• AMo

The Zone

Updated: Nov 12, 2018

Violence sweeps through the Zone, wave after wave, leaving rainbows. These are not the only conspiracy of the rain and light to capture the eye's taste for sharp lines - the rivers bulge white, new rivers appear, crazy white inverted trees growing everywhere in accelerated time. The Zone has a strong talent for drama. There's rarely a dull moment, and just as well, because this season is a sell-out. Even the sheep are in on it. The organisers do their best, bless them, but the Zone is out of their hands - it's past the barriers and off the rails, where no number of leaflets advertising boat trips or authenticked-up tearooms have a hope of matching the raw appeal of the big rides. In fact the organisers are riding on board with everyone else, catching coins as they fly out behind. It's Paleogene Park, you can touch the exhibits at your own risk, and don't forget to visit the shop on the way out.

The sunshine and susurrations of wind and waves soothe me into a stupor. Eyes closed, the purr of parking vehicles and languageless voices of children and their parents could place me on a beach resort, edge of town, sand and beachballs and gelati. Not unpleasant. Open, the purple moorgrass slopes drop ferociously into the untamed cliffs of Waterstein Head, and the sensation is of taking a sip from the wrong mug, coffee not lemonade. Buzz! Cock an eye at that thing, a little closer than as background to the umpteenth jpeg birthed hereabouts today, an absurdist trifle of basalts and gravel and unthinkable choss tottering from the Minch into the sky. Only someone as special as Mr Fowler would turn looking into sizing up into actually climbing the thing. And that's all part of the fabric of the Zone, the code underwriting the razzledazzle, though most punters don't see it on that level. Modern stories are tucked into these mad landforms, each an invisible geocache, subtexts to please initiate geeks like me. For now it will do to take a turn of the Stallion, even more jpegged, with its permanent cockscomb of little humans, to pursue my studies. There's more to please me here than most, in the absence of beachballs and gelati, and I wonder if all those humans really know what to make of the Zone. The pools where the faeries washed their clothes don't look like much under a raging torrent, or through a throng of other people.

Tonight I'll take a drive through the Zone with the Knowledge, as the softness of evening comes over the mountains and soothes the Zone's reddened arms. Another busy day for the elements, but they're as indefatigable as the Knowledge himself. The Knowledge is a reliable spring. He shares his knowings generously with me, but not all of them - some of them are special, cherished, 33rd level stuff, and he doesn't trust me not to abuse such knowings. It's not only the faeries that steal your babies in the Zone - I too am a threat! There's the secret of the little man on Page 73 of the Book of Knowledge - what, hadn't you spotted him yet? - I know who the little man is, maybe could have worked it out even, but that's as far in as I'm allowed. Most of the secrets are more, well, secret. Beyond the existence of Crag Xes that could be anywhere, there are things I don't know I don't know. The Knowledge has the inside line on the movements of Mr Fowler and other luminaries, rainbow moments of the past lighting up odd corners of the Zone. These bubble up in order of no apparent logic, the past running rings around the present, as the Knowledge rolls one and lights up on the belay, Whillans style, or uncaps and proffers a bottle of beer from the fridge.

And of course he taps the spirit of much older luminaries of the Zone, the Pioneers...MhicCoinnich and Thormaid and all the rest, who must have known with intimacy the same subtleties of the Zone's high places that I do now, though truly pathless then in the days before the Zone went commercial, bringing polish and scratches and shifting loose stones into simulacra of waymarks...but the ever-changing light, the sight to believe in a way through a ragged landscape, the undimmed thrill of feeling small as bobbing bait when great black prows of cliffs cut suddenly through fog...like the Pioneers of that other Wild West, their progress was inevitable, but someone had to do it. They sweated into the building of the Zone without knowing it, and the organisers, historians, publicans, quarrymen, builders and civic engineers followed. The Zone went electric and now, of course, digital. The Knowledge says it's the proliferation of photographs that keeps the Zone expanding. I can't fathom. It seems out of all proportion, but then again, on nights like tonight when the light is right and I feel the fairground wonderment of a kid wheeling past the big rides, it doesn't.