One highlight of mine from 2017 was seeing Brian Cox live on stage. He described the image of planet Earth taken from the far edge of our solar system, the picture of our home planet taken from the furthest distance away. The image is a beautiful collection of millions of stars, one of which, one tiny blue pixel on the image, is planet Earth.
Brian Cox uses this image to illustrate the two ends of a spectrum of scale that seem to contradict each other. At one end, our solar system, planet Earth and each one of us living here are so incredibly small and insignificant when you look at the big picture of the galaxy and the entire universe. When we can stop for a moment and look outside of our own lives to see the bigger picture, we might just realise that all the things we build up to be big problems in our lives turn out to be insignificant on the bigger scale of the universe. Our planet is a very small dot in the universe but it is the only one we have and we should do better to understand this so that we might look after it better and try harder to get on with each other.
Unfortunately, very few of us will be able to go to space to get a real sense of this perspective. We do however have something much closer at hand and accessible to nearly everyone that can give us the same sense of scale. By exploring the mountains that surround us in Scotland we get to feel the immense scale of the landscape, the power of the weather, and the never-ending nature of wildness, that can give us a proper sense of scale. In a blizzard on a summit with numb fingers and an unrelenting wind, when we have to take a bearing on our compass to walk off safely there is nobody else we can turn to, nobody else we can blame if we get it wrong, and no sympathy in the weather or the landscape. It is a good reminder that each of us is not at the centre of things with the universe revolving around us. We need to learn some humility and to take responsibility for ourselves.
At the other end of the spectrum of scale, Brian Cox went on to talk about just how amazing each one of us is through the image of Earth taken from the edge of the solar system. Remember that it was a few humans that designed the space probe, understood the science, built and launched the probe and guided it successfully to the edge of space so that it could send us back an image from an incomprehensibly far distance. Each one of us is unique and incredibly special. Each one of us plays a vital role in our communities and in civilisation. We might not all design space probes but in our unique ways we all contribute to the human race.
I have just read a book by Colin Mortlock talking about the value of adventuring in Nature. He relates this contradiction of scale to snowflakes. Each one of us is as unique as a snow flake and beautiful in our own way. Collectively though we can feel insignificantly small, just one tiny part of a much bigger thing. We are each unique and we all have a unique role to play in life, but it is good to remember that everyone else is also unique and on the scale of the whole snow pack our significance is very small.
By going exploring in the mountains we can very easily get an appreciation of the immense scale of Nature and of the universe, as well as our vulnerability in it. We need determination, self-discipline, an open and inquisitive mind that is ready to learn from experiences and we need to work hard. We need to take on risk, measure it and manage it so that we are challenged but not being reckless. We need to be honest to ourselves about our capability and not measure ourselves up to other people and their capabilities.
Colin Mortlock goes on to say “The more effort you have to make, the more exposed you are to the influences of Nature and the greater the likelihood of being aware of its beauty. What this implies is that the greater the self-sufficiency and the fewer the barriers imposed by equipment and man-made features the greater the potential for heightened awareness. Being alone can further increase this awareness. These factors all point to the value of simplicity rather than complexity as an approach to life.”
So, in 2018, let’s explore more of Nature. Let’s take on challenges, immerse ourselves in Nature and be ready to appreciate it by working hard and being self-sufficient. Let’s go to the wild!
I go to the wild to be put in my place, to be battered and
embraced by wind, rain and sun;
I go to the wild to be reminded of what matters in this world;
I go to the wild to remember who I am;
I go to the wild to feel;
I go to the wild.
R. Bradley 25th April 2017
Self reliance is a fundamental principle of mountaineering. By participating we accept this and take responsibility for the decisions we make. These blog posts and conditions reports are intended to help you make good decisions. They do not remove the need for you to make your own judgements when out in the hills.