Living Mountain Living

By Bernie Bell

A few years ago, Mike and I watched a television programme which Robert MacFarlane had made, about Nan Shepherd’s book ‘The Living Mountain’, which is about her wanderings, and wonderings, in The Cairngorm Mountains. We were pleased that Mr. Mac had  introduced us to this woman, and her ….I don’t know if I should call it ‘work’? – I doubt if she saw any part of it, as ‘work’.  It’s Life.  We got a copy of the book, from Tam’s Bookshop in Stromness. As ‘Indies’ disappear at a worrying rate, we are very fortunate to still have an independent bookshop here on Orkney, and Tam’s bookshop is A GOOD THING!

Stromness Book Shop B BellMike read the book, and loved it.  I had to wait, as I was in the middle of reading other things.

When Mike’s father was a little boy, he used to go to the Cairngorms, with his father.  He was a boy with a great interest in ……everything around him, and he loved those holidays.  Then, when Mike’s Dad, married Mike’s Mum, they went on their honeymoon to the Cairngorms, collecting caterpillars and moths.  He used to say he was not sure if it was much of a honeymoon to give her – I say she married him, knowing him, and knowing his interests and ways.

mountains Fiona Driver Cairngorms

Mike read ‘The Living Mountain’, and then thought to send it to his Dad, who was in hospital at the time.  A way of taking the man, out of the hospital, and into the mountains again.  In-activity, in hospital, didn’t suit Mike’s Dad, at all.  He very much enjoyed reading ’The Living Mountain’, which resonated with much of his early life, and brought back many memories.

A few years ago, I was very ill, and was stuck in an armchair, hardly able to move. For someone who likes to be outside, this was hard to take, and I think I would have gone quietly nuts, but I hit on the idea of ‘going for walks in my head’.  OK, I’ll come clean……our little dog, Ben, who passed from this life about 7 years ago, came to me in a dream, and took me for a walk – one of the walks we used to do – along the side of Wideford Hill, to the cairn there. I thought that was a great idea, thanked Ben, and started to go for walks in my mind. These were the walks that Me and Mike and Ben-The-Dog used to go on. I also went to parties that I’d been to, and concerts, and re-ran conversations that I’d had. I tried to remember as much detail as possible – who I was with, what we were wearing – one of them was a Mott The Hoople concert in about 1973, so what we wore mattered a lot, at the time!.  With the walks, in particular, it was a wonderful way to get outdoors, when I couldn’t. Again, I went into as much detail as possible.

Then, when I got a bit stronger, I wrote them down in a sketch pad on my knee, then, stronger still, I could sit at the ‘pooter and type them up. I call them my Orkney Walks With Stories, and they appear in ‘The Orkney News’.

I enjoyed going for the walks in the first place, I then enjoyed walking them in my head, I then enjoyed writing them down, and typing them up, with pictures added, and I like it when folk read them, and go for the walks. The power of the human mind, and of the written word.

We got another copy of ‘The Living Mountain’ from Tam’s Bookshop,  and, finally, I got to read it. It is a book full of/about/immersed in Life, and it can take you out of where you are, and out of yourself – which is, I think, why Nan Shepherd liked to roam as she did, and share her roaming, with others.

I then read Robert MacFarlane’s ‘The Old Ways‘, and came across a section about crossing the Cairngorms to his Grandfather’s funeral, and how his Grandfather would still ‘go to places’ when he couldn’t go there physically. You don’t have to be there, to be there.

Mr Mac. told me……………. “I can never get out of my head Nan’s words: ‘It’s a grand thing to get leave to live’.”

I answered…….”If you don’t get leave – you can just take it!”  That’s something folk seem to find it hard to realise.

Another short tale – For my niece’s wedding, her brother, who is a Hell’s Angel, wanted to wear his biker boots – it was a big concession, him wearing a suit!  My sister said that he had to wear ‘proper shoes’  – Jimmy’s answer was “I don’t have to do anything.”  This wasn’t naughty defiance, he was a grown man at the time, it was just – true.  The wedding had a fine selection of big boots and plaited hair, including beards, and everyone enjoyed it, including my sister.

And this was taken at his wedding, with a vicar with an independent way of thinking, too!

Chick Vic and Lads B Bell weddingSome things that we don’t particularly want to do, we do, because they are simply the right thing to do, at the time. Otherwise – how much do we do, that we don’t want to, and, in fact, if we only could realise it – don’t have to!  We don’t have to get leave to live, except from ourselves, mostly.

We watched a programme about Georgia O’Keefe, I think it was called ‘Georgia O’Keefe, by myself’.  She put me in mind of Nan Shepherd’s inter-action with the world.  There are lots of these independent spirits – some are able to express their experiences in words, paint, pencil, music, clay…….. some just live it and love it.

It can be hard to remember – but, if it more or less becomes a way of life, it’s not so hard to remember.  It can be hard to stick to, because of other people’s expectations and conditioning.  Maybe they need to loosen their stays a bit!

It’s something to do with freedom and independence of spirit – seeing beyond the confines of where you are, to where you can be, and what you can do. Nan Shepherd knew that, and lived it. You could call it a ‘Living Mountain’ way of living.

Freedom The Isley Brothers

Freedom, this is what I call freedom

Well, I wanna say, I wanna tell you
I wanna say when you can do what you wanna do
And go where you wanna go
And live where you wanna live
And love who you wanna love

And be what you wanna be
Join what you wanna join
Well, well, well, that’s freedom
Yeah, yeah, freedom, yes sir

When you can learn what you wanna learn
And read what you wanna read
(Free, free, free)

And write what you wanna write
(Free, free, free)
Do what you feel is right
(Free, free, free)

Hey, hey, hey, hey, freedom, freedom
Oh yeah, freedom, freedom, freedom
Oh yeah, freedom, oh that’s freedom, freedom
Freedom, freedom, freedom, freedom, oh yeah

When you can eat what you wanna eat
And sleep where you wanna sleep
And say what you wanna say

When you can eat what you wanna eat
And sleep where you wanna sleep
And say what you wanna say
And let the children play what they wanna play

And work when you wanna work
Flirt when you wanna flirt
Oh, that’s freedom, freedom, freedom, freedom
Freedom, freedom, freedom, freedom

When you can laugh when you wanna laugh
And cry when you wanna cry
(Free, free, free)

And don’t have to feel ashamed
(Free, free, free)
Sing the song you wanna sing
(Free, free, free)

When you can buy what you wanna buy
(Free, free, free)
When no one to ask you why
(Free, free, free)

Dress the way you wanna dress
(Free, free, free)
Just because you feel the space
(Free, free, free)

Rock the way you wanna rock
(Free, free, free)
Talk the way you wanna talk
(Free, free, free)

Shake the way you wanna shake
(Free, free, free)
No one to put you at
(Free, free, free)

Oh, that’s freedom, freedom
Freedom, freedom, oh yeah
Freedom, that’s freedom, freedom, freedom
Freedom, freedom, freedom, freedom

Freedom, oh, freedom, freedom, freedom
Freedom, freedom, freedom

Songwriters: R Isley / K Isley

Freedom lyrics © EMI Music Publishing

Categories: Uncategorized

Tagged as: , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply