Wind, water, stone

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This past September, I spent a week solo hiking the Pembrokeshire West Coast Trail in western Wales. Each day, moments of intense visceral joy shot through me as I beheld the stunning landscape and savoured the pleasure of my solitude. To my left, the wide sea and its constantly changing palette of aquamarine, turquoise and slate green. Below and ahead, massive cliff formations – 200-foot cliff edges folding back and forth, pleating the coast; jagged rock islands standing sentinel to coves in which swam seals and dolphins; rock slabs tilting into the ocean like great slices of black bread. To the right, rolling hills and green fields, the latter neatly bordered with centuries-old stone fences, the stone long hidden beneath thick mats of ivy and bramble. In between the cliffs, long steep slopes of bracken and gorse flamed rust and yellow. Red-billed choughs sang over the coves, while wrens and sparrows darted among the low shrubs lining the path. The wind, always strong and fresh, tanged the air with scents of salt and fish.

It being the tail end of the walking season, the further north I went, the fewer walkers I met.

Which was perfect. I loved being on my own with no-one in sight. “Never have I felt so free,” I told a friend. “Really?” she replied with a puzzled look. She added that walking alone did not appeal to her, not out of fear, but rather because she would prefer to share the experience with another person.

Her remark caused me to ponder. Was I being selfish? Did my love for solitude root back to childhood in a large family, where togetherness was praised and going off by oneself frowned upon? What was the basis for this joyful freedom?

Certainly, a large part of my pleasure stemmed from the absence of responsibility. I felt no obligation to connect, to converse, or even (heresy) to care about anyone else. I had only to walk and breathe, allowing my inner rhythm to be altered by the slow and steady heartbeat of rock, sea and sky. All around me lay evidence of ancient time, made visible in the layers of cliff rock, pressed and scalloped through the ages. Concurrently, the constancy of the sea stretching out to the horizon and beyond, the clouds forming and passing, and the sky’s endless blue skin imbued the days with a sense of timelessness.

Whittled down to these essentials, my ticking mind dissolved; my spirit lightened and expanded and I experienced a primeval kinship unfiltered by human contact. For me, walking alone freed me to engage with wind, water and stone in all their elemental beauty.

Wind, Water, Stone

Water hollows stone,
wind scatters water,
stone stops the wind.
Water, wind, stone.

Wind carves stone,
stone’s a cup of water,
water escapes and is wind.
Stone, wind, water.

Wind sings in its whirling,
water murmurs going by,
unmoving stone keeps still.
Wind, water, stone.

Each is another and no other:
crossing and vanishing
through their empty place names:
water, stone, wind,

~ Octavio Paz

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Comments

  1. janice

    October 29, 2018

    Oh Mary Lou! what a gorgeous, enticing description of your hiking time. It makes me want to go to Wales, to follow in your footsteps, to engage with wind, water and stone, to taste that joyful freedom. Thank you for sharing the beauty through your evocative prose and photos. love, Jan

    • Mary Lou van Schaik

      October 29, 2018

      Thanks, Jan! It was indeed a special time, and joy still ripples through me when I recall it. Love – Mary Lou

  2. Joy

    November 17, 2018

    Dear Mary Lou, your description of your awesome experience takes me right there too! I can almost see the sea and cliffs and green fields, smell the tangy sea air and feel the wind swirling and the solid ground beneath my feet. What an unforgettable experience for you! Thanks so much for sharing it with us and showing me that being alone in nature is a spiritual journey like no other.

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