by Rachel Sneyd
I used to run downhill through heather, arms stretched out wide, palms facing towards the earth. In those brief moments I was Queen of the Dublin Mountains. The sparkling blue of the Irish Sea and the yellow, green and purple of the Wicklow wilderness were mine to command. It was probably raining but I only remember sun. I remember being weightless and oh so free.
How did I not catch my foot in roots and fall? How did such coltish limbs support a heart so full of dreams and desire?
I don’t know where we went for our last family hike. Our parents must have finally tired of herding my siblings and I up steep hills to ceaseless cries of “How much further?” and “Can we still get ice-cream if we don’t reach the summit?” Preteens scoff at majestic views and recoil from any hint of intentional bonding.
Last year I went back to the mountains, after two decades away. I’d forgotten the pain of lifting oneself upwards step by step, and I wasn’t prepared for the heaviness age brings. The accumulated weight of hips and breasts, flesh where once there was only empty space. Carrying my own rucksack, its front pocket stuffed with jellies my mother would never have allowed, on strong legs made cautious by half-healed sprains and a well-earned fear of falling.
I hike with friends now and I’m the one who leads. This should be a disaster, since I’m the type of person who gets lost in shopping centres, but my body reacts to signposts I had unknowingly absorbed. We walk downhill together, admiring the Wicklow Way or hiding our faces against wind and rain.
One of these days, I promise myself, one of these days I’ll run again, and recapture that feeling I’ve been chasing all my life.
Rachel Sneyd is a writer and screenwriter who lives in Dublin. Her fiction, essays and reviews have appeared in The Stinging Fly, The Incubator, Boyne Berries, and Inis Magazine. She works in politics and education, and tweets @RachelSneyd.