Last Legs

The trip continued with a sense of familiar places and scenes that nevertheless feel fresh because I haven’t been to them for several years. I left my mother’s on the Friday, and took the train to Manchester, passing through the beautiful Shropshire hills. In an unexpected twist, the sun came out as we arrived in Manchester. I had plenty of time to walk between the two stations, and stopped for a nice cafe lunch, though my favourite coffee place at Victoria station was not quite up to its previous standards. 

After arriving at Rebecca’s, I took myself off on a walk up the steep hillside, for the fresh air and views, and then got ready for the evening presentation of Suzuki Roshi’s Beginner’s Mind talk, which was well attended. Most of the same dozen people sat for the day on Saturday, and I interspersed words and quotes on zazen through the day. It was mostly damp out, a good day to sit, and, in our usual way, go up for a pie and a pint afterwards. The pub has changed hands, and was also perhaps not up to its previous best, as well as being rather quiet for a Saturday night. After the sitting was over, it suddenly felt like I was coming to the end of the trip, as that had been the last big landmark, even though there were still a few more days to go.

In the morning I had time for a walk, and had the intention to climb Stoodley Pike, which I had seen from afar many times, but never gone up to. It was still damp, but very warm, and while I enjoyed following the trails, I ended up in the cloud line – completely deserted the whole way except for sheep and one mountain biker near the ridge – and there were no views except when the clouds parted to reveal the valley below.

By the time I got back, my shoes were soaked through from the wet grass on the footpaths, but I had time to shower and eat before setting off for the next leg, the walk to the station along the canal, the train to Leeds, the bus to the airport (the first one due was concelled, so there was a lengthy wait) and the flight to Belfast (where we sat on the tarmac for a while before taking off as there were issues with the passenger manifest).

Djinn and Richard met me at George Best airport, and drove me straight round to Garret and Esther’s for the planned dinner, arriving in the last minute of extra time of the Women’s Euro finals, which I would have loved to have sat down and watched all the way through. We had a lovely evening around the table, and I felt most welcomed back to a city I had not visited until a few years ago.

Monday was quite a lazy day, with lots of catching up and chatting, and a rainy evening, but Tuesday was full. We started by doing the morning schedule at Black Mountain, where I was doan so that some of the newer people could hear how it was supposed to be done (I think I managed not to make any mistakes). Later, Garret had managed to persuade his neighbour to loan me his expensive carbon bike, plus helmet and bike shoes, so that we could ride out of town together. This was my first ride in a month, and although my wrist has been healing day by day, I was worried about that as well as my legs. 

We clocked up forty miles or so, over rolling terrain to Killyleagh with the castle, where we had a cafe stop before returning alongside Stranford Lough. It was a lovely warm day, the wind was less of a problem than feared, and the views were lovely. I was definitely grinding out the last few miles, but I know it would make my next few rides after I got back to San Francisco much easier.

Thankfully I wasn’t stiff the next day beyond my wrist feeling sore. I had a smooth experience flying from George Best to London City airport, and also crossing town on the Elizabeth Line. I spent the afternoon walking through the parks on a day that was warm, but not quite as intense as when I last did it. A final dinner with my host, offering advice about anxiety, and the next morning I was off to Heathrow.

I usually feel pretty relaxed about the flight back to San Francisco, and this was similar; as the day extended westward, I mainly watched shows onscreen, peering out of the window to see where we were, though clouds inhibited most of the spectacular views of Greenland and the frozen north. I was kindly picked up from the airport by a friend on a sunny afternoon, and pottered about for a few hours before sleeping, and waking up as early as I expected.

There was not much on my calendar for the first few days, very deliberately, except for the first class of the second Suzuki Roshi series. I had timed the end of the trip around that, and figured that since it was a morning slot, jet lag wouldn’t be a problem, though I did feel pretty groggy. I hope people enjoyed it; the talk we chose was pretty dense, and we didn’t have time to unpack it all. Apart from shopping for food and picking up my bike, the only other things I managed over the weekend were gentle spins around town on my bike, and catching up with the first weekend of the new football season.

This week I will be back to work, with a new outdoor meditation, as well as the regular sitting, a trip to my student’s company in South San Francisco, and the Dogen study group. And that’s just today…

Stoodley Pike from the other side of the valley when I walked on Friday.
The view down into the valley from near the top, on Sunday morning.
The Black Mountain Zendo in Belfast.
A view of Stranford Lough from the bike ride that day.
Sunrise in Belfast on Wednesday morning.

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