Volcano Underfoot

That's Me

I walked up and down the summit of a dead volcano today in the wrong shoes.

This volcano is so dead that it’s overgrown with a slippery layer of grass from top to bottom as though the whole thing is wearing a handsome green sweater. I choose to walk up to the summit from the West side, which is steeper and craggier than the rolling East side but the views out to sea and up to the peak are better.

I was about halfway up and I turned to look out at the water, the snarl of buildings below—two castles, tiny cathedrals, more dead volcanoes in the distance like giants toppled off their feet. At one point it was me and the ravens and the breeze and the nodding yellow flowers on prickly bushes.

There are the remnants of two Iron Age forts atop the volcano and another, later fortification. The summit is called Arthur’s Seat.

At one point in my life, I devoured every piece of King Arthur literature I could find, from classic poems to cheesy rehashes. I have seen all the Discovery Channel specials in which they debate whether he was real. (He wasn’t, but oh how my heart hangs on every speck of encouraging evidence.) I can recite Tennyson. I sat through that Richard Gere movie.

If you to go London, you can see where Mrs. Dalloway walked and check the solidness of the wall at King’s Cross Station. If you go to Italy, you can see the stones that Ulysses hurled at the cyclops . And if you go to New York, you can take the Sex and the City Walking tour. So why, then, shouldn’t I be allowed my little fictional history on a rare sunny day in spring in Scotland?

It was freezing at the top. I spun in a circle, careful not to fall, on the highest spot in Edinburgh. And you can look at these same pictures online, I guess. And you can see the curves of that volcano, the ripples of its green rivers, on Google maps. And you can read all the poems you like. But for me, it was important to breathe that air. As opposed to this air. To nearly fall four times on slippery shoes, to feel my muscles ache, out of practice. To check and see if everything they wrote—about the hill, the lake with the sword, the ruins of castles—was true. It was.

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