Youth is Climbing Crumbling Rocks
Hannah McKenzie, Division 3, College freshman

All of the greens you can imagine: green bean green and tree frog green and ever-growing ivy green. They mix together into the vibrant Scotland green that crowds my memories of my two-week adventure with Mom, Dad, and my older brother, Gabe.

Black-masked sheep roam freely around this greenest grass, the overgrown ferns and the crumbling rocks. We meander up an incline toward the collection of low hills that, together with their beaten paths that curve up and around the rounded walls, resemble a moss-covered ant farm. These paths are shared by sheep and humans, a truth made clear by sheep droppings sprinkled around the area, easily mistaken for black licorice jelly beans, avoided both in Jelly Belly packages and on the trails of Scotland’s hills.

There are other human visitors scattered around, but they seem less to me like people and more like other sheep grazing around my family’s private adventure. Sometime, Mom and Dad separate from Gabe and me, and we’re too busy traversing the ant-farm to notice. Gabe performs his signature run-jump-climb movement that he has been performing across rocks and mountains for nearly all of his twenty years. I arrive at the top of the hill shortly after Gabe, of course, but I remind myself that he is a twenty-year old semi-professional rock climber and his speediness is unexpected from me. I breathe out once deeply and rapidly, a noise I’ve found myself making often when I am forced to suppress my fear of heights. Gabe actually likes high peaks, crumbling rocks, and narrow trails. He urges me to put my arms up and feel the wind. I do and I breathe naturally.

When I follow Gabe down, we pass a gravestone with a tattered letter and photograph attached; the photograph is of a teenaged boy, just a year or two older than I. “The world lost your kind soul far too early,” the letter reads. I picture what his father might have looked like as he scratched out this letter in remembrance of his son: he has an unkempt beard spotted with clusters of salt-and-pepper hair, and his sad eyes hide behind small, round glasses. The boy remains in this photograph on a fairy glen hill, content and alive in his permanent home. I imagine that this place was his favorite, too.

We spot our parents scrambling around like children playing hide-and-go-seek tag. They’re small in the distance, but hard to miss thanks to Mom’s bright yellow raincoat. They wave with their arms high and wide, and motion us over to join them at the far hills, where we see no other people, or even sheep for that matter. They’re far enough away that I can’t make out their faces, but I know they’re smiling.

We catch up to them, and they tell us to journey farther up to a special place they found a few minutes earlier. Gabe and I climb and crawl over the rocks that interrupt a trickling stream on the hill leading up to the spot.

At the clearing at the top of the hill, there is enough earth surrounding my feet that my breaths are relaxed, irregular only out of awe. Flowers like tufts of cotton cover the field as an all-encompassing blanket. The ground is flat and stands in contrast to the far-off mountains, whose vibrant green fades into a dull gray. We spend a few moments there before we make our way back down to the lower, milder hills.

Dad calls us over to the five-ringed labyrinth, which claims its space with brick-sized rocks and grass worn by wanderers into a perfectly crafted swirl. In the center, there is a modest pile of treasures: stones, shells, feathers, a button or two, and various coins from around the globe. Dad tells us to think of a question to ask ourselves. He says, “If you walk through the spiral and back out, thinking of a question, you’ll have found your answer by the end.” My mind is blank—I have no questions at all. So I walk around and back, around and back, around and back, and I begin to think about that boy from the photo on the rock. I watch Gabe as he scurries out of the labyrinth, seemingly pleased with whatever answer he’s reached, and I wonder if the boy on the hill ever walked around and back, around and back, around and back around this labyrinth like me. Did he wander here often? Does he still? I picture him here, playing like a child, exploring and breathing and walking around this labyrinth, more alive than most people on this Earth ever are. I’m convinced the air is clearer here.

Nature is a haven for my family and me; we forget our worries of money, malady, deadlines, and drama. We feel magical and free, alive and young. In nature, we wander and wonder as children again.

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