friday evening as usual

The deck still glistens with water, but at last the sky is clear save for those high, light grey clouds that are no more threatening than birdsong.

The sun has dropped behind the hills and when she stands at the window looking west she sees her reflection and that of the bright kitchen before she sees the garden and the football pitch which marks the border of the town.

Dinner has been eaten and the dishes are clean and she wants nothing more than to be curling up with him, the cats and perhaps a good film, and yet; and yet, the world feels suffused with that quiet sadness that is a Friday night sunset after a long week of rain.

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life is what happens…

…when you’re making other plans.

We’ve all heard that saying, right? And to me, it always suggests a certain negativity, a certain regret. A certain sense that, at the end of our days, we will look back and say, “I always wanted to be this and go there, but instead…”

I don’t know if it is something to regret. Isn’t it wonderful, the way that life brings us so many unexpected opportunities, interests, loves?

Lately I have read a lot of articles and blogs talking about the importance of making every second count, of figuring out what your dreams are and then working tirelessly towards making them reality. And that makes me wonder if I should spend more time planning where my life will go and less time simply letting life happen to me and then I think, well, it has been quite good to me so far.

One of my closest friends has a fantastic job that has seen her travel the world and meet many interesting (and, indeed, famous) people, all because she volunteered one summer at university. Those are the kinds of stories I think I like best. 

I’m curious. How many of the best things in your life were the result of a plan, and how many were simply a twist of fate?

 

Today, instead of taking one of the paths I know, I ran in an unfamiliar direction. By the time I got home, my feet were sodden, and my hair was full of bits of twig, but I did come within a few feet of a deer and a kestrel. No plan, but an encounter with true majesty.

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summer, suddenly

I was waiting for spring, and was taken by surprise by summer. North East Scotland is currently basking in a heatwave of twenty degree weather; last weekend, the city beach was a riot of children and dogs braving the North sea while, on the promenade, new parents pushed prams and lovers held ice cream hands.

The city’s verges are a bobbing force of daffodils, their yellow bonnets waving enthusiastically to all who pass, and the trees are shy brides under their delicate veils of blossom. Today, I put a few dozen seeds into the ground, crossing fingers that they will transform into peas and spinach and courgettes to feed us well into the autumn.

This evening, on my run, I turned onto an unfamiliar footpath which took me on a deserted stretch along the River Dee. The water was liquid gold and the pebble beaches it has forged in its meanders reminded me of those we camped on in the Pacific Northwest. And I reflected that, while beauty is sometimes a little harder to find here than it was in the Alps, it is all the more precious for it.    

The sky was pastel behind the houses on Malcolm Road but when I went to the garden to stretch out the sun’s parting flames were like the fires of Mordor behind the hills to the west.

And the afterglow it has left is both beautiful and apocalyptic.

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another evening run

Along the old Deeside railway line, jumping over the tufts of grass that poke up through the sprinkling of snow and skipping between the puddles that look like liquid gold when the sun catches them in just the right way.

The path is lined with trees; besides the few evergreens, their bare branches probe delicately at the sky and their damp bark smells heady and fertile. At the riding school, the horses watch sagely over the dry stone wall, clad tightly in their winter coats, gnawing tufts of grass purposefully.

My soundtrack is the throaty caw of crows and the mellow tones of wood pigeons and, of course, the thrum of traffic in the background, though there is comfort in that Sunday dusk traffic. I imagine cars of wind burned faces and dozing children returning from the hills and the woods for an evening of ironing school uniforms and finishing homework and hanging on to the last few hours of the glorious weekend.

Back in Peterculter, I cut through a quiet side street and squint against the low rays beaming through the gaps in the houses and cars. This time last week it was dark and I smile to myself as I think that our corner of the world is tilting ever closer to the sun.

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And so to Scotland

Just after 5am the Friday before last, we loaded ourselves and the cats into an already jam packed car and drove down the Autoroute du Mont Blanc for the last time in the foreseeable future. It was probably just as well that it was dark, so we couldn’t be reminded of how beautiful this place we were leaving is; so we wouldn’t be distracted by the towering crags where we’d spent so many blissful summer days, climbing until our muscles ached and our fingers bled and our tummies cried out for dinner, a dinner that would be pulled from the garden and eaten in the quiet mauve of dusk.

We sped across France and crawled up England through Friday traffic and omnipresent road works, and somewhere just before the Scottish border I fell asleep and woke up in Aberdeen. We had no bedding that first night, but were too tired to care, falling unconscious beneath our down jackets and dressing gowns, too tired to worry about our heavy hearts.

That came the next day, of course, as we braved the bustling town centre to buy work shirts and sheets and were reminded of what an awfully long way we have travelled. But there was recuperation, in the form of a dinner cooked by Ben’s Mum, and a wonderful, heartfelt gift, though I found it hard to accept the cries of “welcome home,” when it feels like anything but.

