It’s been a long time. Finally, internet. Finally all of the stresses D and I have been working through seem to be drawing to a close (or will, in the near future). Nothing to do with writing, so I won’t go into them here, just to say that last night D woke me up to tell me I had been grinding my teeth loudly enough to wake him. I haven’t ground my teeth since I was an undergrad, I believe.
All day, those teeth have made their presence known, but the pain won’t last. It’s one of those tidy little aches that you know will fade. I had dreams of drowning, of trying to pull people up from a sunken cruise ship. My breath seemed to last forever deep down in the graded blue, kicking between the hulk and the debris. I still feel the pressure in my chest. Now I breathe out, for the first time in what feels like a month. It’s so simple, breath, and we make it so difficult, and surround it with language and critique. I’ll breathe out wonky. Take big gulps and hiss it out through those crumbly teeth.
Now, at any rate, I have the pictures of reindeer, so calm, or skittish but in an easy-to-soothe way.
This wee man is Domino, a yearling reindeer. A little feartie as our trek was one of his first, but amazingly responsive to soft murmurs, stopping on command and starting again. Reindeer were domesticated a long time ago, perhaps one of the first creatures we managed to tame. You can see from the picture below, with a fully grown deer next to a fully grown D, that they are smaller than us. We are stronger than them too. Not like horses at all. Not like dogs who are often lithe streaks of muscle (even the dainty lap dogs can drag you down the street). I lead Domino like a sheep, and even if at first they don’t agree with your choice of direction, they will concede to you. For the most part.
This is D with Puddock, looking out over the Black Loch at the top of the hill enclosure. Puddock (the Scots word for frog) is four or five, and was utterly calm. He didn’t care to walk behind D, and chose instead to walk beside him. A reindeer with a relative amount of spunk. He tried to eat everything in sight, and gave hearty burps whenever he could. Apparently this is something reindeer do a lot when relaxed. Otherwise they are nearly silent beasts. Bar the clicking in their heels as the older one walked – an evolutionary advantage on wickedly cold arctic winter days, when it would expend too much heat to call back to other members of the herd. They can follow the sound of clicking instead. A little disconcerting, yes.
And then there was Spike, another yearling, but born in Sweden, brought over to improve diversity of the herd’s genetics. He was on his first ever trek, and was led by one of the herders. He was prone to bucking when startled, and hit out at the guide with his hooves in protest at being tethered to the ground. It was time for a feed, but when the large pile of barley and brewer’s meal and lichen (favourite food of reindeer) he just looked at it. His nose wrinkled and he stood steadily, visibly sulking, for a good fifteen minutes until we turned our backs on him. Then he ate.
Reindeer have been in Scotland for only 60 years – since they were wiped out around seven or eight hundred years ago. They were reintroduced by a Sami man and his American wife. Mikel Utsi recognised in the Cairngorms a habitat that was similar to his native Sweden, so he petitioned to have a few brought over, and built on from there. The female reindeer roam free in the mountains with their young, while the males are kept mostly in a large hill enclosure, and are the only ones used for treks and at Christmas time, when they pull the sleigh for Santa all across the UK.
The centre is tucked off in the valley, and we drove up to the hill and walked for about fifteen minutes through the fertile slopes, until we hit the barren moorland. Despite the fact it was mid June, it was cold, around 8c, exposed, a little blustery. Mercifully dry. We were on the trek for around 4 hours, and at the end returned to the centre in order to see an orphaned infant being fed. Not fawn, apparently, not a pretty little roe deerling, but a fluffy, grunting calf. With the trek came a free adoption certificate, and we chose Domino: a mild, fretful animal, but a work in progress, a striver. Probably you can see why I went for him.
It’s been a while since the trek, and we’ve since received the bumper welcome pack with a certificate of adoption, a picture of a younger Domino with his mother Fly, and information about the celebrations for 60 years of reindeer in Scotland.
Looking back on it now, I see my birthday, when we went on the trek and drove around without plans or pressure, as a high point in the blur. I hope now for many more. What has kept me together, apart from D, friends and family, has been reading everything I could get my hands on. I’m a slow reader, but got through five books in two weeks, and there’s a review of one of them, The Bee-Loud Glade, by Steve Himmer, up on PANK, if you’re interested in something that focuses on nature, on the pace of living and the different forms of artifice. I for one want to explore this idea of the self-in-the-landscape, the merging/effacement of the self into a being in a constant present. Or the impulse to resist this, to fire oneself up, to be ambitious in the different ways were are ambitious.
For the moment, that ragged, unshapely, urgent breathing in and out sits with the idea of the unartificial, the calm-which-is-beyond-me, and I am glad to be either and neither.