The Glen of the Fourth Dimension by Kapka Kassabova
There is a place in the Scottish Highlands where I like to disappear. I’m not telling you the name of this place. You might try to find it, and before I know it, I’ll be bumping into you, and things will get busy. You see, my notion of ‘busy’ has changed since I started living in the Highlands. ‘Busy’ used to mean, say, downtown Calcutta at peak hour. Now, busy is when I see another soul within an hour of walking.
Let’s just say that the place where I like to go is somewhere south of Ben Wyvis and north of Loch Affric. It’s a locked glen, and I call it the Glen of the Fourth Dimension. You have to know the secret place where the key is kept. Once you’re in, the gate locks behind you. From here, you can walk for twenty miles, all the way to the Sound of Sleat which sounds like a precipitation, and rightly so. Because in the Glen of the Fourth Dimension, weather is just as unstable as time. One moment, the gorse on the hills crackles with heat and you’re stripping off to swim in the river. The river too, is unreliable in depth – transparent one minute, and deep as a black hole the next. Then without warning, the sky grows ugly with storm. In the distance, the blue hills multiply, or is that clouds? You hear a deer breathe in the forest, it stands still, attentive like a painting, then it runs fast in the tree gaps, and is gone as if never there. The light becomes dense with electricity. You thought it was morning when you arrived, was it an hour ago? But now the light …
What is it about the light in the Glen? It’s infinite, like childhood summer. It’s strangely familiar. I’ve seen grubbier versions of this light elsewhere, in my twenty years of wandering the earth as a global soul, a polite euphemism for lost soul. I have seen it in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, where red-stone Kasbah forts rise in the scorched plains like bad dreams. I’ve seen it in India, behind ruined cenotaphs and vultures. In Marseille, over the Old Port where the spices and slaves of
Empire came, and where ships still come from Algiers, Tunis and Djibouti. I have seen it over the rooftops of Buenos Aires, with their fantasy cupolas crumbling like cakes from a distant party. I’ve seen it in Macedonia, over the Ohrid Lake on the border with Greece and Albania, where monasteries perch on cliffs and where my grandmother was young and unhappy.
In other words, this is an ancient light. But how can light be ancient? Surely I mean to say that the landscape is ancient. Perhaps. Either way, the chemistry that binds you to a place is like the chemistry that connects you to a person. It is irrational, and it probably has something to do with the past – yours, theirs, and a more distant ancestral past that you carry in your system wherever you go. Whatever it is I carry in my system pushes me to places like this: where the light is ancient, where many have passed who are not here anymore. Places that are human but can’t be contained by us.
And so I continue on my way in the Glen of the Fourth Dimension, where chlorophyll-green grass carpets the forest, and the tree branches are like the downy horns of deer. I reach a hydroelectric station built in the time of art-deco. It’s vertical and forbidding like a film-set for a prison drama, and it looks disused but I know it isn’t, because it’s humming.
I move swiftly on, towards the snow blizzard approaching from the fjords, or is that a giant swarm of midges? I’m glad I took my fleece and my scarf, so I can wrap it around my face come what may.
I have all the time in the world to think about how I ended up here, after moving countries five times, and after moving house so many times I’m scared to count them, in case it looks like insanity rather than the journey of a rootless soul. Yes, I have all the time in the world to think about the illusions I’ve gladly lost, and the reasons why I feel so at home in the Glen of the Fourth Dimension when I didn’t feel at home in so many other places; busy places, exciting places, beautiful places, places where you felt you were going places.
I was going places – and they all led me here, to the Glen of the Fourth Dimension, where I’ve finally found the most difficult thing in life: freedom. Freedom to come and go, remember and forget. And most importantly, freedom from fear: this is the gift that the Highlands have given me with their light, moss, rumbling rivers, long summer nights, crystal chiming winters, and the distant devastation of history. Because like everybody, in my blood I carry the bitter-sweet remembrance of magic from childhood. When I ran free in the mountains – before the burdens of adulthood, of being a desirous woman with love disappointments, a restless traveller, a global soul with three nationalities and no peace – before all of that came to ruin the enchantment. Here, I can be enchanted again. I can be myself again. Here, in the Glen of the Fourth Dimension, I find the possibility of magic, the remembrance of seasons, the infinity of the day.