AN EXISTENTIAL EXPEDITION…
It is Father’s Day and we decide to go hiking in the Mourne Mountains. Last year we came across an excellent river than ran between two mountains that we could boulder up. Halfway up there is a little clear pool with rocks around it to sit on and immerse your feet in the cool water. It is such a special and picturesque spot. But, last year there were tears as our youngest child found it a little frightening to be leaping from rock to rock, worried he was going to fall into the river and be swept downstream.
Despite a little fear-fuelled resistance we wanted to try it again because we knew our youngest adventurer, now aged 7, who is a wannabe ‘mountain rescue man’. would love the thrill of it if he could just overcome his anxiety. If at first you don’t succeed and all that…
So, we decided to take it slow. We gently held his hand, showed him where to place his feet and how to avoid the green, slippery rocks. We offered words of encouragement and his brothers cheered him on. Gradually, he started to pause and plan out his own route, his hands slipped free from ours and eventually he took off up the river. It was still slow but he was facing his fears.
The sun beat down on us, the sky was a blanket of bright blue. I watched as my 3 sons worked together to navigate the river and within a few hours we had journeyed its entire length. Panting with exhaustion and extremely thirsty we paused for lunch. I looked around, the scenery bold and magnificent. I asked the boys to name the mountains and as they pointed out Slieve Donard, Commedagh, Binian, Bearnagh, Doan and Meelbeg I watched as their faces beamed with pride and joy. My youngest was especially happy.
‘I did well, didn’t I?’
‘You did amazingly well, darling.’
‘I conquered my fear.’
‘You definitely did. Well done.’
My middle son says, ‘It’s like our school motto…you’ve got to believe it to achieve it. That’s what you did.’
We all smiled. Such sweet words of encouragement that meant so much coming from his brother.
Appetites satisfied and thirsts quenched we repacked the rucksack to continue on towards Doan. We had picked this particular mountain because it’s my husband’s favourite and seeing as it was Father’s Day it seemed appropriate.
As we journeyed on through the boggy ground I watched as the boys picked their way through the lunar-like landscape. There wasn’t another person in sight and it felt as if there was only us in the entire world. The stillness washed over me and I enjoyed the silence. Then…
I was awakened from my philosophical reverie by my oldest son’s screeches for help. I ran towards him only to find him knee-deep in a bog.
‘Stay still,’ shouted middle child. ‘That’s what Steve Backshall says to do if you get trapped in a bog.’
We managed to get hold of his arms and pull him out, completely caked in mud, but safe…and…minus one walking boot! Without instruction middle child thrust his arm into the squelchy ground and pulled with all his might. After some puffing and panting he retrieved the boot from the earth and we all fell back laughing at the state of oldest child. He was filthy!
‘Well, that was fun,’ he said. ‘That was a real team effort.’
Boot gets wiped off and put back on and on we trudge…squelch squelch squelch went the boot and we laughed.
Eventually we reached the summit, a flat rocky plateau, and we collapsed with exhaustion. Drinks and snacks were passed round. The view was the best I have ever seen while in the Mournes, the loughs far below were twinkling sheets of glass.
‘This is great,’ someone chirped up. We all agreed. That sensation of being atop a mountain drinking in the magnificent scenery is beyond words. There is nothing that can truly describe the sense of achievement, the peace, the oneness with nature and the sense of unity in experiencing it together.
As Keats wrote in Ode to a Grecian Urn:
‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty.’
After a while. we begin our descent, weaving in and out of the eroded peat and purple heathers. I stop to take a few pictures and overhear the kids chatter.
‘The most important thing in life is to be happy and love your family.’
Wow! My heart skips a beat. As a lover of all things philosophical and existential my mind races with happiness as their conversation continues on this theme. I stay back and eavesdrop, astounded to overhear such words of truth coming from such young souls. It is beautiful to witness and it reminds me that although these young people demand from me daily, constantly needing, they are individuals with minds that are drinking in all that they experience. They are forming opinions and ideas and an outlook on the world and learning what is valuable . That is extremely exciting and also a huge responsibility. It is mine and my husband’s job to impart good, positive messages and ideas to them.
We pick our way through the terrain, the day still hot and our energy levels beginning to wane. Soon the car is in sight, albeit another mile or so away down a rocky track. It has been a fun, insightful, inspiring day. I truly believe that by being immersed in this majestic landscape that relationships have deepened and strengthened, that truth has been experienced and character nurtured. As I write this blog post on the Summer Solstice I am immensely grateful for the gifts that nature so freely gives to us and I look forward with anticipation for further family adventures.