Monday, November 28, 2011

Joyful Season

I have now participated in three fairs in the Highlands. One was held in the primary school of a village on the Black Isle, one in a castle east of Inverness, the last in a cosy, very Scottish hotel on the road to the Isle of Skye. I loved them all. The people I met, both traders and customers, were delightful. The warmth, the camaraderie, the generous and welcoming heart and soul that seems to permeate this part of the world - how we enjoyed it. Chris had the best time visiting other stalls and chatting with people, while I manned the table, ready to tell folks the story of Ailleas Designs and share my creations. From each event, I came away a richer person. Not in terms of sales, but in terms of finding so many like-minded people. There was snow, Father Christmas, and smiles all round - just as it should be this time of year.

While I have not a shred of scientific data to back this, I feel that perhaps the welcoming hospitality of Virginia and much of the south is a trait inherited from our Scottish ancestors. What I experience here is so much like the sense of community I felt when I was growing up in Virginia in the 1960s. Such sharing and fellowship. I feel so much joy in seeing so many smiles and acts of kindness.

At the fair this past Saturday, held at Ledgowan Lodge Hotel, it was both a surprise and pleasure to discover that the gentleman at the table next to us was more than just a neighbour at the event, but a neighbour here in Milton, as well. Mark and his wife Elaine (who wasn't with him on Saturday) live around the corner from the mill and we hope we will get to see Mark again and meet Elaine. More wonderful than that, though, is the affirmation Mark gave me about my feelings living here in the Highlands. I told him the way I feel here, the immense joy I feel, the emotional reaction I so often have to places in Scotland. He informed me that we all have what are called genetic markers. Some people feel them more strongly than others. These are the same sort of markers than cause animals to migrate, sometimes over thousands of miles and against incredible odds, to be in the one place they know they ought to and have to be. I told Mark that my first visit to Glencoe brought sobs from the very depth of my soul and that I was overwhelmed with a need to lie down on the ground there. His eyes twinkled as he told me that this was a marker that I had tuned into. For no doubt, when I discovered from a distant cousin, that two of my ancestors had escaped the massacre in 1692, this marker must have somehow told me that my ancestors may have laid down and feigned death in order to escape, first to Ireland and then to Boston. This may be why my uncle loved Ireland so and has written to me that he wants to come visit, "an old man coming home." I hope he does. For I am without doubt that he will feel the same agonisingly joyful waves of familiarity and home that I do. Even as I write the words here, my eyes fill with tears. I love it here, but more than that, I belong here.

What should not surprise me is that everyone I speak to who lives here but is not from here has felt the same pull I feel. One customer on Saturday was a woman who lives in Switzerland but is originally from Germany. We spoke about our love for Scotland and the sense of needing desperately to be here. I, of course, can trace my heritage back to Scotland without any real difficulty. This woman was unaware of her possible genetic connection. But she comes from Hamburg, a port that has always been a port. Who can say that her ancestors didn't once sail from Hamburg across the sea to Scotland and settle here? Germanic and Scandinavian tribes filled much of the present-day UK hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years ago. It may be that the Scottish homing instinct was passed down to her from some distant ancestor who came over the water to the land of heather and hills.

After many busy days, Chris and I are having a week of rest. A final Christmas fair will take us to Gairloch on the western coast, just north of the Ledgowan Lodge Hotel in Achnasheen. An early start means we will spend the night before at a B&B. We have booked into the Solas B&B; the description is lovely - with views toward Skye and Torridon. We are so looking forward to it. We loved the Ledgowan Lodge Hotel so much, we are going to take advantage of their mid-week break prices and stay there sometime before the 22nd. Our Christmas present to ourselves.

I am looking forward to our first Christmas in the Highlands. I've been informed we can expect snow. I shall have to buy some mulled wine for the day, snuggle up with Chris and watch some Christmas movies. It is going to be wonderful.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mist and Sunshine...

