The Eye of the Storm

It’s hot here and humidity is building. It feels like a storm is on its way, Despite the air conditioning in our apartment I am sweating as I sit in my boxers at the breakfast bar.

Menna and I exchange glances for a second, then we both look away, go silently back to our tasks. I’m jabbing away at my iPad, supposedly checking flight sites but secretly writing this, she’s scrolling on her phone looking at visas requirements. There’s a figurative thunder cloud in our apartment, mirroring the real ones that are amassing outside. The kids are laughing away down in the pool all oblivious, but things are pretty dark indoors.

Our arrival in Brazil went pretty well, all things considered. We completed three flights over a thirty hour period. None were delayed. We only got charged $200 for the excess surfboards. We didn’t take our masks off for the whole period except to swig water and cram airline sandwiches down our throats. The kids mainly behaved themselves. Menna ferociously sanitized our hands at half-hour intervals. We were all forbidden to touch surfaces, people, seats, our own faces. Our hire car was waiting with roof rails as specified, so we could tie on the surfboards. We didn’t get kidnapped or hijacked on drive from the airport. We made it our hotel and ate a celebratory dinner, tired and happy, congratulating ourselves on a new frontier.

The headlines that greeted us on our first morning gave us a shock. Brazil had set a new record for pandemic deaths on the previous day.

Experts warn Brazil facing darkest days of Covid crisis as deaths hit highest level” says the Guardian, March 3rd.

We field a flood of messages from far-off well-wishers, politely wondering whether we had taken total leave of our senses. When we booked our Brazilian tickets things seemed to be in a better state, we say. We had met travelers returning from Brazil with inspiring tales. We had talked to locals here. The forums spoke of sustainable travel, wild landscapes, rural communities far from the lurid highways of commerce. We wanted to show our children a different culture. Our main concern was crime not coronavirus. The Covid stats were flat, we repeat.

We leave Natal and drive to Pipa Beach where we have booked an apartment. The sullen heat takes our breath away but the condo seems like a nice place to spend our first week. It is spacious, a little run-down, bougainvillea is entwined around the balcony. It seems safe.

Brazil’s Covid Crisis Is a Warning to the Whole World, Scientists Say” The New York Times tells us, March 3rd.

This theme is repeated across most of the international press. The eyes of the world seem to have turned upon Brazil. Judging from all the reports, we are in pretty much the worst place that one could be right now, the epicentre of the viral maelstrom, the birthplace of a deadly new variant. The hospitals are in crisis, the president is negligent, people are dying in their thousands – and we have chosen to travel here!

Menna is in tears. We have an argument:
“I told you we shouldn’t have come.”
“You didn’t tell me. We both made this decision!”
“Not really! It was you who wanted this. I feel totally unsafe. I want to leave!”
“We discussed this for days before we bought the tickets. We’re in this together! The road less travelled remember, that’s what we do. A life of adventure!”
“I want to leave.”

She has a point and I have to acknowledge it. It feels like we’ve (I’ve) led the family into unnecessary danger. As a state, I keep telling myself, the Covid rates per capita here in Rio Grande do Norte are way better than the UK and most of the world. Brazil is a federation that is two and a half times the size of the EU. You can’t treat it all as a single country – you need to assess the situation at a state level. But it doesn’t work.

“Brazil’s variant breeding ground is a threat to the entire world” Washington Post, March 4th.

Friends send us medical journals and papers. They point out statistics around mortality rates, hospital capacity and access to oxygen. They speak about government policy and vaccine hesitancy. There are no vaccines here anyway we say.

After our argument I know I need to make this right. I pledge absolute cooperation enforcing strict hygiene protocols with the kids and moreover that I would find some early exit options from this plagued nation. With admirable foresight I have bought us return flights here instead of the usual one-way ticket, so I know I have this get-out-of-jail card in my pocket. If things get too hot we will simply bring forward our return dates, flee back to Mexico, then find somewhere else to go where people won’t feel the need to send us concerned messages and call us crazy.

There is a tolerance for death’: Brazil battles fresh Covid storm” Financial Times, March 8th.

Outside our gates it doesn’t feel like the people are battling Covid storms. They are strolling around without masks, laughing. The streets are full, there is a roaring trade at the empanada kiosk, the surf is pumping and social distancing seem to mean a 20cm gap. Pipa Beach is a famous beauty spot and the weekend warriors keep rolling in from the city. Perhaps there is a tolerance of death here.

