photo by Duncan Richards
Sometimes its easy to take running in beautiful places for granted, but today, I had to pinch myself. In a wild mix of weather that spanned all four seasons at once, I was running over the Langdale Pikes and the Scafell Massif into Wasdale, then on to Honister Pass with Duncan and Karl.
Sometimes runs like this are relatively effortless, flashing by in a blur of measured ascents and crashing descents. At other times, every breath is an alveolar knife-fight where it’s up to the brain to keep it all together. Lately, runs have been tinged with the latter, and although they’re tougher to deal with, they can bring you to perhaps more interesting conclusions.
Why I was reminded of Ray Hudson’s gem of a book I’ll never know, but Moments Rightly Placed is more than just a memoir of life in the Aleutian Islands. Settling into the small community at Unalaska, Ray slowly becomes aware of the ancient Aleutian traditions of weaving very tiny baskets from swathes of grass.
These baskets are a blend of high art and devilish discipline, woven over thousands of years by Aleut women in a constant, ever changing evolution. From the highly exacting ways of harvesting and drying the grass to the intricate and extraordinarily laborious weaving, the process is almost unimaginable in its complexity. A finished basket of only three inches in diameter can contain over 15,000 stitches. There are now only four women in the world who know how to make an Aleut basket.
The tiniest of baskets made by Nina Kiiaikina
In the book, Ray’s mission to learn how to weave a basket becomes intertwined with the culture, people and an overwhelming sense of place into a remarkable impression of how these ancient arts can invisibly transform.
From Bowfell to Great End and beyond to Scafell is a dreamlike landscape of grey slabs of stone. Hopping from tinkling stone to clanking boulder is not running as many people know it, but the landscape lends an impossibly dramatic edge to it. A somber, spiritual place to run through swirling mists. Was it an impossible leap of synaptic misfiring to compare this kind of fell running to those little tiny baskets, slowly weft over months, and years? I don’t really think so. For all of us, out there, it is not just the run, right now, right there. It is an amalgamation of all of our runs, the snakes and ladders of our running highs and time spent facing injuries. It is the painstaking years of disciplined attention to our art. And when running over mountains is not effortless, maybe these things become easier to see.
I think it took Ray about a year to create a first basket which he describes as a worn-looking, uneven specimen with bulging stitches.
Anfesia, his formidable teacher, says nothing but “now start again”.
There are inevitably as many reasons for running as there are runners, but to me, on this day, it seemed to be as precious, as delicate, and as disciplined an art as learning to make a very small basket.
Around Knock Murton - 23 April
1 day ago