I can’t remember when I first heard about the ultra-marathon runner from Edinburgh who bonded with a stray dog he found while competing in a race across the Gobi desert in China, but I was delighted when I found out he’d written a book about their story.
Something that struck me right from the start is that it was the little dog who chose Dion out of a hundred other runners, not the other way around. Mile after mile, the scruffy stray he names Gobi keeps pace with Dion, and little by little he starts to enjoy her company as she gallops along beside him, at times Gobi’s presence helps him push through the pain, exhaustion and boredom of long distance running. A real turning point in their relationship comes when Dion stops to carry Gobi across a river that is too deep and fast flowing for her to cross, even though he knows it will cost him time and probably his position in the race too. By the time he crosses the finish line, seven days and 155 miles later, Dion has resolved to bring her back to the UK with him.
Roughly the first third of Finding Gobi focuses on the ultra-marathon, and the rest describes all the challenges of trying to bring Gobi back to the UK. I don’t want to spoil it, but this story ends happily and their reunion and eventual return to the UK is that much sweeter for all the obstacles and setbacks they faced along the way.
Dion, a bit of a loner by nature with a fair bit of emotional baggage from his childhood and adolescence, is humbled by the outpouring of generosity and support from friends and strangers alike who donate money to the crowd-funding campaign he starts or give up their time to help him directly. It is Dion’s commitment to bringing Gobi home that drives the campaign, but it’s the kindness of people from all over the world who make it possible, and in turn make this story so heart-warming and memorable.
Although my own furry, four-legged companion is of the feline variety, there were so many aspects of this story that resonated with me. Human relationships can often be complex, yet our animal companions offer us their love and trust unconditionally, and no matter how we may see ourselves they accept us just as we are. Yet even more than that, Finding Gobi demonstrates that somehow animals also have the ability to bring out our very best qualities – from commitment and co-operation to kindness and compassion.
Clusters of yellow and purple crocuses on the verges and the steadily increasing daylight throughout February had us optimistically organizing our seeds into the order they should be planted until a cold snap from Siberia submerged our garden under a foot of snow.
The Beast from the East arrived here on Tuesday evening bringing icy winds and snow to our part of the country, and causing travel chaos, school closures and widespread disruption across the UK. I chose to work from home on Wednesday rather than risk driving through the snow, and by mid-day my husband’s office had also been closed due to the inclement weather – though he had to walk half the way home as all forms of public transport were either severely delayed or cancelled. As we were effectively snowed in, we both worked from home for the remainder of the week.
This week has been a contrast of wrapping up in coats, gloves and boots whenever we venture out into the bitterly cold winds and deep snow drifts to feed the birds or stock up at the supermarket, and savouring the warmth and comfort of our home. We’ve kept cabin fever at bay by reading books, watching the birds in the garden and playing board games together with the wood burning stove lit and the radio playing in the background.
It’s felt like a long winter, and I’m very much looking forward to spring when it arrives but I’ve enjoyed having some unexpected cosy, hyggeligt time with my husband and our cat. This week, I’ve been grateful that I have the option to work from home, the nearest supermarket is within walking distance and as always for the warmth and shelter of our little house. Hope everyone is safe and warm. X
Just tapping out a quick post before settling down for the evening as I’ve been working from home today because soft, powdery snow has been falling almost constantly since early this morning bringing widespread disruption to our part of the country. Yet while I’ve been safe and warm inside, our feathered friends in the garden have been out and about foraging for food, and it’s been lovely to look up from my laptop every so often to watch the birds visiting the feeding station and snowflakes swirling in the wind. Have a lovely week. X
As it was Chinese New Year at the weekend, my hubby and I decided to visit the Giant Lanterns of China that have been on display at Edinburgh Zoo over the winter.
As darkness fell over the city, we wandered along the mile long circuit marveling at over 450 handcrafted silk lanterns illuminating the zoo. The beautiful displays featured elements from Chinese culture as well as various animals, birds and insects to be found in the zoo (though all of the real animals were kept inside overnight).
As with any outdoor event in Scotland, we were glad it was a dry evening, especially when we stopped to watch a twenty minute performance by Chinese acrobats who impressed the audience with their feats of strength and balance.
It was a wonderful way to spend a winter evening while learning a little bit about Chinese mythology and some of the conservation work that the zoo does. Have a lovely week. X
I often think January is a month ill-suited to starting our New Year’s Resolutions as it’s the middle of winter and many of us are still recovering from the busy-ness and excess of the festive period. By February though, we’re usually awakening from our winter hibernation and ready to start tackling some of the goals and resolutions we’ve set ourselves.
