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Scotland Day Ten - The Source

I made sunrise on day ten. It was a stunning experience, one of the most peaceful and memorable sunrises I've ever experienced. Which is funny, because I never actually saw the sun. A heavy fog rested over the hills of Glencoe as I drove through the valley.

I parked my car and set off on foot down a single-track road to capture the misty mountains in all of their glory. This kind of light is my absolute favorite, the diffused colors of the sunrise fill the sky and clouds and the greens of the earth floor are so enchanting to witness. I wandered along next to the River Coe, looking up at the surrounding mountains to see the many waterfalls that flowed down to meet the river.

I went back to my B&B for breakfast and to finish packing up. I went in though the back gate and the chickens, roosting in their coop to stay warm, came squawking and running down their little ramp to greet me. I wished them a good morning and asked if they made my breakfast. They had- well with lots of help from my host. I had a wonderful full Scottish breakfast for the first time the whole trip. It was huge, which was great because I had a lot of hiking ahead of me.

I headed back out, making a quick stop in at Loch Glencoe, the sun was starting to peak out here and there by this time. I then took a small single-track road back into the Glencoe Valley, this time headed for my hike.

As I came upon the base of the Three Sisters, all I could feel was the vastness, the hugeness, and the presence of these mother mountains. I could see the way they have been formed from their waters, defined over centuries, molded and carved and coaxed by the streams that flow from above. There are many paths to ascend, but today my hike was already chosen.

I knew what I would be hiking before arriving, I'd chosen it weeks ago before I'd seen this place. But standing at the base, seeing it all now, I felt the pull to the middle sister and I knew that I’d have wanted to take that path anyway. I came to realize I’d always have taken this path because it was mine.

I climbed up and along the stream that trickled down the mountain. It had quite a cadence and story of its own. It rushed and fell with a mighty force at times, alternating as a gentle trickle and larger still pools. It was always at my side as I ascended. I climbed and climbed up toward the headwaters.

The hike there was one of the most difficult accents I’d made in recent years. I delighted in the feeling of the earth giving way beneath my feet, the stream that I ran my fingers through anytime I could reach it, the moss on the barks of trees and the ferns on the forest floor that I would gently brush with my fingertips as I walked by. The birds sang and sang, distinguishable when the stream was at a quiet gurgle. And later, nearer the headwaters, when the water couldn’t be heard at all and the wind was kept at bay by the great mountains on either side, there was silence, pure silence.

There was a fullness to my breath here, my lungs craved that cold mountain air as I worked hard to reach the top. The hike was filled with the rich smells of the wet earth, of ferns and moss, of life and decay, and life again.

I spent my time in the ascent, taking moments to stop along the way to take off my shoes and wade into the stream and sit on boulders to stare up at the canopy and clouds.

When I reached the top and the vista opened up, I just stopped and stared as a chill ran down my spine. The valley was massive, I could see tiny people in the distance who were making their way closer to the headwaters, the source. I started to move into the valley, but was stopped every minute or so, brought to a halt by the beauty of it, the vastness of it. I couldn’t even walk and observe at the same time, I had to keep pausing to take it in.

As I made my way closer to the headwaters, my mind started racing as I considered the source of the stream I’d just followed and the source of my own life. Maybe that's what happens when you spend ten days in solitude wandering through the wildness of this land. Everything seemed to unfold like a beautiful metaphor in front of me, messages for me to discover from the earth itself. As I arrived in that valley, it felt as though this was the path of my lineage, of my existence, this place was what brought me here to wind all over this country and wind all through my thoughts to eventually make it to this specific path. I considered the paths of my ancestors before me. I could see in this river the story of my own birth, and my mother’s and her mother’s and on and on, and of my future children's too. It was also the story of Mother Earth herself, born again and again each spring as the snowcaps melt. Born with, and flowing along, beside us.

The connections kept blooming as I made my way further into the Hidden Valley. I knew at some point I’d reached my destination. It wasn’t any particular spot, this destination, just a nice rock to sit on and observe as my thoughts kept blooming.

"Maybe I could have hiked completely up to the headwaters, and maybe not, the terrain may have made the source unreachable. But I know that today I would not go all the way. Maybe one day I will come back and find it, see it with my own eyes, let the cold beginnings of that river wash over my hands. But for now, I am contented that I couldn’t know it's full depths, and that I likely would never anyway. It is meant to remain part mystery. I was here to just get to this point, to be with the mountain and witness all that it had to give me today. But as I look up at the headwaters too, I know I don't need to see it firsthand, because I have lived it, and I know that piece of my story deeply, intuitively.

