From these hills much wiser eyes once gazed. They saw more and they saw further and they were not afraid as we are because they knew. And they knew because they listened and when they listened they heard.
Voices soft, voices sure, that came not to ear but spoke to some other part of understanding beyond questions. A deeper part that didn’t fight the timeless wisdom but knew the role each must play.
Beneath these feet have pushed a million generations of rough grass and each, too, has known the part that it must play and not questioned it.
The wheel turns; a steady pace undeterred by what we, the doomed space-traveller might wish: a pause, perhaps. A moment to catch breath and collect thoughts.
There’s a temptation to curse time; to lament the relentless passing of the years; to imagine, maybe, that time is speeding up, cheating us of what little of it we are able to clutch in the palms of our hands.
Midsummer has come and gone. The days, though not noticeably yet, have begun the steady march towards the darkness. We doomed space-travellers, much as we might like to think otherwise, have absolutely no say in any of it. And that is why we lament.
But what is there to lament when the simple gesture of a foot in front of the other repeated can transport us to other worlds where the rush of traffic, the scream of the screen, the ticking of the clock have no bearing?
In Cut Corner Field, where nobody ever goes, the nettles and brambles are thick and almost unremitting. My boots, much wiser than I am in situations like this, pick out the old path that the eyes would have missed; a different texture underfoot, a firm sense of correctness despite the wall of thorns and stingers suggesting otherwise and I know that, even though I am on track, the legs will buzz with the reminder of it later.
Someone lived up here last year and the path was tramped. They pitched a tent in a hollow beneath one of the oaks and stitched branches to screen their hollow. It was probably illegal, though the pungent whiff on the air might perhaps have broken actual laws. The screen has fallen down and all that is left is the usual human detritus: plastic bottles, plastic bags, cans of beer that nobody will clean up. That will, in a thousand years, be swallowed back into the earth if given the chance.
A slow walk and an intrusive one, no doubt. The walk through this small corner of wilderness was silent, save for my crashing and cursing, though a thousand eyes must have watched from all around, silent and mildly interested…
But I didn’t do those things. Something in me woke and I was suddenly filled with a great sense of gratitude for who I was. I lived a shitty life and was never sure where I would be sleeping from one night to the next. I had slept on a camp bed under the stairs, in a touring caravan on a drive, in my nan’s box-room, in a static caravan by the coast in the winter and on the landing of an old game-keeper’s cottage in the mountains. I owned nothing and had no prospects. I was an outsider wherever I went.
And yet I was deeply grateful. In all the chaos I had disconnected from the world and the usual path that people of my station took. I didn’t get caught up in the trends and excitements, I didn’t want to get caught up in anything or anybody. And this has been my strength on this lonely path that I have trod.
That market was in a field off the main Barmouth – Harlech road. There was the smell of the sea on the air and the grass was that tough Welsh crop that survives everything. To the south was the great bulk of land that dips out into the Irish sea and forms the foothills of Cadair Idris. To the north the smoky misty peaks of the Snowdon range. But most of all, looming like a great pregnant belly to the east was Moelfre.
The beating that has never ceased to thrum in my head started in earnest on that day. It came from that little mountain and it has never stopped since.
It is my beat, of course; it is my rhythm. Everyone has their own if they listen and this is mine.
One key moment that I can pinpoint when things really started in my mind, when I truly started to question everything was that day I stood on a market stall in the middle of field trying to sell the crap that my father had left me with. He had literally dumped me at this tiny market with a table and a pile of plastic tat that he had bought from an auction somewhere.
I had a folding camp chair and that was it. No shade, no food, no change to nip off to the toilet of to get a drink. I must have been there for six hours and it was hot, sunny. The relentless afternoon heat was exhausting; the other stall-holders watched me curiously, suspiciously. they jeered at my stock once they realised that I was no threat to their trade. I made £12 in sales and the pitch was £6. The old man picked me up and told me that maybe I’m not up to the job. He was right.