I am normally overly optimistic about danger while Menna is overly cautious, but now we both find ourselves nervous and hesitant. We can’t relax. We shrink back in the street as a laughing group of surfers approaches, we use contactless card to pay for our coffees, I entirely disinfect when I return from the supermarket, we don’t eat out. We go for long family walks along deserted cliffs and surf away from the pack. Arthur scampers around as always, picking things up, climbing on anything he can. We chase him around with alcohol spray.

“Brazil’s hospitals close to collapse as cases reach record high” British Medical Journal, March

When Biden reverses Trump border policy and bans all inbound travellers from Brazil, even for transfers, it renders our return tickets (via Dallas) completely invalid. My exit plan evaporates like smoke. The rest of the world quickly follows suit. No-one is keen to welcome travelers from Brazil with their tolerance for death and their exotic variants.

I comb the internet when our patchy wifi allows. There is a brief ray of light when I manage to find some alternative flights to Ethiopia and I get very excited about throwing a crazy twist into the adventure, but there appears to be some kind of armed uprising going on there. I reluctantly move on. Menna is keen on Tahiti, but then overnight the island goes into full lockdown.

Together under storm clouds of our own making, Menna and I sit silently, side by side, tapping on our screens, hoping for answers. Outside is a nation ravaged by infections. Mutations are bubbling away all around us. Thunder rumbles and the smell of tropical rot lies heavy on the air.

After five days of searching, we can find no realistic way to get out of this country at all.

Enough fussing and whining! How much longer will the crying go on?

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, after two straight days of record COVID-19 deaths in Brazil. March 5th.

………………

Island Madness

When I was younger I spent a year on Réunion, a volcanic island out in the middle of the Indian Ocean. I remember it as a place of mighty green mountain-faces and cloud columns, battered by ferocious waves and patrolled by Great White sharks; full of creole superstition. I was young back then and impetuous. I got myself in some trouble and left the island with a broken arm and a hostile crowd at my back, my name bandied around on local radio.

I am a respectable man now but there is something about the cliffs and mountains of Madeira that is very similar. It brings back memories of that wild year and makes my heart run faster. Last time I was here, in the grip of island madness and suffering from blood loss, I accidentally proposed to my girlfriend on a mountain pass. Now I am back with her once again and our two children.

Madeira gives us a typical island greeting. We land into a thick sea mist and drive blindly across the island in fog and darkness, late-night reggaeton playing on the car radio, kids sleeping in the back. Overnight the mist becomes a squall and we wake to drumming rain and the banshee howl of the wind. When we venture out for breakfast our car is nearly blown off the cliff road. ‘Come to me!’ the Atlantic shouts at us far below, pounding the rocks in anticipation, throwing up spray as our wheels skid on the roadside. We have other plans though and we drive on; we eat breakfast in a warm bakery on the mountain top, then return to our house to do some half-hearted schoolwork and pace out the day. 

By nighttime the storm has passed and the next day is absolutely stunning. We are high on a cliff, with ocean below us and mountains behind. A series of vertical escarpments curve around the headland like folds of green corduroy, each ridge slightly more faded than the one before until they melt away into haze and shadow. Kestrels hover over the gorge.

Some way down below us the village of Paul do Mar is a series of pastel bricks tossed down at hazard behind the sea wall. It is only about three kilometres away as the crow flies, and so we decide to stroll down after lunch, using the rambler’s trails that zig-zag down through the vegetation. For the crow a 25% gradient is just wind and freefall, but we however are chained by gravity. We set off on the hike full of excited chatter, but soon we are blowing hard and conversing in grunts. The views are amazing, but our legs are properly shaking once we get to the bottom – and that was just the walk down. It requires a cool-off period, some beers, passionfruit mocktails and a serious pep talk before we are ready to attempt the return leg. We make it home though and Matilda doesn’t even moan once. Encouraged by this we drive off to a waterfall, then on to a lighthouse for sunset.

This sets the tone for our week in Madeira. There are too many beautiful things to see and it feels like we are racing against time, trying to capture the island in a week. We march to the rhythm of invisible drums. It is a novel way to travel after months of lazy meandering down the Portuguese coast. The frantic pace becomes a game. How much can we do in a day? How many sights can we see? Schoolwork becomes shouted quizzes that take place in the car as we traverse the island.

