Contemplating Dartmoor

I woke ten minutes before the alarm I had set for 3:30 this morning to the sound of clearing winds pushing the last of the night’s rains to the east. By the time I clipped into my pedals an hour later, the sky was clear and the stars guided me westward toward the moor. 

It has been a while since I’ve set off in the early pre-dawn — a long-standing practice that has rewarded me with many mountain-top sunrises, ski tracks in untrammelled snow, and hours of solitude that invite both a focus inward and an embrace of the limitless world outside. 

For years now, I have been setting off in these early hours — not only to chase the sunrise — but to seek out, revel in and inhabit those moments of aliveness between myself and the more-than-human world. It is for me through the interplay of movement and the stillness of solitude that I find a humility in which both I and the world are laid bare. 

My ride today was a 40-mile circuit that took me north along the 8-mile Redlake Tramway, a former railway linking the clayworks deep in the southern moor to the town of Ivybridge, and then east down to Avon Dam and back home. My only companions were the wind and a few sheep looking for any new spring shoots of growth who scattered when I passed them by. 

In a passage that seems written with the rivers, mires and blanket bogs of Dartmoor in mind, Thomas Merton tells us, “action is the stream, and contemplation is the spring.” We each have our entry to moments and places that balance contemplation and action, and over the past 18 months, the moor has been mine — often finding me ankle-deep in bogs that coalesce to headwaters of one of the more than two dozen rivers that rise on Dartmoor — and I can hardly wait until the next time. 

Contemplating Dartmoor

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