But in the midst of that day, in the glare of the sun as I sat there exposed to all the world, still wet behind the ears and spotted with teenage acne, fighting a battle between disgust at the way it made my face look and relief that puberty had at last arrived, I woke up, or something in me did.
I distinctly remember watching the people walking up and down. They were on holiday. The field was one of those that formed the flatlands between the sea and the mountains.
One couple stood out. It was a man and his teenage son. They were walking along, chatting. Both were smiling, sometimes laughing. I thought about it a lot afterwards and while I was watching them. I thought about how I felt seeing these two getting along; how it reflected my relationship with my father and in that moment I might have despaired. I might have allowed the previous couple of years to crash down on me. I could have dissolved into self-pity and wallowed in the disbelief that I was being treated as I was after I have given everything up to leave home and be with him. I felt betrayed and I see now that I was justified in that betrayal; that I could have sought reparations and probably should.
Well what if it’s a parasite? What if there was a time some few thousand years ago when, for some reason, our intelligent (but not sentient) brains were invaded by an energy from somewhere else? An energy, like a spirit, like a memory or a thought, that, disembodied, sought out a host and descended on us?
Let’s take it back to China and the rest of Asia – the greatest land-mass on earth. Technology, writing, poetry, civilisation as we know it today all started there before it spread. Before the parasite really got a hold and, as its first mission, ensured that all other intelligent species were done away with? There were once many hominid species living together in the balance of the natural world. there has been only one for quite a while now.
There is also evidence to suggest that there were others like us. Like us in the sense that they sought to understand the world as we do; evidence that they were sentient, that they were destroyed. A long line of evolution is too tidy; too neat. We know that the world is not a tidy and neat place. What if there have been many intelligent species infected by this parasite who have failed, or been destroyed by their host, just as we are likely to be?
The host, because it is no more than a sentient energy, no more than an idea, can travel through the vastness of space and maybe even skip through time. It is immortal, it is timeless, it is the spirit in us that doesn’t die, it is the ghost, the ufo, the deja-vu.
A line. One line connects us and our present day emotions and adventures to the tiniest of life. We could sneeze out a million of them in a second and yet they are our ancestors..?
This could be the case. Some scientist somewhere could reel off all sorts of formulae and equations and give me names for different geological periods and the effect of the sun on the leaf and the development of the brain and sit back, pleased with him or herself that the sticky labels by which they define themselves, and all of us, incidentally, are still firmly attached to our lapels.
Ask them was love is, though. Ask them why some people want to kill themselves and others think that they are Jesus. Ask them what gravity is or how it is that the moon and the sun are aligned so as to appear precisely the same size from earth; why it is the that moon always shows the same face and why we spend more money developing ways to kill people than to heal them.
Sentience is either a gift or a curse. It should be a gift, perhaps. It should be a means by which we are able to raise ourselves from the primordial forest floor and appreciate the balance, understand the ways that thing work. Instead it is a means to feel greed and the desire to conquer and control. It is a desire to acquire and then a fear of losing what we have gained. It is vanity, it is jealousy, it is…
If things go the way that I think they’re going to go in the world then maybe it is a good idea to have some form of protection. In the world that I will write about – the world of hill forts, forests and mountain passes, no man would venture anywhere without it. That is reality; the need to protect and survive, to play a part in the whole big balancing act. What we have now in this cosy little existence of ours is complete denial; it is a denial so deep that we can’t even recognise any existence other than the one that we have. Our food is delivered to us neatly packaged, we expect to be safe on the street, we expect for any dangers to be dealt with swiftly and by someone else. in this existence our main concern is entertainment and pleasure. And all the while we’re unaware that this protective bubble in which we live is actually a fist in which we are tightly gripped.
There’s an argument for it, of course. It is predictable and it offers tangible goals and there is a constant supply of points of comparison so that, even if we feel a bit shit and insignificant, there is always someone worse off than we are.
Hardly anybody listens to those deep vibrations any more. There is no appetite for stepping out of the box and following urges or instinct. Those who do are pushed to the fringes of society; those who try are castigated, rejected, gas-lighted and made to feel as though their existence is worthless; their ideas wrong; their desire corrupted and…here’s the killer: illegal.