We spend a day in the capital, Funchal, bombing down vertiginous streets in strange sledges pulled by goat-like men in straw boaters. We go swimming off the quay and dress up for a colonial tea in Reid’s Hotel for a special Matilda treat. We do a 10km hike to a famous waterfall in the interior and try to swim under it, but it is too glacial to stay in that dark mountain pool for more than a few minutes. We spot the mighty Madeiran Buzzard. We take a cable car down to a deserted ghost town in the northern tip of the island and we eat a picnic on the rocks, then get drenched by huge waves as we try to paddle. We climb up the kind of cliff path that would give Indiana Jones second thoughts, scrambling over rockslides and slithering along wet ledges where all that lies between you and the abyss is wind and fear.

Arthur and I go rock-climbing in the cliffs in the south and Arthur astonishes our guides with his monkey abilities. I don’t astonish anyone, except perhaps by not injuring myself, but the challenge of man against rock speaks to something deep in my soul, and I resolve to do daily strength exercises in future and climb El Capitán with Arthur before he is eighteen. Straight afterwards, still soaked with sweat, we hike up the highest peak on the island and Matilda treats us to a glorious meltdown at the summit.

Amid all this motion I find some hours one morning to hide myself away and have a long chat with a lovely lady from BA. Then at lunch I am able to casually mention to the family that I have bought us one-way tickets to Costa Rica next week. It is a complete bombshell and it sends everyone into disbelief then squealing and dancing. I am puffed with triumph at my own largess, the modern day hunter-gatherer of airmiles and companion vouchers.
‘We are going to Costa-Coffee Rica-pica!’ the kids sing as we rattle over mountain passes and along cliff roads in our pathetically under-powered rental car.

They are distracted now, their heads far away, but as we drive along every curve brings a new wonder and I start to wish I had held back the news until later. I can’t help thinking that even the majestic Costa Rican cloud forests may not top this wild and beautiful island.

You Don’t Need a Weatherman

Another month passed somehow as we meandered our way down the southern coastline of Portugal. Without the anchor points of the school dropoff or work, we were subject to some pretty surreal distortions of time. Some days were featureless and stretched out like old chewing gum, but then everything flicked into double-time and we couldn’t cram enough stuff into the hours we are awake. ‘What did we do that week after Aterra?’ I asked the kids, but whole sections of our recent past have compacted into a series of fragments and we can’t tease them apart, only watch the showreel and listen to that crackling soundtrack. And it’s bloody Bob Dylan of course.

Inside the museums, Infinity goes up on trial / Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while / But Mona Lisa must’ve had the highway blues / You can tell by the way she smiles.

A week in Vila Nova de Milfontes was disappointing. After many frothy recommendations from fellow travellers we were excited when we arrived, but our AirBnB was small, dark and expensive; we were in a boring suburb and we had to drive twenty minutes to find indifferent surf. The streets were too rough to skate on. On one beach trip we lost our beloved old Nikon camera, an inexplicable disappearance that puzzled us for days. We went standup paddling on the river mouth and got caught up in a gale so Arthur nearly got swept out to sea and was very shaken. We saw a man dying in the aftermath of a motorcycle accident. 

I ain’t a-saying you treated me unkind / You could have done better but I don’t mind / You just kinda wasted my precious time / But don’t think twice, it’s all right.

Near Aljezur we found a crumbling old sun-baked mansion, perched on a hill that overlooked the sea on one side and estuary plains on the other. It was full of eccentric African ornaments and Swedish books and it flooded whenever it rained. We loved it. We extended our stay for over two weeks there. Menna and I dusted off old memories from a weekend break we took near here a decade ago and bored the kids with them (“Look children! That’s where we sat and drank vinho verde – or was it port honey? – and watched the fishermen come in!”). We threw a lavish Halloween party for all the family, that is to say, the four of us, project-managed ferociously by Matilda. The organisation took her nearly a week, what with all the baking (severed-hand pies!), inventing complicated spooky games (spider web dash!), choosing the perfect film (Adams Family!) and it culminated with everyone ‘sleeping over’ in our bedroom. We were all tucked up by nine, which is how our parties generally end these days.

Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re tryin’ to be so quiet / We sit here stranded, though we’re all doin’ our best to deny it.

