My grandfather came from the Island of Arran on the west coast of Scotland and I spent quite a lot of time there as a boy. As it is close to the central belt it attracted a lot of holiday makers who headed for the hills, but not all were experienced or equipped for the conditions there.
There was one occasion when a group of young climbers got lost on one of the western hill groups – Beinn Bharrain and Bheinn Bhreac [Ben Varn and Ben Vrack for the non Gaelic speakers among us] and the mountain rescue team was called in from the mainland. I remember standing with my Dad and the local farmer, Donald MacMillan as these experts got ready to do their stuff. They came in all the fancy gear and piled high with equipment as they discussed the routes and techniques they would adopt.
Old Donald MacMillan gave his advice, which was politely listened to and then ignored, and the heroes tramped off, brightly coloured and confident, into the dusk.
‘Well Tam,’ Donald said to my Dad, ‘they’re off the wrong way then. Shall we go and rescue the missing lads.’
My Dad nodded. I don’t think he said anything; he never did say much anyway. He and Donald put on their boots. Donald knew the hills; he was a shepherd and could read the weather and the granite and the heather after a lifetime of experience. He knew that in the prevailing weather conditions the missing men would have followed a certain ridge to a certain spot and then would have been unable to get back.
He took my Dad right to them and was back within a few hours. He had the missing men safe and warm long before the experts returned.
Is there a moral to this story?
Yes: we al have a role to play in life. Some have all the paper qualifications in the world and others have none, but that does not mean they have no skills. Everybody has some skill; often they do not know what it is, or have not been asked to display it. I work with some lads who have no formal qualifications. They are not stupid, it is just that the world has not yet recognise their potential.
The ‘expert’ rescue team discarded Donald’s skills because they thought they knew better; they were highly trained and he was only a rural shepherd. I learned never to discount anybody. There are always hidden talents and skills. People are multi layered and often hide their potential.
We all have a function.