Another week of lockdown, another blog. Restrictions may be slowly be easing, but many of us are for now still walking the same routes we have been day after day for weeks now. In this blog, Elsa reflects on how to see the world afresh and find joy in the everyday.
There is a small section of road in Canada, called the Icefields Parkway. It is a beautiful, very popular section of highway to drive, and globally, it consistently ranks as a ‘must-do road trip’. It’s a road that winds through high, rugged mountains, over rivers and past aquamarine lakes. There’s even a pit stop at the toe of a glacier, a glacier which is made accessible for the public to walk across. I have been fortunate enough to have driven this road dozens and dozens of times, as this five-hour drive was the best way to get from my hometown to the province’s largest city. After the umpteenth drive, the beauty became just a flash of landscape, an inconvenient time waster standing in the way of my destination. I quickly lost interest in the road and lost my appreciation of the unparalleled beauty and scenery. Like many people who grow up in the mountains, I started taking the views, and therefore the road, for granted.
Luckily, I was soon shown the error of my ways. Two friends who had never been to the Rocky Mountains came to visit me. Of course, I took them down the Icefields Parkway. At least every twenty minutes one of them asked if we could pull over, to hike, to walk down to the river, to marvel at a new site, or to admire a bull elk or a grizzly bear. Through them, I was able to appreciate once again the beauty and the magic of the winding road. Now, one of my favourite things to do is to take someone who has never driven down that road before and experience it as if for the first time myself, through their eyes.
Humans have a habit of becoming numb to their surroundings and environment whilst partaking in our everyday activities. We quickly lose interest in things that become mundane to us and for me, that was true even of one of the top-ten drives in the world. We tend to give a higher valuation to things that are rare. We have more appreciation, and feel more excitement, when experiencing a rarity, rather than a commonality. “Obviously”, I can hear you saying, but I think its important to address it.
When I first arrived in Scotland, my boyfriend wanted to show me the wonders of his country. What better way to do this than on a road trip? His idea was to head over to the Isle of Skye, and then work our way up through the North Coast 500, ticking off many of Scotland’s popular landmarks and most beautiful scenes. Much to his surprise, one of the first places I asked him to stop at was a field, on the side of the highway. I sat on a fence post, and like a kid at her first petting zoo, stared adoringly at the grazing sheep for 30 minutes until he ushered me back into the car. Sheep are not a very common thing for me to see back home. Thus, I was interested and wanted to watch their movements for hours. They were so fluffy and anxious! He later told me that he hadn’t watched sheep like that for years, since he was a child. Seeing them on essentially every road he’s ever drove in Scotland, they just blended in as a part of the landscape.
A few weeks later, we went to visit his granny. She was standing over her new squirrel feeder, happy with its timely arrival, earlier that day. A squirrel feeder? This was a new concept for me. Bird feeders, definitely, but a squirrel feeder? Sure, I thought, she’s a retired woman, living alone, makes sense to be able to watch squirrels frolicking around in her garden. Later in the day, a red squirrel appeared. Much to my surprise, both boyfriend and granny were delighted with the appearance. I didn’t understand. Squirrels, for me, are so common that I will generally notice when I don’t see one while out for a walk in Canada. Squirrels, back home, are an animal that no one gets excited about. But here, where red squirrels are starting to make a comeback after being pushed out of their native habitats by the non-native grey squirrels, they are a sight for locals to get excited about. “Look at how cute he is, with his bushy little tail, perky ears and beady eyes.” I looked, I appreciated, and now my excitement levels after seeing a red squirrel might be compared to those of a Labradors’ or a Jack Russells’. “Squirrel!”
We have been doing fire patrols around Loch Garten and Loch Mallachie every evening. Every evening, we go on the same walk, at the same time. At first, I approached this work with a feeling of impending doom and boredom. However, I notice something new every time I walk the same path. I either see a new bird, hear a new sound, or notice a new gnarled pine. I fall into a different puddle or trip over a log I swear was never there before.
I’ll never forget the first time, second or sometimes even third time I’ve seen something spectacular (or something that has impressed me). However, I will also not forget the feeling I get when that wonder is reintroduced to me, like my journey on the road through the mountains. It’s a spectacular feeling, almost like experiencing it again for your first time.
Remember being a child? Remember the sense of marvel you had with every step? How absolutely nothing made sense and anything and everything gave you an opportunity to ask the dreaded question of ‘but whyyyyyy?’ I challenge you to match the sense of marvel you had when you were a child (maybe stay away from eating dirt), but to see something new on your daily exercise, and maybe imagine how you would describe it to someone who was seeing it for the first time. This way, you might be able to dodge the feeling of monotony and remind yourself of the beauty and intrigue you see every day. Maybe you are lucky enough to not feel impending monotony, and already feel excitement with every step you take, and every move you make. If so, I applaud you and can only hope to reach that level someday. But for those of you like me, who strive to appreciate each day and avoid taking things for granted, maybe this will help you.
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