Heartfelt novel set in LONDON and BRISTOL
A short story by children’s author Angie Lake – SIERRA MADRILEÑA
24th September 2020
A short story by children’s author Angie Lake about the Sierra Madrileña
I’d always enjoyed nature, but after a few years of dwelling in the concrete jungle I was very disconnected from it: nature had become something that’s in the background when you’re sitting on a terrace sipping on a glass of wine.
I didn’t start getting back into nature until I met Martin.
Martin was a wild man who had the strange habit of sewing extra pockets into his combats… because we all know that what a good pair of combats needs is MORE POCKETS. He’d also sew up his own shoes and he liked reading and practicing origami.
Martin and I would meet up on the edge of civilisation and just walk. When I say “the edge of civilisation” I actually mean on the outskirts of Madrid.
Madrid is an interesting city; set on a plateaux in the heart of Spain, its harsh continental climate makes it a desert. Between the north of the city and the foot of the “Sierra Madrileña” mountain range there is a large expanse of apparently nothing: freezing wind in the winter and forty degree dry heat in the summer, and no shade.
Martin and I would walk for miles and miles under the desert sun and barely exchange a word. Occasionally we’d stop to climb some rocks or to sculpt an image into a dried up riverbed, but for the most part we walked in silence, in the heat, with no direction, no time restrictions and, due to lack of planning, no water.
It took about two months of doing this every day for my mind to reset. I’d always had to be at a certain place by a certain time wearing certain clothes; the first hour of a day (shower, make-up, train, crowds, underground) meant anxiety, running late, places to get to, people to appease, tasks to fulfil.
It was really hard to learn to empty my mind of all of that, after I’d had to convince myself that those things I hated were in some way meaningful; if not, I wouldn’t have been able to do them for so many years.
Martin taught me the art of doing nothing.
Over the years this desert became my sanctuary. I got hooked on the solitude and the vastness: being on my own in the middle of the desert with the city skyline to my south and the mountain range to the North, just knowing that a few miles away thousands of people were trying to park or were queuing for coffee.
While the city’s inhabitants wiled away their time stuffed into metal wagons in the crowded underground staring at their phones, I had vultures circling above me and camel spiders chasing my shadow.
This may not put walking through the desert in the best light, but camel spiders are much cuter in real life than you’d think and the vultures were almost definitely circling something that was already dead.
The air smelt of hot dust and rock roses and at the end of the summer you could watch the sun setting in the west as the moon rose over the eastern horizon.
Those first two months spent “just walking” with Martin changed something in the way I see the world and in the way I interact with everything around me. As soon as I’m alone in nature – hiking, climbing or running – society evaporates, my news feed disappears and my mind empties. I don’t think about anything, my mind resets itself and any worries vanish.
And then, with a fresh canvas, I can come up with fresh ideas.
Looking back on it, it seems that those two months were one of the most important times in my life; the time I un-learnt all the habits and values that had started to make me miserable.
It’s been a while since I reflected on it.
I took this opportunity to ask Martin what that time had meant to him. His answer?
“Dunno. I was bored and I didn’t really have anything else to do.”
Children’s author Angie Lake is the author of The Case of the Disgusting School Dinners (Mina Mistry investigates)
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