Excerpt from Place Notes, an essay collection proposal by Laura Anne Brown
Over the next few months we will be celebrating the work of the shortlisted authors from our 2021 call for essay collections. Excerpts from their proposals will be showcased here on our blog. Excerpts have been left largely unedited, aside from minor changes to formatting and typos. This is to give a sense of the wide variety of writing that engaged us during the reading of submissions. All of the entries were unique, and interested us for different reasons.
Laura is a slow travel and nature writer. Her work explores how place, memory, and social media connect, and has been featured in ætla and Hidden Scotland magazines. In 2014 she won the Write to End Violence Against Women Awards for student journalism. Laura lives in Scotland, near the sea. Follow Laura at @laretour on Instagram, or visit her website https://laretour.com.
The last time I shared a blog post here, it was winter in Scotland. My words and pictures spoke of hope in the snow, in familiar places, despite the lockdown. I felt optimistic that the new year might actually bring better things.
Unfortunately, this winter has been one of the hardest I’ve known. I’m sure many people feel the same. In the space of a few months—one in December, the other in February— both my grandmothers passed away.
Strangely, the mornings they both passed on, I woke to the unusual sight of snow over our seaside town. Everything stilled. For days afterwards the world was frozen, softened only by video calls home to my family.
When things feel out of control, intensified by the isolation of another lockdown, one thing is always certain. Time. It keeps going and, if it doesn’t heal, time certainly numbs. As the daffodils glow in my small garden, and the clematis’ thin fingers curl up the fence, I feel a hope I haven’t felt in a long time.
The sky is empty blue. My weather app shows 13 degrees, but in the garden it feels warmer. I dead head some flowers and rake the soil. I wonder whether perhaps we should try walking somewhere different today now we’re allowed to travel within our local authority. I pack a small rucksack with flasks of water and a few chocolate eggs, and we set off towards the sun.
Half an hour later, we pull up at the first in a daisy chain of reservoirs in Fife’s regional park. It’s late afternoon, but the car park is still busy. We tie our boots and wonder at this scene, a view which feels almost otherworldly in its scale, raised from the towns nearby. These are the first proper hills I have seen close up in months.
We walk on the tarmac for a while, past clumps of men fishing at the side of the water, beers in hand. A few families pass us in the other direction, returning to their vehicles, and their dinners. But we continue, the early evening light shining on our sun-deprived skin. It feels like heaven.
The reservoirs get quieter as we walk higher. I could go a swim, but I don’t. We stop at the side of the second one and eat the chocolate I brought from the fridge. It has softened slightly in the heat; the perfect texture to bite. A man sits at the far side of the water in a camp chair. It is silent but for birds calling from the distant pines. I close my eyes. The warmth of the sun, so full compared to the shallow light of a screen.
Soon we reach an expanse of rolling grass and clouds of sheep, following a dry road which serves as our compass. West Lomond looms, small but still very much a hill, in the distance. The third reservoir is the largest and rolls away in dark blue silk. I gulp it in greedily.
I hadn’t realised how much I need wide-open spaces. Being in a landscape like this, high up, hills all the way to the horizon, reminds you that some things on this earth can feel limitless. Unlike the small hill behind our town—which we must have walked up almost a hundred times in this last year—this is the wildest landscape I’ve seen in months.
And yet it is not really wild at all. The marks of human meddling, industrial and farming land use, and our own occasional ignorance is clear to see. The reservoirs have high concrete walls and overflows, with accompanying (and sometimes graffitied) signs warning of the danger of swimming. There is litter next to the car park. Masts watch from neighbouring braes and, further away, lies the mosaic of towns that make up central Fife.
The reservoirs are like beautiful scars. We drive home, my body leaning against the window, finally warm in the spring sun.
This essay was first published as ‘beautiful scars’ in April 2021 on laretour.com.