Only the Mountain: Shared Paths with Nan Shepherd

In the summer of 2017, I ventured into Scotland’s Cairngorms mountains, following the path of poet, writer, and hillwalker Nan Shepherd, exploring ideas about the human relationship to the natural world. Immersed in mountains and moors, with Nan’s book The Living Mountain in hand, the solo trek became an exploration of both inner and outer landscapes, and where the two meet; it turned into what Nan might have called a walk among the elementals, a “journey to the sources.” The eleven days presented physical challenges – tent-destroying winds and midges by the millions – while opening thought and emotion, ending in a personal reconnection with a sense of being developed through my lifetime in mountain landscapes. I walked out of the Cairngorms remembering what it is to feel a part of the greater community of life, to have a sense of belonging within a greater whole that lies beyond words. Nan Shepherd’s words and thoughts were integral in allowing that to happen over the short period of the trek.
Told as a personal narrative tracing that path towards a deep sense of belonging and being, Only the Mountain reaches beyond my own story to explore humanity’s relationship with the earth. In so doing, the narrative may provide readers a way to think about their own relationship to the natural world and their non-human neighbors.