There are many routes up and across ‘Arthur’s Seat’, each one different. Some steep, some rocky, some a gentle stroll. On this particular occasion I began at the Southern end, and took the ascending northward path through the long grass along the slopes of Salisbury Crags.
That Sunday was an interesting mix of weather – brilliant blue sky and billowing winds; perfect for walking and thinking. Perhaps not so perfect for walking along a cliff-face. In any case, there I was.
I swapped the rain and hills of the previous Saturday for blue skies and fields this weekend. The route this time: Manningtree Circular. The walk would take in the historic village of Dedham and the River Stour.
The area is also known as “Constable Country” because the artist John Constable (born 1776) went to school here, used to trek among these fields frequently, and had many family associations with the area. The landscape features in a number of his classic paintings, including The Hay Wain, The Cornfield, Dedham Vale, Flatford Mill (below), and The Valley of Stour. For enthusiasts of landscape painting, the Romantics, and John Constable’s works of art in particular, this is an ideal hike.
My commitment to complete at least one hike a week has fared quite well. I resolved long ago to not be put off by ‘bad’ weather – remarkably that resolve hasn’t been put to the test that much as, by sheer luck, the days I’ve chosen for my hikes have escaped the worst. In any case, I mostly subscribe to the ‘no such thing as bad weather – only bad attire’ school of thought.
Yesterday was probably one of those bad attire days. I didn’t have my usual hiking stuff with me (rule #1: take hiking boots with you, anywhere, just in case). Weather forecast said low chance of precipitation, but not to be believed since the sky was overcast. So I decided upon a relatively tame walk in Pentland regional park.
When we think of the many burdens and eventual traumas that Frodo had to deal with by the end of the story, what do we remember? We know of the physical maiming of course, and Shelob’s sting. We also know of the psychological blow that the Ring inflicted on Frodo – the pain of being wrenched from it was unbearable. And though Frodo was robust, and his intent for goodness protected him somewhat, that pain never went away. Gandalf did say, in fact, right at the start as they sat in Frodo’s study in Bag End “I could not ‘make you’ [give up the Ring] – except by force, which would break your mind.” (Bk 1: ii: 59). That Frodo retained any sanity at all after Gollum’s fateful intervention – even with the help of healers – is remarkable.
But what we hear less of is the damaging, but less tangible, impact of feeling constantly watched. Sauron’s spies are scattered throughout Middle-earth. He has ways of knowing via traitors, palantirs, or the Nazgûl. And worst of all, his dark twisted lust for the Ring binds him to its whereabouts as it draws nearer to Mordor. One of the most chilling episodes of the book occur as Frodo pauses at the summit of Amon Hen. There we are told:
What a difficult year 2020 has been for everyone, the world over. I have heard of much grief and loss – and what is more, loss that cannot be mourned in the normal way. I learned many things this year (as I am sure has everyone) but for the first time I understood that being able to mourn properly and attend a funeral is in fact a blessing and something to be grateful for, even as one deals with death. Being able to share that difficult moment with loved ones and friends, through which the heart grows bigger even if it is in pain, is, I now understand, a great privilege.
This drawing is the companion to this one. It needs very little explanation, I hope, but it is of course Bilbo Baggins at the entrance of Smaug’s Lair in the Lonely Mountain. It is the exact opposite to the first scene in the Hobbit, when we are introduced to Bilbo in front of his green, round, door at Bag-End, in the gentle peace of The Shire. There, he had not a care in the world, smoking his pipe, and without even a hint of adventure about him. Here, he stands behind an altogether different doorway, one that leads to possible death. The smokes that surrounds him are not pleasant, but are stinking, foul, suffocating fumes. He is in the very cauldron of his adventure, the same adventure he so resisted at the start; and it has altered him forever. As we are told at this scene: Continue reading →
At last, a new blogpost, to (nearly) coincide with Bilbo and Frodo’s birthday! This is the second and last post on The Shadow of the Past…I’ve narrowed it down to a few themes, but there is so much more that could be said on this one chapter.Continue reading →