The Burning Brightness of Unmitigated Reality–AKA Scottish Highlands

SHP Highlands 023
Image by shpeters via Flickr

The doors of perception are wide– snow mountain expanse surrounds, sun-blinking crystals cover the protruding stems of grass as if dipped in light.  The infinite details moving one to a state beyond joy, beyond pain; aware of Ben Nevis’ hulk, my pounding heart, steady breath, the drifting sensation of clouds as I climb to the top of my first Munro.

My intention to stay along the well trodden West Highland Way and return via Glen Nevis was shattered by the clear day’s overwhelming desire to get as high as possible.  Passing an ancient battle fort rubble site, I headed for the tops.  Nearly up the first of 5 peaks, Stob Ban, my feeling of connection with the silent highlands was startled by the roar of an F-16 shooting from behind a cornice of snow at eye level.  It banked beautifully around Ben Nevis and I returned to my solitary climbing reverie.  As Huxley would have put it in “The Doors of Perception“, which I had picked up for the night from the Fort William hostel bookshelf:  The Not-I had only briefly the I for company in “the burning brightness of unmitigated reality.”  This brightness continued into the moonlit night as I set up camp beside a tiny alpine lake in an amphitheater of rock and snow.  The arching face of Stob Ban lit from behind by a pink-blue sky held my awe as I cooked a warm meal and prepared for a cold night.

A long and semi-treacherous second day of ridge-line footstep-following commenced with a red-orange moon-set over the lights surrounding Loch Linnhe, pondering “how the gravity of nature and her silence startle you, when you stand face to face with her, undistracted, before a barren ridge or in the desolation of the ancient hills.”  Greeting the sun astride another Munro cairn, and successfully navigating two more, I reluctantly began the descent into the waiting, stunning, waterfall-laden Glen Nevis Gorge–accessed by a semi-frozen peat bog and a three cable “bridge”.  By the time another beautiful sunset began its glories, painfully aware of my legs and new boots pounding the road, I saw a pair of deer silhouetted on a ledge—and I took it as a sign [what else could it be?] that I needed some local single malt at the pub.

From the next stormy day on a bus:

An expressionistic rain-rivulet window into the Isle of Skye fascinates in its reflection-addled views of mountains and waters.  Silent movement-mind — not unlike the state attained while walking, only in repose.  No concerns, no-self, only blossoming perception.  The ego tries to slip back into control with its old friends — past-selves and future-selves, but this largeness laughs at it like the petty pains of long walks.  Discomfort is a friend–somehow both distancing from, and including within the mind state of emptiness such unpleasant sensations.  Simultaneously far above them and deeply within them.

A stormy night of rock and roll at the local Kyleakin pub, named after King Haakon of Norway, who once came through for a battle he then lost, where friendly local fisherman eager for stories of Alaska plied me with more local malt.

Once back in castle-dominated Edinburgh I was quickly enveloped into a jovial friend of a friend’s crew of football watching, quick witted Scottish blokes, always up for a pint and a good-natured ribbing.  Very hospitable John let me stay in his stone five story walk-up flat’s extra room, took me up the local hill, Arthur’s Seat [named for a lazy giant], out to his birthday dinner, and even to a dance floor where the “ginger beard” continued to gain in popularity amongst the locals.   A jaunt to St. Andrews next day for a meat pie and some ruins and I was on the night train back to London, where Nate and Caty gave me such a hearty, dinner-going, theatrical, gaming welcome two weekends before.

I told a gregarious Greek guy at the hostel that I would not trade my two days walking in the highlands for anything, to which he replied;  “Maybe you, not me.  Everyone is different.”

Click the waterfall for the complete set of pictures on Flickr.

Nietzsche’s Ego Seemed apropos.

~ by Scott Hamilton Peters on December 16, 2008.

5 Responses to “The Burning Brightness of Unmitigated Reality–AKA Scottish Highlands”

  1. F16 -SHP, I was in Beg Bend recently camping with Christopher. We were in the middle of nowhere. Along to top of a nearby ridge, I spied two fellows walking along at sunset. Our paths crossed momentarily on the desert trail – two Air Force guys from San Antonio and one, an F16 pilot. How small the World – as I talked with “Yeager” – his give pilot name. His best pal in the AF, my old roomie. Yes – can you believe it. My old roomie and friend Tim – an F16 Pilot, and “Yeager” who happened to walk by in the wilderness were best friends. You just never know who might be flying nearby.
    Glad you are having fun.

  2. Scott –

    What a great and joyous account!

    You warmed our hearts in the cold, snowy flat-lands of Iowa.

    We have to plan a travel day at the end of next week in the Sierra Nevada region.

    I will bring my coat.

  3. Scott,
    You transport me to the highlands! Beautiful! You are a gifted ginger-bearded writer. Thank you.

  4. Scott…what a treat to read…great acccount. Thanks!

  5. it would be an understatement to tell you what an excellent storyteller and writer you are……. when will your first book be published???? : ) mary kay mcgrath

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