It is after midnight; in fact, it is after 1am. I'm not really sleepy yet. Maybe I'm just nervous - tomorrow is my first Christmas Fair and I am hoping the jewellery loving crowd is there. I've been working hard to get to this point in my career. So, maybe it's just nerves. Or maybe it is the quietness and the time I can reflect on a wonderful day. A day, sadly, unaccompanied by photos. The title of this blog tells you why. Chris was unable to get any decent shots today because of the extraordinary weather.

We had a late start to the day. Chris has been feeling a bit under the weather and when he was still asleep well past 9am, I let him sleep. Bless him, he works so hard taking care of our home and me. He deserved a lie-in, something he rarely gives himself. But today he had one and was better for it.

So, at just past noon, we hit the road. Chris had discovered that there was an abbey nearby, founded in the mid-13th century. So, with a general idea of where it was, we took off. There was a heavy mist as far as we could see. I love mist and fog, something very ethereal about it. Possibly one of the contributing factors to my love for this country.

We drove along the main road until we saw the turn-off for Fearne. The mist had disappeared (or so we thought) and we found ourselves traveling down a narrow tree-lined road, the autumn sunshine sparkling off golden and russet leaves, some heavy still with the dew of the mist that had rolled on. I took out our scruffy and well-loved atlas and found that just beyond the turn-off for the abbey was another road that would lead us to Loch Eye and then along another road that would take us to Portmahomock (doesn't that sound like a town in New England with a name from the native Americans?). As we turned onto the road, we noticed the mist was with us once more, but it almost formed an arc, like a rainbow, and, like a rainbow, no matter how much farther we traveled, it always stayed ahead of us. To see the sheep grazing with a mist on top of them, but only reaching a little way above them, was incredible. We drove down the road, stopping at one point to watch a large bird of prey (we believe it was a juvenile eagle) and enjoying the afternoon of peacefully gazing at the passing countryside. Loch Eye finally appeared to our left, but there didn't appear to be a road to get to it, so we passed it, with the mist making the bare trees appear in silhouette. We reached an intersection and turned toward the road that would bring us to the end of this small peninsula. 

Farms and wide expanses of land surrounded us. To the left, we could see a small inlet of the Dornoch Firth, with little beaches that boasted waves with white crests. It was simply lovely. It reminded me, a bit, of my childhood summers on Cape Cod. That same sense of great space with little evidence of mankind (if JFK did nothing else, at least he made most of the Cape national seashore). We looked at the views and the golden fields and the grazing sheep and were once more filled with great happiness that this is all in our backyard.

As we continued along the narrow road, we could see the harbour village of Portmahomock. The waterfront formed a small crescent and cottages and pebble-dashed houses standing beside the narrow main street. We drove as far as we could. The Dornoch Firth in front of us, the hills of the northwest across the water, and still a bit of mist in the air. 

From Portmahomack, we took the road north until we reached Tarbet Ness lighthouse. Tall and thin with red stripes, it stands where the North Sea divides itself into the Dornoch and Moray Firths. There wasn't a soul around and as we made our way just a few feet up the little drive (Chris walking, me hobbling), we saw that the lane was lined in gorse and that small birds and rabbits, with their fur thickening in preparation for the coming winter, made their homes among the gnarled stems. The sky was so blue, the air so still. So very peaceful and beautiful. We stood quietly, breathing in deeply the cold air and enjoying the silence, save for the birds twittering and the rabbit scampering about. We knew the day would be closing in soon, the sun is setting just the other side of 4pm now, and so we reluctantly walked/hobbled back to the car.

We traveled in the only direction we could, south again with our goal of reaching Fearne Abbey, some seven or so miles away. What we saw as we traveled south amazed us. The mist hadn't lifted, we had simply driven out of it. In front of us, we saw the mist, appearing more like low-lying clouds, hugging the contours of the land. In some parts, it was as if we were looking down out of an airplane window, or perhaps looking forward from a very high altitude. But we weren't; we were most assuredly on solid ground, but the clouds lying on the surface of the fields and hills remained close. Chris attempted a photograph, but above the low clouds, the November afternoon sun was bright and made it difficult to get a decent photograph. You shall have to take my word for it. It was, truly, amazing. Everything that stood between us and the mist was silhouetted by the sun. The bell in the distant church tower was clearly outlined, as were the bare trees and farm silos.