It’s been a little over a week now, and we are slowly settling into this new place and new routine. The purchase of several maps and climbing books has allowed us to dream about the summer and make the most of those winter days when the sun is strong and bright and life giving.

Sometimes, when I think about France, it feels like a dream; as if we moved here straight from London. And then I look at the photographs, and I think, were we really that lucky?

But when I sit in the kitchen in the morning, as I am now, watching the day grow light, watching the delicate frost on the hedges slowly retreat with the sun, watching the spidery fingers of the leafless trees probing the pale sky, I can pretend that there are no other houses and no football pitch between me and the distant hills that I see from my window. Their gentle swells are nothing like the awesome, jagged peaks of the Alps, but they beg to be explored just the same.

And closer, on a nearby rise of land, there is a stand of trees that reminds me of a series of books my brother and I read as children about talking cats and witches and highwaymen. As if I might look out there one night and see a fire flickering amidst the elderly trunks, a fire that tells you this is where the magic happens…

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North Country dreams

Last weekend, two old friends came to stay; one from university, who I see often, and one from my time in upstate NY, who I hadn’t seen for years and years. He brought with him all his photos from that period, and for hours (hours! We had to take a break for dinner half way through) we looked through them and laughed and groaned at our younger selves and remembered. One thing we both mentioned; one thing that I suppose surprises us, now, looking back, was how great an impact the year had on us. You could even see it in the pictures – how much more grown up we looked towards the end of the slideshow compared with the beginning.

Ben mentioned the other day how much living here had changed me. Peru, New York; Les Houches, Haute Savoie. These places have really worked their way under my skin and into my heart. I know I’ll never stop feeling that sense of homecoming when I see those signs on the motorway: Plattsburgh, next three exits. Les Houches Chef Lieu.

Of course I’ve written a lot about the Alps here but, really, the Adirondacks were the first mountains that became my home. So what was Peru like?

Peru was running through orchards and hot apple donuts in the morning before school. Shivering on the starting line of cross country races and refuelling at Old Country Buffet afterwards. Sunrises on freezing cold mornings and sunsets lingering on the horizon way across long, frosty fields. The scent of pine. Feeling like friends you had only known for a few months were your sisters. Winter Saturdays spent at the field house. Soft serve ice cream. Letting myself into the garage at 823 Mason and knowing that the house upstairs would be full of light, warmth and love. Muscle cars. Elm Street, Pleasant Street, Lapham Mills Road. Daria getting her hair done for free “because nobody should go to prom without getting their hair done.”

Autumn colours, just like here. Long winters, just like here. The sudden shift from snow into scorching summer days. Just like here.

Nostalgia and a little homesickness, next three exits.

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every one of life’s journeys

So, the Caribbean was not truly for me. I feel very guilty and spoilt writing that, but I think there are certain landscapes that really resonate with a person – often, but not always, those they grew up in – and, objectively beautiful as they are, those white sand beaches and swaying palms don’t strike a chord deep in my heart in the way that, say, the Cotswold hills or the New York Adirondacks or, of course, the French Alps do. So I had a wonderful holiday, with many, many very special moments, but I didn’t feel that connection with my natural surroundings that has become so important to me over this year of living in the mountains.

Then, on the last evening, Ben and I walked down to the local beach for a swim in the quiet dusk. We dived with the pelicans in the gentle surf, tinted golden by the waning sun. We splashed like little children and floated on our backs, watching wisps of pink cloud settle on the islands’ hilltops, and when I got out, I stood wrapped in a towel with sand sticking to my feet and I felt at once much younger and much older than I really am. It was the only place I wanted to be right then.

This year will be a strange and perhaps difficult one. When we moved to the Alps, we didn’t really have a long term plan. Find finance work in Geneva and have a weekend home in Chamonix? Become ski instructors/B&B owners and stay here forever? Do the unthinkable and move back to London?

When the possibility of moving to Aberdeen arose, I was initially uncertain, then embraced it fully. Scotland may not have a perfect climate, but it does have mountains, and beautiful coastline, and remote islands to explore, and winters that necessitate fireplaces, and not very many people, and ceilidhs, and family on both of our sides.  But now that I am filling boxes to be shipped home and looking at the calendar with dread as the days slip away towards the 27th, it is hard to feel anything about the move but a sense of loss. Can you grieve for a place in the way you do for a person or animal?  

I still firmly believe this is our place, but I understand that this isn’t our time. When I graduated from university in 2007, I think the only thing that I would have predicted that has actually happened over the past four years is marrying Ben. So who knows where we will be four years from now. I must keep remembering that it’s exciting to embark on every one of life’s journeys; it will be exciting to find out.

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