One of our goals this year is to reduce how much food we waste. Food is a necessity but it’s also become one of our biggest expenditures after housing and transport, and I feel guilty when it goes to waste. To help us achieve our goal, we’ve been planning our meals in advance and we’ve bought a set of Pyrex dishes so we can cook some of our meals in bulk and freeze the extra portions for quick and healthy midweek suppers. We’re also going to continue growing some of our own fruit, vegetables and herbs in our little garden and composting our kitchen waste.
The gradually increasing daylight has given us a much-needed energy boost, and I’ve enjoyed getting back into our fitness routines, like swimming and my yoga class. Yoga has been a key component of my self-care over the last few years, as aside from the physical benefits, focusing on my breathing and immersing myself in physical activity helps me to clear my mind. This year I’d like to focus on improving my spine flexibility and increasing the number of sun salutations I can do without collapsing in exhaustion because I’d love to participate in a yogathon someday. I’m keeping my goals simple because as my yoga instructor often reminds us, yoga is as much about self-acceptance as it is about self-improvement. My husband and I have also signed up for salsa dancing classes. We learned how to foxtrot for our first dance, but took a break from classes after our wedding, and we’re excited to start our classes again as dancing’s a fun and romantic hobby to share together.
One resolution that’s already well under way in our home is resetting our cat’s breakfast routine with Pavlovian behavioural modification. Over the winter Mara had been waking us up earlier and earlier by pawing our faces, knocking things off our bedside tables and scrambling across our pillows, but we’ve gradually retrained her to stop waking us up at 4am, and she’s now allowing us a whole extra hour of sleep, which is a vast improvement as far as we’re concerned! After Mara’s had her breakfast, she always comes back to bed for a snuggle, which almost makes up for our rude awakening.
It’s snowed all through January in our part of the country, and it’s been lovely to see our garden under a thick blanket of soft, white snow, such a contrast from the colourful tangle of wildflowers in the summer. Over the last few weeks, I’ve enjoyed waking up and knowing it’s snowed without drawing the curtains as somehow the light seems diffused and a hush falls over the world. I much prefer a cold winter with frost and snow to a mild but wet one.
This weekend my husband and I took part in the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch, and it’s been lovely to sit by the window for an hour with a cup of coffee counting the birds in our garden. Over the autumn and winter, I’ve been filling the feeders with suet balls and seed mixes, and scattering breadcrumbs and dried fruit on the ground for the family of sparrows living in the hedge as well as the blue tits, blackbirds, robins and starlings that visit our garden.
The snow has gradually melted away revealing the first shoots of our spring bulbs poking out of the soil. I’ve missed spending time in the garden over the winter, but until the weather improves I’ll savour the contrast of the cold and darkness outside with the warmth of the fire and soft glow of candlelight in our home.
Over the last few weeks, the long, dark midwinter evenings have given me the perfect excuse to sit by the fire and make a start on the pile of new books waiting to be read. It has been snowing on and off all week in our part of the country, making Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child seem like an appropriate story to start with.
Set in 1920, The Snow Child centres around Jack and Mabel, a married couple in their mid-forties from Pennsylvania grieving the stillbirth of their baby, and attempting to make a new life for themselves on a homestead in Alaska. Both lost in their own grief, Jack and Mabel hope it will be a fresh start away from all the reminders of their loss, but the reality proves quite different from their expectations as Alaska turns out to be a beautiful but harsh and unforgiving landscape.
One winter night, caught up in the magic of the first snowfall, they build a child in the snow – a little girl – but the very next day they find their snow child smashed and foot prints leading away from it. Not long after, they begin to see a little girl around their homestead and wandering in the wilderness. As the seasons and years pass, the reader is left wondering whether the snow child is just a feral orphan left to fend for herself or a fairy-tale brought to life by the couple’s desperate longing.
The Snow Child is split into three parts, and I found the final part – which jumps ahead several years – the weakest section as it seemed disjointed as it rushed towards the end. Despite this, I loved the descriptions of life on the homestead and the struggle to cultivate the land, making friends with their coarse-mannered but kind-hearted neighbours, the beautiful Alaskan winters and the mysterious snow child who seemed to haunt the land. The Snow Child is an ideal story to read under a cosy blanket with a cup of hot chocolate while the wind howls and the snowflakes fall outside.