A knee, a boulder, and a geologist

As a result of a pesky knee injury at the hands of Bidean nam Bian, [it means peak of the animal pelts] my forays north have been few and far between lately. It’s five months since I last climbed a highland hill and because such trips form the mainstay of my articles for Walkhighlands, I admit I started to worry where my next piece would come from.

Thankfully, there is a wonderful phenomenon in the writing world where inspiration hits you when you least expect it. Usually when you need it most, and often it’s from the most unlikely of places. In this instance….the cold, clinical, rain-soaked concrete landscape squeezed between two car parks at St John’s Hill in Edinburgh.

I was rushing up some steps to my latest physio appointment at the University, bent double against the rain, when something caught my eye. A cold, clinical, rain-soaked concrete ‘garden’. It could easily be overlooked, and indeed I must have done so myself because I’d passed there many times before. That I should notice this place now, when after five months of highland inaction I felt at my lowest ebb, it had a beautiful pre-ordained air about it. A plaque in the garden read:

“James Hutton – 1726-1797 – Philosopher and Scientist. Founder of Modern Geology. Lived in a house 3 St John’s Hill on this site from 1770 and here wrote his epoch-making ‘Theory of the Earth’ as well as all his other books and papers”

And below that, the wonderful words:

“we find no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end”

I could almost feel my spine tingle. I was already familiar with those words but here their isolation and prominence on a wedge of sandstone bestowed them with added weight and significance. In that short but stirring sentence Hutton was describing our planet’s exquisite ability to reshape itself: to grind entire continents to dust, to build massive mountain ranges, of being locked into an endless cycle of destruction and construction.

Read more here

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