Perspective. Sometimes we all need a change of perspective.
Recently a friend and I climbed Dumgoyne, a volcanic plug marking the beginning of the Campsies, the hills to the north of Glasgow. Standing alone and distinct, separated from the rest of the Campsies, it is a solitary hill to be the beginning of something.
It was a lovely morning; warm, sun shining. It was good to be out in the open. Good to be climbing a hill again. Dumgoyne is small but very steep, so we gained height quickly, rapidly finding ourselves above trees, looking down upon ribbons of roads, square fields, scattered houses, modest settlements. Small birds rose and flew in clouds ahead of us. We climbed, placing our feet in the brown, worn earth, stopping from time to time to catch our breath and admire the view.
The summit came upon us suddenly. More used to climbing taller hills, we were taken by surprise when we reached the top. Level and worn by many feet, no summit cairn greeted us. Instead a standing stone, surrounded by a concrete plinth, stood squat and proud at the top. Unshapen, it must have been taken from elsewhere and lifted to this highest point. A 20th or 21st century reflection of the prehistoric stones I know to be standing in the fields below.
How intriguing that continuing desire to erect a stone, to place a marker like this. A modern echo, however unintentional, of a prehistoric past. Perhaps we are not so far removed from our prehistoric ancestors as we sometimes think. Though its position, on the summit of a hill, indicates a different purpose and meaning to the prehistoric stones in the valley below. The stone contained no explanation of the reason for its erection or who placed it here. A plaque, perhaps a viewfinder, had been removed from the top of the stone, but no other hints remained.
Whatever the impetus for this stone, that simple marker affected our engagement with the summit of the hill. For, when we reached the top, we made directly for the stone as a marker of the highest point. We didn’t question whether or not it was actually placed on the high point; we just took it for granted, for stones and cairns usually are, aren’t they? Unless of course it is obvious to the eye that that they are not. So we approached, placed our hands upon the warm stone and gazed outward at the view below. We circled the stone and took photographs of one another standing by it. Always with hands placed upon it, anchoring ourselves by that marker, claiming it as proof we had conquered the hill. In effect, this simple standing stone mediated our engagement with the summit of the hill, influencing how we acted, moved and understood that place.
I wonder then how those prehistoric cousins, those standing stones in the valley below transformed and continue to transform their place? How their presence affects the way in which we interact with them and their place. How their presence has forever transformed their places. How perspectives change, however imperceptible, simply by their presence.
Standing by that stone, we gazed down on the view below. We could see for miles: to Loch Lomond and beyond in one direction, Glasgow in the other. City and countryside. My friend commented on how populated the landscape outside the city seemed when driving along the road below, with small villages, towns and dwellings strung out along that road. But how empty it appeared from above, with wide open spaces between the settlements and houses. For the dwellings cling to the lifeline of the road (or perhaps the road has attached itself to the houses) along which we would normally move and experience that landscape. Now, high above the buildings and trees, that viewpoint had shifted and we saw in a different light. How height alters perspective of the landscape within which we dwell.
I looked and agreed. How true. I thought too of the myriad of forces and events, decisions and choices that have led to the shape of the land we saw laid out before us. The power of routes and movement to shape the experience and reality of those below. The sheer force of the past within the present to influence our views and experiences of our world. For those routes, though influenced by geography, are rooted in the past. Some millennia old, others more recent. And the world we experience and the way in which we experience it has been shaped and influenced by a multitude of events and processes, choices and mistakes, planning and serendipity, in the past and in the present.
And sometimes a change of perspective, however small (not everyone need climb a hill), is all it takes to transform the way in which we see our worlds, to alter perspective. Perhaps a change in perspective can also help us to both change our worlds and change the way we see them.