenomena). My daughter spotted it as we drove across the Drumashie Moor to the west of Inverness, bound for March’s Monthly Outdoor Sleep.
Back in our evolutionary past the whole of life would have consisted of two or more generations, together in the environment, seeing, learning, doing. Nowadays each generation goes its separate ways: to school, to jobs. As soon as I was able to count well enough – I was probably 7 or 8 – I calculated that I spent the greater proportion of my usable time at school. I can still vividly recall the sense of injustice. I had things that I would rather be doing, yet I was obliged to spend my days where someone else wanted me to be, doing things that someone else wanted me to do. That feeling carried over into my working life. When I hear my daughter complaining about having to go to school I feel some guilt that I am shoving her into the same dark tunnel of productivity from which I myself hope one day to break free, out into the bright light of presence and creativity.
I found a good tarp spot on an elevated position just above the loch and lit a fire in a pre-existing fire ring by the water. She said that she didn’t want to go home, she just wanted to stay there. It was wonderful to see her in her element. Much of my own childhood was spent outdoors, roaming free, but for the modern child it is a rare treat to be able to wander freely, to put wood on fires and throw stones in the water. It is gratifying that children prefer nature to electronics, and sad that modern life gives them so much time to interact with the latter and so little with the former.
Our vantage point by the loch accentuated the low relief of the surrounding, ice-planed hills. To the south the gravelly flanks of the Monadh Liath bore sizeable snow patches. The water’s mirror surface passed from silver to grey as the sun’s colours receded. A chill descended, so I wrapped her in her sleeping bag and read a fairy story while I boiled water for my tea. We retired beneath the tarp early. I drank my tea as I read her another chapter, then told her stories of when she was young. It was a lovely intimate evening of the type that is impossible in the surroundings of house. We fell asleep early. l awoke later, thinking that it was the middle of the night. It was only 10 0’clock.
A breeze got up, carrying light rain showers. The loch lapped noisily on the shore beneath the camp. I slept fitfully. A faint orange glow on the far side of the loch marked the location of Inverness. Leafless birch were silhouetted behind. I was impressed that the tarp gave a feeling of being in the landscape, without the disconcerting sense of exposure that results from just dossing out without any shelter. Morning was overcast and breezy, I dropped one side of the tarp to block the wind and made porridge for breakfast. Once again she said that she didn’t want to leave, but the promise of a birthday party in the afternoon was enough to convince her that we should pack up and walk round the shore, back to the car.