We make the laws and then tout them as universal fact in the best interests of humanity. And that is a noble claim; a fine aim. But cutting through the layers of some of this, what is the ultimate aim of humanity? Is there one? Survival, at the most fundamental point, must be in there, but that never really crops up. The climate change movement has started pushing on this and using human extinction as a tool in its campaigning. It would be nice to think that this is an actual real concern and not just some roundabout way to create a problem and then sell the solution.
But survival can only be a part of the aim, surely. It is the natural instinct of every living thing to survive and reproduce. It is a necessary part of the make-up of every living thing and it has worked for millions of years in the brutal but harmonious balance forged unspoken between the countless different interests and needs of countless life-form.
We have stepped up for a reason. The sentience that we develop from an early age is either a natural progression on the evolutionary timeline, or is has been gifted to us for reasons that we are very far away from coping with at the present time.
Either way, we know we exist and we know that we know that we exist. We write poetry because we don’t understand why we exist or why we know we exist.
If we listen to the scientists (there they are again) we are simply the latest product of a timeline that stretches all the way back from single-cell life in the oceans to the cities and smartphones and pollution that we see today.
I am preparing for a trip. A trip to the mountains. It is a long-awaited trip that has been buzzing in my ear for too long. I am going west, west as far as I can go before the land runs out, to one of the most isolated parts of these islands.
There’s a hill there that has loomed over so many childhood memories that its shape is etched in my mind. It is a place of legend, of ghosts and of witches, they say. It is not high by the standards of the area: 600m, and the climb is moderate but not treacherous, but it sits far back from the road and reaching its foot is a day’s trek.
But there are legends there that I need to face, demons of my own that I need to exorcise. I have stories to write.
On this stretch of the coast the hill is unmissable, though most people tend to look towards the beach, the sea, and never inland. I spent a winter back in the dark ages living in a tin-walled caravan on the coast which faced back east. I watched the colours change on the forest flanks and then the arrival of white frosting which lasted through until March. There were other things to think about than finding a way to reach the summit, like why am I living in a caravan by the seaside out of season but live moves on. If we work hard enough we find our exits and create entrances.
Breaking into the world that I want to has not been an easy road, but I have studied the maps and found a path. I have created the time and the space and feel ready to give it a go.
There was a meeting in the church hall today. It was to start a conversation about climate change. I was the youngest by a couple of decades and I am no spring chicken. The intention is good, if the scientists are right then we are pretty close to being screwed.
But a century ago it would have been the church that was right and that we had to follow the Bible. There is always something that we need to follow; there is always some disaster just around the corner.
Representatives from Extinction Rebellion were there and a lecturer from some Scottish university did a little talk. All of the talk was based on the opinions of some scientists, though, as another attendee like myself wondered: we don’t know who these scientists are or what there methods were or if they were biased in their research because they were already aware of what they wanted to find.
It is probable that the climate of this planet is changing, but then it always has been and, I suspect, always will be. It is also probable that our dirty ways are responsible for the destruction of habitats and pollution of the air, water and wilderness. But I’m not sold on the assumption that the one is inextricably linked to the other. A hell of a lot of well-intentioned people are, though. They follow ‘the science’ as they would have followed the Bible.
We were told at the start that we are not individuals and I think that put me off from the start. I’m of the growing opinion that we need to more individual so that we can take direct responsibility for our actions. The way that they’re going about it, and the big mistake that they’re repeatedly making, is that they think their concerns will translate into changes, if the willing band together.
It won’t work like that. It won’t work until every single individual, from the top of society to the bottom, takes responsibility for his or her individual actions. Once that has been achieved then there can be a coming together of individuals to make collective change – one that we all believe in and all recognise our part in.
Maybe when you get older you throw your lot into these things because you know that there’s only so much that you can do; that it will be left to the rest of them when you’re gone. I don’t think that’s a helpful attitude.