Emerald Green (My Happy Place)
June 25th 2017.
The ScotRail train car isn't full, but it's occupants are relaxed, sandwiches, beers and newspapers sitting out on laps and the gray plastic tables in preparation for the long journey. It smells faintly like diesel exhaust and the green of the dark limbed trees flashing past the window.
It's been 9 long years since I've taken this journey.
Beside me, I can feel Ben's warmth, solid, sweet and familiar.
We're traveling through the western wilds of Scotland. Our train taking us from Glasgow this morning towards the coast which is a ferry ride from the place where my ancestors made home.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath. Between us on the floor lays an empty crisps bag and I can smell the leftover satisfying scent of hot oil and salt. I take another breath. I smell the sweet darkness of sun on damp earth and fresh rain, and there between them, the metallic sting of the steel rails singing beneath us.
The first time I took this journey, I was a teenager. As we barreled into the wildlands I felt as if my heart might rise up out of my chest and carry me with it, dipping out of the window and out into the deep of the green and the mountains and the water, turning me wild with my own recognition of myself.
Beside me Ben’s face is turned towards the light of the window, his features cut between the light and purple shadow. I can smell the travel on his sweater. The dawn fog of Dublin from just this morning clinging to the hairs, the stale smell of budget air travel, bus exhaust and the crumbs from our meal in Glasgow, buttery and raw against his sweat.
It's vulnerable, taking him home like this, even after two and half years, into the deepest green places of myself. Without withdrawing my eyes from the window I slip a hand out and wordlessly, our familiar fingers find each other, intertwining. The hairs on the backs of his hands are soft and fine beneath my thumb.
I hadn't really realized how often I've revisited this train journey in the past decade, closing my eyes and remembering the glare of the water and the sound of the train and the sharpness of the mountains plunging down into the silver depths.
I remembered these things so hard, that the edges began to soften and blur into something more than a memory. Into a sanctuary. Where I would run when things got too bleak and stormy in my own life.
It became my happy place.
This all happened slowly, out of sight of my logical eye, memory slipping into something else. But as we stepped onto the train today I felt a twinge of something like warmth, and as we left the buildings and bridges of Glasgow behind us and began to climb into the deep wilderness and I caught the first sight of the loch, I felt a shot of recognition, not only of my homeland, but of my own heart, left here, waiting for me now.
I lean forward, the glass cold against my forehead. I can see the shimmering glimpses of the water in the loch, between the dark trees flashing past, a great glistening oval of quiet, of whispering highland secrets and shadowed rain filled nights. I can smell the rubber of the window casing, of the hundreds of others who have pressed eager faces against this window, felt it’s cold smooth surface, and the thrill of what awaits us, glittering around the next bend in the track.
The terrain is changing now, as we begin to climb, I can hear the engine grinding down into lower gear, chugging up the pass, the sound pours in through the open slat windows.
There are some lads ahead of us, five or six of them, sprawled over two rows of seats and joking with each other. They must be on their way home for the weekend, or maybe for summer holiday. I can only catch snatches of their conversation, but it’s embossed with laughter between thick accents. I stumble along behind the conversation picking up scottish words like gems.
Ben squeezes my hand and I look up at him, excitement all over his face. He points out a waterfall high above us, falling like a mares tail from the top of a mountain, appearing as if from nowhere. I grin back at him. The magic of this place reflected in his eyes, as he leans down and kisses me.
"I'm so glad we've come." He says quietly and then returns his eyes to the window beyond me, scooting in a little closer.
The train moves towards the coast, like some great long glittering snake, winding it's way between the dark places, the indigo shadows and emerald pines tall like ships masts.
In my ears I can hear my own heart beating. The excitement and magnetic pull of home drawing me onward.
A wind passes over the train and I hear over the roar of the engine, it’s voice in the trees, their branches swaying, singing with their teeth in the wind.
I can taste the wind, the wild harshness of it. A smudge of thick salty sea, of deep blue forgotten places, of never having been asked to be tamed.
It comes thick and heady as we round a curve and I catch a blast of diesel thick and dark, pulling us onward, down the tracks towards the places that call to me so clearly, like a magnet, or a red string, pulling from my heart, through my heart, onward, towards home.