It’s strange to visit a place that you have known all your life and find it both the same and yet so very different. This is often my experience when I visit Glasgow, city of my childhood, a place that represents many things to me. I recently spent the day there intending to wander around the museums, galleries and the beautiful medieval cathedral and enjoy the anonymity that a big city brings.
Yet, when I arrived, I was plunged into a crowded noisy polluted world, with everyone rushing here and there. Normally this doesn’t bother me too much during short visits – after all, this is where I grew up, so the busyness could hardly come as a surprise. And yet, somehow it did.
Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.
Perhaps it’s the fact that now I make my home at the edge of an old forest looking out to sea where the only sounds are birthed in weather and wildlife. My soul rests content in this peaceful quiet and so the frantic and unrelenting noise of city life now feels rather brutal in contrast. I reflected on this after finally finding refuge on a comfortable sofa nestled in bookshop café. Armed with my ever-present notebook and a large Mocha I thought about how I had struggled to enjoy this day in a place that has so much to offer.
As a child my school holidays were spent in the aforementioned galleries, museums and cathedral as well as old libraries and the many parks and public gardens. This is mainly thanks to a poor but wise mother who recognised her child’s need for beauty, art and nature, and who made good use of Glasgow’s free but profoundly rich resources for the feeding of a young soul.
It sometimes happens that the town child is more alive to the fresh beauty of the country than a child who is country born. My brother and I were born in London…but our descent, our interest and our joy were in the north country.
Yet, even then it was the green places that called to me most. At Primary school I remember gazing out of the windows to the hills beyond the city and longing to roam beyond them. The stories I loved the most as a child were set in wild places: forests, mountains, caves and meadows, and occupied by creatures of all kinds. I think there is an affinity in all of us for the natural world, something that we are born with that we can choose to embrace or ignore.
This affinity creates a need for wild places, for landscapes free from the corruption and pollution of man. Places that help us to put our minds in order and let go of the many peripheral and passing cares that so easily consume us. Gazing upon a timeless landscape allows our soul to breathe so that we can remember who we are and what is truly important. To walk through an ancient forest is to remind ourselves of how fleeting our lives are, teaching us both to value and make the most of our days. Wild places offer the gift of perspective.
We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.
Henry David Thoreau
Next month I will be spending a whole week in Glasgow, staying in the city centre amongst the crowds and the noise. But now I approach it remembering the delight my childhood self was able to take in places of culture, art and learning even in the midst of the hustle and bustle. It will be an expedition of exploration, filling my creative well from the many sources of inspiration to be found in the city. Even so, when I leave it will be with a deep soul sigh of readiness to return to my home at the edge of the woods and a renewed need for wild places.
The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be…
In other news…
If you are in the small Highland city of Inverness in the next few months do pop in to the lovely Inchmore Gallery which is housed in a big old church and where my little painting ‘Dusk’ is part of their current exhibition…
A note about the artwork…
The gnarly tree drawing featured on this post was drawn on a little piece of Indian cotton rag paper while I turned my thoughts over these wonderings. There is something about a lone winter tree that makes me think of the calm silence of wild places…