Darwin the Dog sees two likely fellows and bounds over to make friends. There have been new people coming and going outside my window for a couple of weeks and I wonder what they are up to. Now the incurably friendly puppy has broken the ice, I can ask them.
They are smiling men, very young, probably just out of university. I grin at them from under my absurd, battered hat, and ask them what they are doing. ‘Oh,’ they say, beaming, ‘we are fixing the path at Loch Muick.’
Loch Muick is half an hour to the west. When I first came to live here, I used to drive about the country, looking in wonder at the mountains and the glens. I could hardly believe that if I took the road a mere twenty minutes to the north-west, I would find myself in proper wilderness, with not a house or a human for miles. On this crowded little island, this felt like a miracle.
I discovered Loch Muick by accident, since it is hidden away. I took a tiny road along the south of the Dee, and found myself twisting and turning through mossy plantations of silver birches, and then moving upward into dense pine forests. I was in the beginnings of a valley, tight and close, rather magical, like something out of the fairy tales of my childhood. Then, the road took a sudden turn and the glen opened out like a great book.
There it was, wild and wide and glacial, speaking vividly of its ancient beginnings. The floor of the valley was flat and expansive, with a river running through it in sapphire blue curves, and herds of deer gently grazing. I remember thinking that it had a look of South America about it; it was very familiar, but very foreign at the same time. The mountains rose up on either side in almost perpendicular folds, like grave guardians of this secret place.
At the end of the glen, there was a shining silver loch with its high sentinel cliffs and a sliver of bright beach at its eastern end. I stared and stared at it, in awe and wonder, astonished that I should have this much beauty on my doorstep.
Now, I don’t drive about the country. I have work to do, livestock to care for, my voluntary job, and family obligations. There is never enough time for life, let alone going on tour. But there were these smiling young men, going up into that fairy tale and making the path good, so that people can walk through the beauty without falling into potholes.
‘Do you know this country?’ I say.
‘No,’ they say, smiling more broadly than ever. ‘We come from Dumfries, we come from Edinburgh.’
They bend down to stroke Darwin, laughing at his antic disposition. I think how glorious it was that there are young people who came from Edinburgh to make the path at Loch Muick fine. I want to ask whether they are volunteers or on some kind of work experience or what. I feel goodness and kindness flowing out them in waves. I long to know why they have chosen this good job instead of any other.
But we all have to get on, so we smile some more and part ways, in great good humour with each other.
It was a tiny moment, but it gave a lustre and a gleam to my day. Afterwards, I felt glad that because of the blog, this small conversation would be written down and recorded. I would always have a memory of the grand young men, because I had put them into words. I would forget them otherwise. I have a sieve memory and too much of the important stuff tumbles through the holes. I want to remember this, I thought. In two, three, four years time, I want to be able to look back and think of those boys, by the side of that silver loch, making their path.