Poetry and the outdoors seem to go hand in hand. George Mallory said the ascent of a mountain is like a symphony, but I think a day in the hills is more like a poem.
In February 2019, at the end of my winter Cape Wrath Trail, I found myself alone at Kearvaig bothy with nothing to do for a few hours but write, gaze at the stars, and think. The solitude was intoxicating. There are a few books kicking about at Kearvaig, and one particular volume caught my eye: a simple cover bearing the title Selected Poems by Colin Dewar. I had never heard of this poet. According to the small print, the volume had been self-published about a decade before through Lulu Press. After I’d eaten my dinner, after I’d mucked around with long exposures outside to capture the Milky Way, I stoked up the fire, put my feet up, and read the book from cover to cover.
I didn’t connect with many of the poems; some were impenetrable, others struck me as being pretentious, and spelling errors made my editor’s reflex twinge. A previous reader had corrected some of these errors with a pencil (and others had recorded verses of their own on the blank pages at the back). Every so often, though, I found an image that set off fireworks in my mind – especially in the poems about nature.
Of all the poems in this book, one stood out to this particular reader at that particular time, so I transcribed it in my journal. I had no black lochan to gaze into at Kearvaig, but I did have the infinite sweep of the Milky Way.
Lochan Dubh (from Selected Poems by Colin Dewar)
Pausing by the black lochan
I saw the world within,
lichen on granite like peeling skin,
dried grass over sphagnum,
lizard and adder caught in a game.
Those rocks were smooth,
immarcesible as diamond,
hills weightless where they lay.
I had thought I could not reach them
so far had they seemed,
yet knew them then
as the world was dreamt in me,
in stillness stayed
as water showed the night
and stars floated
on quiet glass
drawn from the abyss.
Galloway Hills, April 1994