How trees grow out of boulders
They say ‘heya,’ which is like ‘hey’ and ‘how’r’ya’ mashed together like taters and neeps. They say things like ‘peely wally’ if you look pale and ‘skinny malinky longlegs’ if you’re too tall; insults are an invitation.
They have trees that grow out of boulders, and wind that will blow you over if you wear the wrong jacket.
Their ponies look as grumpy as if you stole their morning coffee, but then they wiggle the hair from their faces and they’re just ponies, friendly; their people are the same way.
I wish I could say my time in Scotland has been all roaming and rainbows and delightful conversations, but it’s been tough at times. I’m here to work, not play. I’m waking up early and working late. No more lazy mornings writing and thinking; now I wake up in pitch dark, squeeze in a little writing, go for a run in the slightly less dark, and go to work. I’m under a lot of pressure to make sure the efforts of the Glasgow Actions Team don’t go unnoticed. I’m solely responsible for driving media coverage of our events. And the whole reason we’re here is to be noticed. That’s a lot of pressure. So it’s been tough. I’ve been stressed. I flew across an ocean to a new continent, and I felt a continental shift inside me, complete with aftershocks. My old world — my old idea of who I was — colliding with this new world. It made me wonder, at times, if the me-ness of me was strong enough to survive the shift.
Usually, I feel a strong sense of self when I write (because everything I write, even sci-fi and fantasy, is some refraction of the life I understand or want to understand), or when I have time to think, and I mean think, to meditate deeply on a topic and feel all its sides. Since coming to Scotland, there have been days of thing-thing-thing, action and reaction without time to think, and I felt my me-ness blur and fade.
Does a person show their true colors when they react without thinking? Is that the phrase? I can’t think of the phrase. Or are they more truly themselves when they have time to think something through? Overthinking can be dangerous. When Seth and I get annoyed at each other, I usually try to understand why, to pick apart our interactions and mental states. But sometimes this does more harm than good, leading to circular conversations about conversations about conversations. When I get in a bad mood, I often try to find a reason, and if there is none, blame myself, and get mad at myself for feeling bad, and so it spirals.
There’s a nice halfway point between not thinking and overthinking. Some call it meditation. Whatever it is, for me, it requires good health, meaning lots of sleep, healthy food, and something like a routine.
It took a week of adjustment for me to realize what was wrong. My routine was all out of whack. I was eating shittily and at strange times. I wasn’t waking up early enough to write. So last Tuesday and I decided I would turn things around. I was feeling positive about feeling positive. Then, for some godforsaken reason, I drank a glass of Iron Bru (a terrible Scottish orange soda) just before bed. I woke up at two in the morning with my nerves on fire.
I stayed awake the rest of the night.
If you’ve had insomnia, you know how it goes. The longer you’re awake, the more stressed you get about being awake, how few hours remain in the night, how tired you’re going to be the next day, and every time you close your eyes all you can think about is how much you need to sleep, which works you back up to being awake. Eventually, at five, I gave up. I had three hours of sleep, two nights before our big event. (I soon learned that, unlike in American orange soda, there’s, um, caffeine in Iron Bru. Lots of it.)
Oddly enough, I was fine the next day. I was on edge, like I could break down at any moment, but also had come to a weird understanding with myself that this was pretty much the worst I could feel, physically, and I was fine with that. I went to bed early, slept through the night, and everything went… well. Really well. Our event was in the New York Times, PBS, BBC, and more. And it’s just the beginning.
Now a hundred world leaders are coming to Glasgow to determine the fate of the planet. I won’t get into the wonky stuff, but the stakes really are that high. Could a glass of Iron Bru be the death of human civilization? Honestly, maybe. It’s really gross.
My being here is not about me. But my me-ness supports my being here. My mental health is the pillar which holds up the work.
Here’s how a tree can grow on a boulder. First, lichen and moss take over. They find a crevasse, dig in, live, and die. While they live, they break down the rock slightly. When they die, they become plant matter that mixes with the broken rock into soil. Then a grass seed floats by in the wind and takes root, further breaking down the rock and opening up the crevasse, and dies, creating more soil. A slightly bigger plant can take root after that: a flower, maybe even a shrub. Finally, there is a deep and rich pot of soil in the middle of the boulder, with enough organic matter for a tree. This tree will be lucky enough to live on the sturdiest ground in the rainy highland grasses; as the ground around it becomes a muddy bog, the rock will remain a rock, and the tree will remain whole.
Here’s how a Scottish person becomes so friendly. First, they survive dark, rainy winters, and then, they see the sun. They insult one another all year long and laugh and remain whole.
This past weekend was a short respite before the “real” work begins. I had two days off. So yesterday morning, I woke up at five and told Seth we should get away. We took a four-hour train ride through the Scottish highlands, with changing leaves, craggy hills, and plenty of trees on boulders. We arrived at Fort William by noon, threw our bags down, and hiked to the top of Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the UK (which isn’t saying much). The top was snowy and windy and stuck in a cloud, so all we could see was the condensation on our glasses. But we did it. We walked down as the sun burned a hole through the clouds on a sheep- and rock-covered mountainside, then ate the best Scottish dinner with the worst British beers.
On the long train ride, we had time to read, write, and take it all in. On our six hour hike, we didn’t talk much (apart from the inevitable Lord of the Rings quotes), focusing on the views and finishing the hike before dark. In the pub, our legs were jelly and our feet blistered, and we were a thousand miles from our apartment and cat and grocery routine, but, exhausted, we found ourselves whole.
PS: Photos follow.