Posted by: Shanna Germain | 05/10/2009

Pg. 40: When I’m an Old Woman…

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This is the stile that you climb over in order to get to the top of Barone Hill.

Stats:

  • Weather: Singing in the sunshine, laughing in the rain/Hitting on the moonshine, rocking in the grain/Got no time to pack my bag, my foots outside the door/Got a date, can’t be late for the high hopes hailla ball.
  • Mileage: 3.5, according to the map. 24, according to my legs.
  • Discovery: There is no way in hell that Scottish miles are the same length as U.S. miles.
  • Media: Sunshine Woman, Led Zeppelin
  • Worst Thing: My socks… so so wet.
  • Best Thing: Learning how to make pdf books (yes, I’m a geek, and yes this is what I did when I was too tired to get up from the couch).
  • Quote of the Day: “Oh, hey what’s th–ARGH!” said by me as I stepped into a boggy bit of land and sunk halfway to my knee in water.
  • Word of the Day: Pure dead brilliant. Exceptionally good.

*

When I am an old woman, I shall wear Tartan. And walk the Scottish isles.

I’m not kidding.

***

Today, the goal: Walk the (ahem, supposed) 3.5 miles that would take us to the top of Barone Hill, one of the highest points on the Island, with a scenic view of much of the land and sea. Along the way there would be cairns and standing stones, St. Mary’s chapel, old cemeteries, a ruined city, and a gorgeous, glorious walk.

We got most of that.

***

Somehow we missed St. Mary’s Chapel and the cemetery, but we did find the city’s rec center, a decaying church, and a tiny path marked “Lover’s Lane,” that would have been glorious if it wasn’t, of course, raining. It was still glorious anyway, actually, threading through the woods next to a tiny stream, sheltered by overhanging trees. The trail was fairly muddy, but I managed to step-side most of it.

Then, round a corner, the trees stopped and there was only an open field. Far off in front of us, a woman and her dog walked toward us. Sprightly and energetic, I’d have guessed she was in her late forties, early fifties. As she came closer, I saw the amazing lines in her face and upped my age gestimate: late fifties maybe, early sixties.

And then, right in front of me, she fell. I mean, hard. Slipped in the mud in a way that would have taken me out for most of the day, if not sent me to the hospital (Hush, you, in the peanut galleries. I don’t fall that much…). I heard the splash of muddy water and the soft exclamation of surprise. Amazingly, she got right back up. Fast. Like a jumping jack. “Wow,” I thought, “She’s not fifty. She can’t be. As easily as she got up.”

As I got closer, I saw she was covered in mud, head to toe. Her shirt and pants were dressed, and she was wiping her mud-caked hands off on the tall grass at the side of the path.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Oh!” She looked embarrassed more than anything, her wrinkled face broken into a smile. “I walk this all the time and I’ve never fallen before. Just a wee scratch!”

She continued her response without pause, wiping her lightly bleeding hand on bits of grass. “For god’s sakes, I just walked twenty-five miles around the island yesterday. One fall’s not gonna’ kill me. If a wee scratch is the worst thing I have to complain about, I’m in fine shape, especially not at my age. I’m eighty!”

And then she went on her merry way, hollering for the dog.

***

Eighty. This woman was eighty years old. That was the mantra that sang in my head long after I’d passed her, long after I was winded climbing up one hill and down another. Long after my legs ached and my back was layered in sweat.

Eighty. I want to be eighty and be hiking twenty-five miles with a smile and some wrinkles and a “wee scratch” when I fall face-first in the mud…

***

Which I almost did, later. The trail map doesn’t tell you that the ‘trail’ isn’t a trail so much as a cow-track through meadows, up hill and down, over and through a few gates that may or may not still be there, through a boggy marsh on the top of a huge hill that will sink you mostly to your knees if you’re not careful. (“I must have bought the cheap, tourist map,” I huffed at one point. “Tells you where the fences are, but not the gates.”). My mind just wouldn’t wrap around the idea that I was way up high on this hill top, there were no trees around, the sun was shining … and yet the grassy ground I was walking on was actually marsh. Swamp land in the air. A bog against the sky.

I made it most of the way with dry feet by hopping from hillock to hillock like I was playing Frogger, and then I mis-stepped and soaked most of my leg with one monumental splash. After that, it was all downhill — not the walk, but the attempts to stay somewhat dry — and by the time I crested the top of Barone Hill, I was soaked. And muddy. And cursing.

The view changes everything. Sitting on the warm rock with my socks drying in the sun, and a sandwich in one hand and a cookie in the other (I must have looked very much like a greedy little kid), I figured everything I’d done to get there was worth it.

*

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Is there any satisfaction as good as arriving at the top after busting your ass? I don’t think so.

*

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The view from the top. So very worth the wet feet and the tired calves.

*

The way down was very very soggy. And that’s being nice about it. It was freaking wet. Every step brought another slosh and “gah!” By the end, I was practically running down the hill, like a cat trying not to step in snow, taking hop-skip-jump steps from hillock to hillock, splashing away with glee. I figured I was already soaked to the bone, what did it matter? Next time, I’ll be smart and just slide on down, letting my rainpaints work as a sled.

There was no sign of my new friend on the way back through, not that I expected there to be. She was probably long gone toward another adventure. If she could have seen me now — muddied as she’d been — I like to think she would have nodded and said something like, “Oh, that’s just a wee bit of mud. If that’s all you have to complain about you’re doing just fine…”

May I have a Chapter 80 (or even Chapter 77), that’s as vibrant as she is.

Far and fast, in very wet shoes, s.

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A picture just for my mom, on mom’s day. It’s probably hard to tell what it is, or why it would matter to her, but it’s an old stone fence, with a line of wool-covered barbed wire over it, from where the sheep lean through to graze (or, possibly, make a prison break).

*

“Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional.”  ~Chili Davis

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Responses

  1. It sounds like you know some people there, which is good. You’ll probably meet the entire island population while you’re there.

    This 80-year-old woman sounds amazing! 25 miles!

    And, um, maybe it *is* time for a pair of Wellies? 🙂

    Boy, girlie, you are in such a beautiful place!

  2. Oh my god, what a wonderful adventure, and you met an angel. Oh the places you’ll go and the treasures you’ll find. I love you sweetie.. and miss you and am jealous in a fun way.

    But my darling dear, who cares about wet shoes or socks or any of that?

    Splash in the puddles, it’s just a wee bit of water, it’s not going to hurt you and you know what? All that looking down doesn’t let you look up and out beyond you.

    Though .. really.. I think you were busy looking and got tired of frogger (because really .. after a while you want that frog to die horribly.. preferrably to a semi ;p)

    Get wet, splash in puddles, hell, what’s your shoe size and I’ll send you more socks. Play honey and keep letting us tag along and take those awesome pictures.

    Gods I miss you /hugs Take your time though and enjoy yourself and all those lovely treasures

    (and I bet you’ve done that same fall that woman did.. you’re not fooling me ;p I’ve done it myself a time or seven 🙂

  3. It reminds me so much of my hiking around Northern Ireland – windswept, freezing, and sunburned all at once. Caked in mud. Why don’t we have a culture of trekking like the Isles?

    soo sooo jealous of your time and space to be. Thanks for sharing a taste of it here.

  4. Ella: Yeah, I maybe should invest in wellies, eh? They have really cute ones here. Not just black!

    http://www.wellieart.co.uk/categories.php?cat=8

    I’m kind of in love with the ones that lace up the front!

    Annie: I’m having a blast. Miss you too! I want to slip into VC just so I can laugh my ass off.

    LT: I can’t wait to go to Ireland! It sounds gorgeous. Wish you were here … we could lament together.

  5. I too am jealous and remember being wet and miserable and happy and totally enchanted all at the same time while froliking through the UK. It’s sometime difficult to get and stay warm without the aid of the home brew.

  6. That was a blast from the past. It must be more than 30 years since I walked Barone Hill (God that makes me feel ancient). Doesn’t sound as though it’s changed a bit…or the weather.

    Thanks.

    • Oh, how neat! I love that walk…although I haven’t taken it since my tick run-in. I hope to do so again soon though!


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