We hit the bottom of Portugal and turned the corner onto the south coast. Salema was a pretty little town that seemed to have been packaged up for winter hibernation. We walked the empty streets and spent some time observing a colony of stray cats living a enviable life on a abandoned mattress behind the recycling bins. Our nearest proper surf break was Zavial, a fast hollow wave that jacked up suddenly on a shallow sand bank to create perfect turquoise barrels. It was fantastic to watch and dangerous to surf. We went on a boat trip and standup paddle boarding with our friends Josh and Meg and explored the coastline from the sea. A section of porous sandstone cliffs, full of caves with shell-fossil walls and twisted stone columns rising up out of the waves. The boat trip turned into lunch, into dinner, into a birthday party that went on until nearly midnight. (Midnight! I know right?) I had my first proper hangover of the year next day. A night or two later the whole family awoke to intense strobe light in the early hours. We thought must be some malfunctioning streetlight, but it turned out to be the most epic electrical storm going off right above us. It felt like the world was ending.

Well, I’m livin’ in a foreign country but I’m bound to cross the line /
Beauty walks a razor’s edge, someday I’ll make it mine

As we drifted along, it felt like our time in Portugal was winding to an end somehow, but our future beyond was still misty and worrisome. Lockdowns were looming, but not just here, everywhere we looked. Menna and I had long muttered arguments on beach walks about where we could go if things got bad. Africa was dangerous, Australia was shut, South America was sick. We expended ever more energy into loving Portugal and some days we thought that maybe we could winter here and it would be ok. We would find a remote house on the clifftop and stock up with winter provisions, surf huge cold Atlantic waves, watch lightning strikes out at sea, go for wind-blown walks in the early light. These stone houses are built for summer but we could find one with a wood burner and we would huddle around it and read the Greek myths aloud to the children while the viral armageddon raged outside.

A worried man with a worried mind / No one in front of me and nothing behind / There’s a woman on my lap and she’s drinking champagne …I’m well dressed, waiting on the last train.

Gorse Babies

We were walking up on the headlands and it was late. The wind had picked up, and out to sea there was an ominous black cloud line running right along the darkening sky. We were far from home.

Then I heard it, as the wind dropped for a moment, a little high pitched snicker, then a skittering sound of tiny feet scrabbling on dry earth. Arthur picked it up too. He has magnificent ears.
“What was that Dad?”
“It’s nothing” I say, “probably just a weasel in the undergrowth”. He moved in closer to me and we pressed forward in silence. I picked up the pace and hurried the family along.

We both knew that sound though.

The kids are familiar with gorse babies ever since that run-in we had with them in Dorset some years back. And now as we walk hurriedly back home, the rising panic of that sultry evening comes flooding back to me. I curse myself for not learning the lesson then. That too was a summer’s walk, only it turned into a nightmare as we gradually grew aware of their presence. First a sly rustling and snickering deep in the sea of gorse. Then a building storm, the foliage sighing and trembling all around us, as if the rooted foundations beneath stirred and seethed. Tiny hands pulling at the fronds, brown limbs entwined like snakes around the branches, yellow eyes glinting out at us from between the yellow furze flowers. There must have been hundreds of them. It was only through a commotion of shouting, stamping and hammering the path with a heavy stick that I was able to force us a route out of there. We shuffled homewards along the pathway for an age, clustered close together, the kids tightly guarded, Menna snarling and bringing up the rear.

I had never heard of the little creatures being so brazen before. It was simply not known for them to approach while adults were present. Usually it would be just an unattended child who might quietly disappear on the cliff top. Clearly we had run into a tribe that day, one that was powerful enough, or desperate enough, to attack a full family.

I would like to know more about gorse babies, those vile little creatures that fascinate and disturb me in equal measure. I’ve heard the stories, of course, vague and speculative as they are. That the first colony was started in Victorian times, somewhere in the south country, seems realistic. It was most likely a pair of very small children that were either deliberately abandoned on the moors, or became lost somehow. I always imagine a couple of smudged little tots, wide-eyed, tearful, holding hands as the dark closes in; their voices undetectable over the howling wind. They would have sheltered under those wide robust banks of gorse I guess, burrowing in deep to avoid the needles, cushioning themselves in the dry scree underneath. Perhaps they found rabbit or badger holes there. Perhaps they scraped away the earth with their own little fingers. Did the yellow beams of gas lamps flicker distantly in the night? Did the wind carry far off voices shouting their names with increasing desperation? Or were those first nights uninterrupted but for the slithering and scratching of wild creatures making their winding tracks under the fern and gorse?

