Friday, June 5, 2015

Falling down a hill in Edinburgh

The year was 2006. iPhones didn't exist and Google Maps was only one year old. Exploring was still fun, and offered a hint of danger.

My gran, me, and Evelyn: supper at the Living Room,
Edinburgh (now closed)
I was in Edinburgh with my gran, visiting my grandpa's cousin, Evelyn. Evelyn lived in a kind of small leafy subdivision near a golf course on the outskirts of the city, called Kingsknowe. Gran and I were staying with her for a couple of nights; my gran didn't get back to Scotland often, and Evelyn and my grandpa had been close growing up, so while Gran and I were there, we made a point of going to see her.

Evelyn was good fun (may her memory be illuminated). She laughed easily and told great stories. She enjoyed a glass of wine, and habitually drank the most god-awful homemade sauvignon blanc that she kept in demijohns in her kitchen. It tasted like celery salt and tinned asparagus, and she would pour giant goblets of it for all of us. Drinking this wine made me feel like Sisyphus with his boulder; every time the glass had less than 1/3 left in it, Evelyn would appear with a bottle - a smaller bottle, siphoned from the demijohn - at my elbow to top me up. Finishing the glass and politely declining another was out of the question, though it took me a few brave attempts to realize this. To this day I have a hard time enjoying sauvignon blanc, and this may have something to do with it.

On the second day that we were staying with Evelyn, I needed a break from the wine and the house. We'd been out a bit, but Evelyn and my gran were happy to chat and laugh together in Evelyn's comfy living room, and I was feeling some cabin fever. I decided to go for a walk around the neighbourhood.

This was when I discovered how small this subdivision actually was. After a couple of laps on the same streets and cul-de-sacs, I ran out of places to walk. Crossing the main street wasn't an option, because the golf course was on the other side with a high stone wall, and I didn't want to wander too far, else get lost. I was resigned to head back to the eternal well of sauvignon sadness.

Just as I approached the house, I heard a small noise. It sounded like the babbling of a stream; a faint gurgling of a brook. Since I had nothing else to do, and it was a pleasant late summer day in September, I decided that I would follow the sound of the water and see what I could find.

The beginning of the path, taken on a later visit
I crossed over into a green and shaded strip of land across the street from Evelyn's house. I noticed that there was a dirt trail worn into the grass, slanting off through the trees to the right. It all felt very secret-garden, like I was the little girl searching for clues within strange British landscaping. I began to follow the path.

The earth was wet and slick with mud and a build-up of fallen leaves. It must have rained the night or day before (or both - it was Scotland, after all), and I thought to myself 'Kate, be careful here and don't go too fast, or else you're going to slide on this mud. Just follow the sound of the water.' So reasonable. But the path was slanting downwards, on an easy perpendicular grade on the side of a hill. I found my feet sliding a little bit, so I started to walk with longer strides.

Then the path got a bit steeper, and more slippery, and my strides got longer. My strides got longer and longer, and I found myself starting into a light jog. 'Kate,' I thought again, 'don't go too fast. This is good. Don't lose control.' My brain was like, 'no problem, bro.' But my body was in the trenches, and things were different there. The hill was steeper now, and muddier. My momentum was growing and the slide under my shoes made slowing down impossible; running was clearly the only reasonable solution. So I started to run, but not just run, leap-run, tearing down the hill, still believing myself to be in control. Every stride made me go faster, and every landing foot slid and leapt off again. There was no other way.

The path turned.

I did not.

I crashed through the underbrush, straight down the hill now, unable to change my course, as the abandoned path veered away behind me. Stopping now was out of the question. I was leap-running through the green, leaves and twigs smacking my face and legs, a streak of blue and white creating a tremendous racket flying uncontrollably down the hill.

Then I saw, to my dismay, another path below me. This path wasn't a part of the hill; it was the bottom of the hill. A smooth, broad path.


I knew I had to slow myself down. How was I going to negotiate the transition to path? I briefly thought of taking one smooth leap from hill and landing neatly, ninja-style, on the path. With grace and dignity.

Instead, I started desperately grasping at undergrowth, tearing leaves and small branches off of unsuspecting saplings.

The path was looming up ahead, only a few leaps away. Finally, at the almost-last moment, a fairly sizeable tree appeared in my path! I reached my hands out! I grabbed the tree! And instead of stopping, gaining my balance and stepping out, I was flung sideways at speed! My hands slipped off the bark, and I was air-borne through the last bit of brush, splattering onto the path like a complete maniac.

I landed on the entire left side of my body, in a mud puddle. With neither grace, nor dignity.

Dying of complete mortification, I picked myself up and examined the damage. All of my clothes were dirty, and my hands and face as well. That f*cking stream I'd been looking for was just on the other side of the path, so I crossed over to wash my hands and try to get some of the dirt off me before picking up the fragments of my pride and hauling myself back up to the street.

When I got back to Evelyn's house, I went upstairs without a word. I changed my clothes (ripped jeans! nooooo!) and made sure there was no mud on my face or leaves in my hair. Gran and Evelyn would suspect nothing, until I told them, and so I went downstairs to take a long, healing drink of crap wine.

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