“It is a surprising and memorable, as well as vulnerable experience to be lost in the woods at any time. In most of our trivial walks we are constantly, though unconsciously, steering like pilots by certain well-known beacons and headlands, and if we go beyond our usual course we still carry in our minds the bearing of some neighbouring cape; and not till we are completely lost, or turned round – for a man needs only to be turned round once with his eyes shut in this world to be lost – do we appreciate the vastness and strangeness of nature. Not till we are lost in other words not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves and realize where we are, and the infinite extent of our relations.
-Henry David Thoreau
We walked to the edge and looked down and then at each other. I panicked; the rocks below were loose, they would crumble if we tried to climb down, and it was too far to risk it. My head went to the worst case scenario and to the photograph I took days earlier of a rescue mission I had just witnessed from the foot of Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest peak.
We can not get stuck at the top of rock.
It was 3:30 in the afternoon – we still had hours before dark, but looking down that ledge I couldn’t pull my thoughts out of an instinctual survival mode – we have no extra clothes, no food, and no more than a sip of water. I looked into my bag – my camera and a journal – perfect I can then at least document my death on the small Island of Eigg.
I looked up at Shannon (my travel partner and friend), trying to keep my face from showing the bit of fear I felt in my stomach.
“We’ll just have to retrace our steps… we climbed up compact rock to the top. The Sgurr is not that big.”
So we walked back in a circle, found the path we had missed and the small faded orange dots that marked the the rocks of a safe descent. We climbed slower down than we did up – the anticipation of an incredible view now past – we were silent the whole way. Shannon walked ahead of me past the lochs of water, from sun to shade to sun again, and finally back down to the gravel road and sheep.
I knew deep down we would be fine, but the feeling of being lost even for a second, even on a perfectly sunny afternoon, even on a tiny island that makes it almost impossible to get lost on made me quiet.
Next to the mountains we are small, next to the oceans minuscule.
[Eigg, Scotland – October 2013]