Whether they were looked for or not, they weren’t ever found. Neither alive, nor as frozen bodies curled tight around the gorse roots. Instead somehow, against all odds, they survived. Some say the founders of the first great colony are still down there somewhere, enthroned in galleries of clay; an ancient and twisted little king and queen of the gorse world, surrounded by the wild civilisation they have created. I don’t believe this myself. That would make them well over a hundred years old. And to survive so long, in a life so harsh…

Our children didn’t sleep well for ages after that first Dorset encounter. They knew that they had had a very close escape. They were still small and malleable and could have so easily been snatched away and pressed down through dark holes into a new life under the earth. A life of slithering through tunnels, eyes straining and swelling in the darkness, bodies never to grow again, skin hardening, fat melting away, tendons, ligaments and bone gaining prominence. How long would it take them to forget their parents and their old soft lives in that subterranean world? Their backs would curve and knot under new muscle growth, their limbs contort to facilitate a life of scrabbling on all fours. Small naked bodies taking the colour of clay, covered in scar tissue and course matted hair. Teeth filed into little points; hardened claw fingers; flesh pierced with thorns and gorsewood. A life driven by instinct and tribal duty, squirming around the gorse roots, sleeping piled up with other small bodies in musky, airless underground chambers, nourished by the blood of rodents and who knows what else? They would have spoken that reedy, chirruping language, full of the anger and violence of wild moorland creatures. Many children have been lost this way.

Now though it’s different, Arthur is nearly ten and Matilda a plump eight year old. They would never flit through the tunnels that honeycomb the headland. Their bones have set, their haunches are soft and they have no value as conscripts to the tribe. Now they are simply prey.

The mist was rising as we hurried on into that yellow dusk. Around us the rustling and chittering slowly intensified like a locust storm approaching. I looked for a stout stick.

Signs of Freedom

Since we escaped London some weeks ago now, we have been going through a mental shift.

It is something to do with moving into a very rural area, having lots of free time and being outside for most of the day. There is a different set of signals we pick up now. New priorities steal our attention. People talk a lot these days about re-wilding gardens and outdoor spaces; allowing nature to reclaim manicured lawns and geometric lines. In a way it feels like we are rewilding too.

We came here from the city. That means we came from a place where energy and determination are revered and prioritised above all else. We measured efficiency and productivity at work. We obsessed about ways to improve metrics and smash our targets. At home we charted our step count, heart rate and sleep time, sharing them with communities who would then push us to improve. We tacitly competed with our friends on the quality of our dinner parties. We tried to improve our running speed and build our pushup count. Life moved fast and all moments were accounted for.

Once you step out of all that and dial down the speed of life, it takes a while to reprogram the system. The first week or two down here you could see Menna or I suddenly stiffen up like prairie dogs at a given moment, as our minds threw up random worries to try and get the panic systems rebooted. (NO! I forgot to put light fittings on the inventory! Coffee cup slips out of numb fingers to smash on the floor.) We would ping awake in the night, grasping for something to get all twisted up about. (What if we need to vote in a snap general election? We have no current residency! Heart thumps madly in the darkness). We’d check social media surreptitiously on family walks. We would obsess about the news.

Then slowly it slips away. The interruptions become less frequent, then disappear. The nights become longer and fuller. We wake slowly with strange tastes in our mouths and the lingering aftermath of heavy dreams. Focus builds and small tasks absorb us. Sometimes we find ourselves just sitting and thinking for a while, doing nothing really.

Busy minds, deprived of action plans and to-do lists, start to open up other enquires. They turn outwards towards the world. The wind is strong today and it’s shifted to behind the dunes. I’ve never seen clouds twisted up into a vertical column like that. Who is that small bird who trills between the sea gulls’ screams? It feels somehow like it’s going to rain later.

Once you recognise this shift, and you open yourself to it, then the world suddenly seems full of signals and patterns that were hidden to you before. It feels big. You can turn it into a huge spiritual revelation and believe that the universe is whispering in your ear. Three cormorants heading east before summer’s dusk? Winds are coming I tell you! Or maybe it just makes you feel content and a little more connected to this new landscape around you. You might feel that yes, you did make the right move coming down here.

A kestrel hovers on the headland almost every evening now hunting his prey. Little pulses of his wings keep him motionless above the gorse even as the wind blows everything else around.

The fields near us hide a subterranean population of rabbits who emerge out for a cautious sniff early mornings and at dusk. A slight noise and they will all skitter away, a tumble of white feathery tails disappearing into the hedgerow.

