Assynt, Scotland; Sony α

Assynt, Scotland; Sony α

“We can relate to our planet Earth in two ways. Either we can act as tourists and look at the Earth as a source of goods and services for our use, pleasure and enjoyment, or we can act as Earth Pilgrims and treat the planet with reverence and gratitude.”

(Satish Kumar)

My day on the hills finished early; stormy showers had rushed through and the path had become a stream, the higher slopes ran with water and my boots were sodden. It was one of those Scottish days where there was no way to avoid getting soaked; waterfalls were being blown upwards, it was impossible to stand in the face of the wind. Approaching the peak required crawling on all fours. Exhausted, I gave up and wandered back down the hill, sitting for a while in a sheltered spot to photograph the violently beautiful landscape.

That evening I read Nan Shepherd’s ‘The Living Mountain’. On the back cover, Robert Macfarlane writes ‘Most works of mountain literature are written by men, and most of them focus on the summit.’ He goes on to say that Nan’s ‘sensual exploration’ of the mountains is ‘bracingly different.’

Indeed, we desperately need a different way of thinking about our mountains. This week, guided mountaineers died on Mount Everest as nearly 200 climbers were dramatically photographed queuing to reach the summit. One of the world’s highest, most sacred mountains has become an item on a bucket-list, an achievement, a badge.

We have to move from thinking of our natural environment in terms of all-conquering dominion; we have become too powerful and there are too many of us.

Yet our separation from the planet runs deep.

And as we separate from the natural world, we separate from each other. When we exploit and colonise our ‘natural resources’ it becomes a simple step to exploit and appropriate each other as ‘human resources’. We set the pattern for a world of transactions instead of a web relationships and we become greedy consumers of our own lives and ecologies.

We need to recover a sense of sensual reverence, of awe and appreciation of our world. A fundamental shift of perspective from dominion, exploitation and control over to participation with nature and each other.

I know that walking in the mountains is a profound privilege. So, even on days when the elements conspire to knock me off my feet, I try to hold to the idea that I am making a pilgrimage to these high places. And on the days when my relationships knock me over, I’m trying to approach the difficulties with the same sense of gratitude and reverence, working to heal, rebuild and repair.

Which is much more challenging than a wet day in the hills.

As Satish Kumar says, “Tourists find gratification in the consumption of nature’s gifts. Pilgrims find enchantment in the conservation of nature’s bounty.


Satish Kumar’s ‘Earth Pilgrim’ is a lovely read when you are out hillwalking. Or just walking anywhere, really.

You might also like ‘Nature’s Due; Healing Our Fragmented Culture’ by Brian Goodwin.

Brian used to work at Schumacher College in Devon which I can highly recommend as a place to take a step into holistic, participative ways of being in the world. The college hosts a series of excellent short and longer courses.