This is the first entry about my trip to Ireland. I met some incredible people. I’ll start with the mountain leader – a fella who knows and loves the hills almost as much as his three children and wife.
If we’re lucky and looking out for them, a handful of people will stand out along the way and touch our lives. Like trail way-markers on the mountain, they let you know you’re on the right path and being true to who you are, or they illuminate the fact that you’re not being true to yourself and help guide you back.
A person walked into my world recently, like an inukshuk at a fork in the road, and became one of those stand outs.
I signed up for a 15-day hiking tour of Ireland in September and the mountain leader was exceptional. But it was more than that he knew every flower and plant including their historical or medicinal purposes and it was more than his knowledge of local history and folklore and it was more than his technical skill in leading us around the hills and mountains that affected me.
I discovered a bit of a kindred spirit around whom I didn’t feel like an oddity or too quirky. I returned to the playful, unguarded, living in the now, confident person I used to be when paddling for days on end in the wilderness as a youngster. Laughter came easily and silence wasn’t a burden.
Before leading me down a mountain top goat trail that dropped off into oblivion he said, “Do you trust me?” and without fail I knew that I did. It was no big deal because it felt like we’d known each other an eternity in which he’d earned my trust a million times over.
Why does that happen sometimes out of the blue? Is it because we’re mentally and emotionally ready for that new experience and friend in our life? Is it because we were somehow connected in a past life and really do know each other well on some spiritual level? Is it the magic that happens when taking on a challenge in the outdoors and you have no choice but to trust the person or people you’re with?
I don’t know. All of the above?
What I take away from the experience of knowing him, and what’s important moving forward, is how I share the same generosity of spirit that he shared with me with those who now come into my life. In fact, I know that to be true because he told me just that after I’d visited him one last time before heading back to Canada. I liked that. It reaffirmed that acts of kindness have no strings attached and are to be given and received with an open heart.
We’re all winding our way to the grave and those bright lights who put a spark in our days leave us with lessons and laughs that are only ours to reflect upon and put to use.
I’m choosing to live with great gusto, to have as many adventures as possible, to surround myself with inspiring, quirky people and to be generous with the people I care about, as well as travellers that I meet along the way.
I know the saying … people come into our lives “for a reason, a season or a life time” …
I don’t have many photos of him and I never thought to take one of the two of us.
It always felt weird to pull the camera out on this trip. I was keenly aware of my surroundings on this adventure; sights, sounds, smells, textures. As if, from the mountain tops, all of Ireland was imprinting itself on my soul.
I finally saw the wind.
I conquered my insecurity about being fit enough to hike.
I laid my hands on ancient rocks
and pocketed little ones from every summit to take home with me and he was there for every part of it. He gave me the first stone at Mount Brandon.
Our guide for week two of the hike … how shall I say it … had a driving style that didn’t suit my sensitive inner ears and stomach. At one point it was finally too much and after having to pull over hastily where I was violently ill in a lovely cafe toilette in Leenane, I crawled into the back-back of the van to lie down and sleep while the others toured a museum in the next town. Now raining outside and shivering cold from being sick, I started reaching around in the van for something cozy to pull over myself so I could get warmed up.
My hand fell on a piece of material and I pulled. He had forgotten his jacket in the van. I pulled it over myself blocking out daylight, the scent of whatever soap he uses calming my frayed nerves.
In the moment before mercifully falling asleep, I was whisked away from my immediate physical suffering and back to the memory of a “thin place.” (a term I learned when studying work by theologian Marcus J. Borg). In that thin place on Carrauntoohil, the veil had lifted and I connected to the source of all energy; God, the Creator, whatever you want to call it.
In that moment before rest, the memory of six ravens playing on air currents in an ancient landscape settled in my mind. The only sound was air being forced through ebony feathers as they sped around and around locked in a playful, aerial display. The sensation of cool mist on my sweaty face, scent of fresh air at altitude in my nostrils and ruggedness of mountain rocks against my palms the only reality. And I recalled the voice of my friend right before he led me into that thin place…
“Do you trust me?”
I’m so glad that I did and that he tempted me into oblivion.
For interest: When I researched Marcus J.Borg to confirm my thin place definition, the video that popped up addressed it well. Move ahead to 15:26 to hear about Thin Places http://vimeo.com/24897053