A pungent weed permeates the hedgerows and dune flowers. It is called Houndstongue but known locally as Rats and Mice because of its musky damp rodent smell. We all found it disgusting the first time we smelt it. Now it’s like a soggy friend that comes to greet you as you walk down the sandy lane to the beach.

Foxgloves are everywhere this month, priapic purple stalagmites rising out of the gorse. There is a similar-looking but more reserved blue flower in the dunes which I prefer. It’s got the awesome name of Viper’s Bugloss.

The tides reshape the beach and headlands every hour. We’re getting to know the timings more intuitively now, and more importantly to recognise the confluence of wind, tide and swell that makes the best waves.

A flock of goldfinches (no sorry, a charm of goldfinches) surprise us with sudden flashes of red and yellow as they flitter past like leaves in a gale.

You come to see how the prevailing westerly wind has comprehensively sculpted the landscape around us. You realise how relentlessly it bends and pushes everything away eastwards, and then then you start to see its mark everywhere; triangles and wedges sculpted into dunes, gorse, trees, hills and even the limestone cliff faces. The hypotenuse always points down to the most westerly point.

I saw a single dolphin far out at sea one evening, a leaping shape midway to the horizon. I was alone in the surf as the sun was setting and to be honest it was something of an epiphany.

Arthur and I went out to do some starwatching in the dunes. We found The Pointer stars at the end of the plough and they directed us to Polaris, then on to Deneb which, together with Vega and Altair, make up the Navigator’s Triangle. This always points you southwards I lectured Arthur (well ok, an iPhone is easier but that’s not the point).

On a Sunday cliff walk we saw a family of seals far below in the rockpools. Their whiskery heads bobbed up for a quick a chat before they slipped down again below the dark green swelling waters.

There is a good but infrequent wind that comes from the east and makes the waves clean and glassy.

I want to develop a subconscious sense of where the cardinal points are, even in cloud cover or deep in a forest (Arthur can already do this but I can’t. I’ve always had a rubbish sense of direction).

We arrived into two straight weeks of atmospheric high pressure, so hard blue skies and sun. Now the system has moved on and we feel smaller beneath a huge expansive cloud world whose architectures show various distinct textures and densities in different strata above us.

For many days last week there was an ominous storm cloud which stretched squat and black right down to the horizon. It seemed to trap light beneath it, so that the hills and cliffs seemed strangely illuminated and you could see for miles. We spent our days outside slightly on edge, feeling that the storm might vent down upon us at any point. The air was so thick and charged with electricity. All that tension and power just hung there in stasis though, hovering above us for days. It barely even rained. I don’t know why.

A dead gannet waited on the beach the other day. It was on its back, half submerged, neck thrust up as if its last moments were spent trying to force its way up from its sandy tomb for one final flight. We gathered in a semi circle around it, the kids silent and solemn. It was a sober moment, like finding a whale’s carcass in the desert, or a frozen hand reaching up out of the glacier. I was going to give some homily about the circle of life and how death comes to all things, but in the end I just kept quiet.

There are books that help decipher these messages. On my bedside table right now I have Wild Signs and Star Paths by Tristan Gooley. It’s a lucid exploration of hidden keys and signals in nature and how to determine their significance. Can we recapture such a sense of awareness of our environment that we read signs and link patterns instinctively, generating subconscious insights on weather, direction, animal behaviour that feel something like sixth sense? (Pretty cool right?). Then, as a counterpoint, Carl Sagan’s Cosmos lifts your gaze away, up to the most distant horizons, for a universal context. Great travellers lead the way – Redmond O’Hanlan, Bruce Chatwin, Ryszard Kapuściński. They talk about leaving behind the impediments of your former life and going through a kind of rebirth on the road. We have guides to animals, flowers, geology, trees, stars. On my phone I have downloaded the Collins Birds app.

It feels like there is a lot to learn.

I had long felt in my gut that the world was extravagantly rich with signs… Many thousands of hours outdoors had led to my spotting patterns, asymmetries and trends; they were beautiful but often hard to explain.

Tristan Gooley. Wild Signs and Star Paths

Finally, at the end of our wandering, we return to our tiny, fragile, blue and white world, lost in a cosmic ocean vast beyond our most courageous imaginings. It is a world among an immensity of others. It may be significant only for us… It is on this world that we developed our passion for exploring the Cosmos, and it is here that we are, in some pain and with no guarantees, working out our destiny.

Carl Sagan. Cosmos