My special place on this planet Earth is the network of paths through Meikleour Wood around Stormont Loch and within the Rosemount and Lansdowne golf courses just South of Blairgowrie in Perthshire, Scotland.
Each time I return is different but also the same, reaffirming my acquaintance. Looking out across the loch from the spot where my Dad took me walking on its frozen surface in the winter of 1960. They used to use it for curling competitions in those old cold days, but its thin ice can rarely be trusted in this warmer world. In my mind I can see him throwing the big stone that skipped along the frozen surface and sent the loud echoes of weird icy vibrations up into the cold air, scaring the birds.
Then through the golf course, gazing along the smooth green fairway to where I walked with Dad in the Summer of '61, and rediscovering where he had picked a lost golf ball from the bushes and presented it to me. I remember that it felt like a very significant gift.
Then walking through the woods that shared my private thoughts as a boy, and glancing down at the spot where I had slept one night, out in the open, aged eighteen, until some wild animal awakened me by scurrying across my chest.
And pausing by the gorse bushes to admire a golfer's shot, at exactly the place where I had stood with my own boy and girl, watching another long lost shot many years ago, when they were aged six and eight.
And then just a short distance to the north and standing alone on the grave of the grandfather I never met. Reading the moss-filled words on his stone and imagining the cold October day in 1950, five years before my birth, when my grandmother, mother and father - all now gone themselves - must have stood right there looking down at his box in the open earth. About one quarter of my DNA lies down there with him, and one quarter of his still lives up here with me. Along with the one eighth now busy replicating and transcribing within my son and daughter. And our DNA will return, to play golf and walk, I hope, on the Rosemount and Lansdowne courses and the paths through Meikleour wood and around my very special Stormont Loch.
And my age has been making me ponder some of the issues that can make getting older troubling. One of the big ones is that the time that may realistically be left for us begins to grow alarmingly shorter than the time we have had. It inevitably makes us ponder, how much longer? But this is a foolish misunderstanding of our true position, because what we recognize as ourselves, our consciousness, which really is our existence, disappears each time we enter dreamless sleep. And if we wake again, it is as a slightly different person, a new and slightly altered consciousness, a fresh beginning, albeit with many very unreliable memories of days lived previously by earlier consciousnesses in this sequence of days and moments – mysterious moments - that we mistakenly try to join together into a continuous whole.
So how long have you got? The you of today has as long as any version of you has ever had, whether aged one, or ten, or sixty, ninety, whatever... You have, at most, until your next sleep, that's all, before your consciousness expires. You always just have the day, and always only will have.
Which brings me to another of the problems with ageing, which is that it can bring a burgeoning load of negative mental baggage. The natural but misguided tendency to view your life as a whole makes you carry around with you the ever increasing burden of things that have gone wrong in the past, the growing list of regrets, some inevitable guilt and bad memories. In reality, of course, these past events should be allowed to mean nothing to the new person of today. Even though the past brought us to where we are, it need not influence which route we take from the situation we now find ourselves in. One crucial secret for coping with ageing and still enjoying life must be to try to 'drop the bags' that your mind is so tempted to lug around within you. All that baggage is not needed for the journey ahead, and will only hold you back. We should head to the departure lounge for tomorrow with just the clean clothes of today, free and ready to make the best of whatever happens next.
And as a completely sceptical, faithless and non-religious fellow, with no expectation of a new life in 'heaven' or anywhere else to sustain me, I do sometimes get those gloomy 'what's the damn point of all this nonsense?' moments, familiar to many or most of us. A hazardous and challenging life probably just created by the harsh uncaring hand of evolution, blindly fashioned for procreation, then dreary death... What's the point? But for me, an answer of sorts came as I walked alone under the stars near Rosemount one winter night and was lucky enough to see a shower of meteors burning through the clear dark sky. For some reason, admiring this brief and thought-provoking cosmic visitation prompted the voice of my mind to say: 'Just to have been one... Just to have been one of these incredible lumbering chemical machines, raised up from the dust and water of the Earth, powered by the Sun, and able to think, and see, and to realize that just to have been one, is enough... is reason enough, to have been.'
At that moment, just to have been, was enough.