Wild Things Are
by Adam Boggon
Which benefits the ten thousand things
And does not contend
- Tao Te Ching
Finlay Wild - GP of Lochaber, mountain runner, renowned among the lean
I saw him running up Meall a’ Bhuachaille in the hill race there
I was middle of the pack, covered in snot
He came down like a stream in flood
Later I came down as fast as I could
Smeared thigh deep in bog
I did not not contend
And Finlay, so far ahead,
Neither did he
My first hill race was Meall a’ Bhuachaille - mound of the herdsman. I ate too much beforehand, felt nauseated throughout the race, and at one point had to stop still to let a sharp cramp pass its worst phase. I lost my friend Donald - slight and quick and soon beyond me. Then others in the field I was running with. So I crossed much of the ridgeway alone. Descending from the high point, I gave chase after Iain, firefighter and fellow Highland Hill Runner, who swarmed past me. I overtook him briefly before tearing mid-thigh into sudden bog; scattering all over the track like a spilled glass of milk. The wind and lightness went from me. I stumbled toward the finish line, solo.
“Four minutes! Four minutes to the start!”
I pace around the platform at Strathpeffer waiting to begin the Knockfarrel hill race. This will be my second.
We’re warned of ice on the course, of snow and wet tree roots. We grimace and strain our necks. I scuff at the ground with my trainers.
The race batters along the side of an old railway track, then cuts diagonally through a muddy farmer’s field, then up a steep tussocky hillside where all runners were slowed to a scramble on hands and feet - grabbing fistfuls of heather, saplings and clods of earth.
I pop over the top of the all-four scramble and feel light enough to hack back into a run once my heart stops its escapee’s clammer against my ribcage. I want to summon the old spirit of Browning:
“Pheidippides…Ran like fire once more: and the space 'twixt the fennel-field
And Athens was stubble again, a field which a fire runs through
…Joy in his blood bursting his heart”
But I’m not strong enough for that. Yet still there’s joy somewhere streaming in my blood as I chase after the thin line of trail: leaping ice, streams, fences, rock. Descending I’m growing slowly to love - having learned the trick of Jay-Z:
“It comes from not being afraid to fall out of the sky”
I barrel toward the finish now, though not fast enough to keep up with Catriona Morrison, the Highland Hill Runner’s woman’s champion. I cross the line with a smile.
After, standing vested in the cold air, steam rises from the bodies and breath of the runners who huddle together shaking hands. Smiles break gaunt cheeks. Streaks of blood on hands, arms, faces from rasps of gorse.
I shower in the Shinty pavilion, the incandescence of hot water almost blistering my cold back - a thick coating of mud runs off my legs and the flecks of blood on my arms are cleaned too.
A runner tells me he washes his shoes in a stream at the bottom of his garden. I live in an attic flat with an irregular pentagonal door and no access to a hose. So I ask my pal Andy to drop me off by the river which rushes through Inverness.
I walk down to the water’s edge, crouch on a domed rock, and wash the worst of the clart off.
Looking across the river, I see no fishermen out this afternoon - though often they are to be found in this stretch of water.
I think of a phrase from Wang Wei which I scribbled once in a scrapbook when I was 19:
“The fisherman did not suspect
that paradise is hard to find.”