I realize that the hike up was a representation of the whole trip, both expansive and difficult. I was able to hold both at once as I witnessed the beauty, took step after step with the land, dipping my toes into rivers of time and memory. I sang with the birds and breathed with the trees. It was all a journey back to my origin. To my source. As I arrived here in the valley, able to see it, everything felt like it poured out and I was hit with the purest sense of awe, only able to just let it all flow. I can see in this river my past and my ancestors' past, I can feel all of our stories intermixed, flowing down, carving new paths as we go. Always flowing from this source, pulled along by gravity, moving with the earth, to eventually make it out into the vast sea. And I can see myself as I've grappled with diving into this place of spirit, over and over again. I tiptoe over bridges over the vast chasms and plummeting falls of this river, not looking down to see that this is the essence of our stories. There is a careful reverence to be had in the power of the water and the power of our stories, but I shouldn't fear it. It is something to behold: the complexity of space and time and memory and destiny."

I eventually felt contented to start my way back down the mountain, now seeing it, and the stream I'd walk along, in a new light. I wasn't really leaving this place, I was traveling with it.

There is just one place where the trail crosses the stream. You have to walk across rocks placed perfectly to bridge the two sides. I stopped here, before crossing and watched the water flow here for a long while. I eventually got out my journal again.

"As I sit here, I see that this crossing is where I am at right now in my life, meeting my own path, face on, and crossing from a time of not-knowing into a time of abundance. This, the most significant cross on this path, marking this great transition. I can see upstream all that has been poured into me so far. All of the other springs that fed into this one, all of the other valleys that flowed to meet me here and continue with me on this journey, now forever connected. And I see ahead of me glimpses of even more streams that will join me too, each with their own histories and sources. We all continue to flow down, the earth nudging us along.

I see from here, both behind and ahead of me, the moments of rushing, the moments of stillness, the plummeting drops where everything in stream is forced over the edge, and the trickles in the stream where the water forges new paths.

I cannot see the full picture here. I couldn't from the top, nor will I from the bottom. The wholeness of it all is a mystery I may never see. From here, I see the detail, stone by stone. I see the beauty.

As I cross this part of the stream, I move forward, forever changed. Tomorrow is my last day in Scotland. I will return back to a "normal life", but I don't think any of it will feel normal anymore.

"We change our story when we travel. The places we see, they make us."

I return to those words spoken to me at the beginning of this journey. I chose this place, but really I think it chose me. As I cross this stream now to the other side, my story is forever changed. I can see now that destiny is something we are a part of, just as it is a part of us. We ebb and flow, ever-connected, dancing along with one another. I don't know it, I can't grasp it, but I feel it, I've seen it, my bones remember it. This life before, what will become, the ancient past and the present choice that lies in front of me at my feet, whispering to me to step forward. Life flows on, I flow with it. Mostly, I can only see what is around me, but today I've seen what is behind and what is before me, and as I take this moment to cross, I see what is underfoot, step by step. I carry the memory of the headwaters with me, of the hidden valley and the secrets it gifted to me. I carry this trip now and the pure presence this place has granted me. I see the immense power and the infinite tenderness in the earth, in the water, in myself. I see the path that I can forge, and I feel the earth's gentle pull guiding me home, leading me to where I belong. And so I cross, I let go, I forge on now holding all of this within me."

I've felt this power of change before. Small inklings that would shift my essence, bring me to new places, help me to see the interconnection of the world a bit more. But this time, it felt like a pivot to my entire being.

How do you come down from a mountain after going through all of that? Well, I guess step by step. I eventually made it back to the valley floor and walked along the stream until I saw where it joins with the River Coe. I was beckoned back to the parking lot by the sound of bagpipes. A Scottish Piper was standing at the trailhead playing. The parking lot had the perfect view of the three sisters. I stood close to the piper, listening, and looking up at all I had just experienced in detail.

I moved on from here, with a feeling of immense peace. I drove through the rest of Glencoe, stopping here and there when I felt a calling to stop. I moved on into the openness of Rannoch Moore, a vast expanse of land stretching in all directions. An open breath. I then drove through Glen Orchy, a greener valley filled with pines and sheep. It felt as though I'd experienced three seasons within hours, three incredible landscapes, three lifetimes.

I stopped in at my airbnb for the night, a small bothy next to the home of a lovely family. It felt like my home. Or maybe I just felt very at home in myself at this point.

I went out for dinner at a restaurant, it felt strange to sit and eat contemporary food, the news playing on TVs behind the bar. I'd been around many people throughout the day, along the trail and the pull-offs, but this was the first time I spoken with someone. The first time I was asked, "How are you today?"

"Good," I responded. What else could I say? What else do we ever say?

I'd loved to have told him how I was, but I didn't have the words. I still don't know if I do (though this word count says otherwise).

I sat through dinner and journaled some more. It was an early dinner, which was nice because the restaurant was nearly empty.

After I finished, I walked across the street to St. Conan's Kirk. I wandered its grounds, it too was empty this evening.

I then made my way to a spot I'd picked for sunset, and sunrise for tomorrow. I parked and slowly made my way through a field in the glowing light of sunset. I was making my way to Kilchurn Castle, at the edge of Loch Awe. I soaked in the scenery, I ran my hands through the tall grass. The mountains seemed to grow straight out of this endless field. I made my way to and around the castle, its walls and stone crumbling to the earth. Dust to eventual dust.

I looked out over Loch Awe as the light fully faded. How aptly named.


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