We traveled to Fearne, now entering the mist, and drove to the abbey. While founded in the 13th century, most of it was rebuilt in the 18th century. But there was still a feel of great antiquity to it. It is a church that is used every Sunday, despite some areas off the main building missing their roofs and a churchyard with ancient stone slabs covered with bright green moss. Chris went off to explore the churchyard, while I hobbled back to sit in the car. The radio was playing classical music and I looked as before me the sun was lying low behind the perfect branches of a bare tree. It was so lovely, so peaceful. But the mist was cold and we needed to run some errands, but I know that we will go back there soon. Chris loves photographing old abbeys and churches and he looked so happy when he returned to the car.

So that was our day of mist and sunshine, sea and fields, sheep and eagles. In other words, another day in our beautiful home in Scotland.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The best of feelings...

I'm afraid I have no travels to share with you this week. The past five days have been spent being full-time Mum and Nana. We put my daughter and granddaughter on a train home a couple of hours ago and, while I am appreciating the quiet and getting the house back to "normal", I am missing their presence already.

When my daughter was very little, I remember picking her up at the sitter's one late afternoon after work. She wasn't more than 6 or 7 months old, but on this particular day, she did something she had never done before. When the sitter answered the door, she was holding Caroline, who was looking in the opposite direction. I softly said her name, she turned around, saw me, gave me the biggest toothless grin and leaned toward me with a hand outstretched. I never thought I would ever feel that same overwhelming wave of love again. But I have. On several occasions over the weekend, Catherine would run to me, put her arms around my knees and utter those beautiful words, "My Nana." Joy, love, warmth...there are no words to describe the feeling of those little arms squeezing and the huge smile on her face. She is my dearest joy, plain and simple.

As she is two, the huge grins and loving cuddles can often turn to stamping feet and pouts. I have done with her what I did with her mother. I ignore the tantrums and when the lower lip sticks out, I tell her to put it back. It becomes a game and she smiles and then laughs and the tantrum is over. As I said to my daughter, with toddlers, you choose your battles. If it isn't life-threatening or dangerous in any way, you just laugh it off.

Catherine apparently likes "the water." During our trips out, we are almost always going to drive by or over the water. "Mummy, ook! Water!" This is followed by, "Nana, ook! Water!" The ritual is not complete until she has finished with "Abba, ook! Water!" Then we are all very sure we have looked at the water, acknowledged the same to Catherine and the trip can continue. 

Perhaps the funniest part of the visit was Catherine's insistence that she "find" our cats. She calls both of them by one of the names, "Fluff." Catherine would catch sight of one of the cats (who was, no doubt, thinking that they have appeared at just the wrong time) and would run down the hall. As quickly, she would return again and grab a hand of a willing participant with the words, "Quick! I find Fluff." Caroline or Chris would follow along (since I can't be "quick") and find the cat looking less than pleased and letting out a little hiss here and there. I have a feeling these cats have never been around small children. Needless to say, the cats spent most of the five days on our bed and hoping that Catherine would leave them alone. I think they would have been happier if Catherine had left them undiscovered.

Thanks to my granddaughter, I am now familiar with "Dora the Explorer" and the movie "Tangled." I know that a chameleon in the film "Tangled" is referred to as "frog" and that bouncing is what you do, even if you are, in fact, jumping. 

It has been a wonderful five days, and we look forward to many more visits. But, for now, I am going to allow the cats to chill and Chris and I will reclaim our home as our own. Until next time and until I once again feel the warmth of those little arms around my knees, I can just remember what it's like to be so unconditionally loved by a very sweet little girl.