(Urquhart Castle, Inverness, Scotland)
I am sitting at a table, looking through 18th Century windows of a 13th century castle/clan home that has seen many reparations, and lives that have been in and out of these walls. Lives of the wealthy, the cruel, the ordinary. My view is of a glen, scotch pines standing tall among the yellowing of the birch that struggle to hold onto their leaves. A river runs through it, under a stone bridge that many a warrior have crossed to take siege of this beautiful place. It is almost 9am and the sun still has not completely risen to greet the morning.
Earlier, I sat in bed, my mind waking without alarm, my body warm in the cocoon of my quilt. It is the first day in ten days that I didn’t have to jump up and get out with a full day of tours ahead of me. Instead, I lingered in my pajamas, made myself a cup of tea, and indulged in my “sitting room” to watch the sun hinting at morning.
Peace is mine.
I have traveled up and down Scotland…seen this country and all its glory. As one Scot said to me, “You have probably seen more than I have and I have lived here my whole life.”
I probably have. Thanks to my tour guide, Paul, from King Tours of Scotland. I couldn’t have been blessed with a more nerdy man. (I mean that as a compliment.) He talked my ear off, and filled my head with the craziest knowledge. Did you know that cowboys were Scottish? Neither did I! But Scotland had men called drovers, that would drive the cattle down from the Highlands, along rough and tumble terrain. (And it was rough!) When they came to America, cleared from their lands, they brought this skill. The Americans would hire these men to run cattle…and protect them from Indians. Even some of our famous cowboy songs are Scottish derived. WOW! And there is so much more. Needless to say, I was in heaven.
My tours took me to Edinburgh, (or as they say, Edinburra,) through Perthshire on a train, up to a farmhouse in the Highlands and the capitol, Inverness, touring onward to the Hebrides Isle of Skye, down to Fort William, and just below the city of Edinburgh once again. I have seen castles, national land, private ruins, city streets, and famous spots. (Yes, I even stood on “Castle Leoch”of Outlander.) Each one bringing me a sense of the people and the country that now stands. Each enriching my world view of who I am as an American. Each filling me up in a way that I never expected.
The beauty is boundless. Green could be my new favorite color. But Scotland isn’t just green. In the Fall it is filled with oranges and yellows. Greys and blues. Blacks and browns. Light and dark. Each with an intensity that catches the eye, stimulating something more primal inside of me-the senses heightened. The water is clear and cold, tasting of nothing it’s not supposed to. Butter and eggs are pure and creamy. (I mean really, really, creamy!!) The sounds of the night are empty except for the trickling of a stream hidden in the mounds of mossy grass and dried heather. The twinkling of the stars mocking me that I am too far away to just reach up and grab a dream.
I grabbed my dream. I came to Scotland!
My camera will never do it justice. How do you capture King James entering the grand hall that now lay in the ruins at Linlithgow? Or Catholics praying to statues of Rosslyn Chapel that were destroyed during the reformation? Or the mourning of loved ones at the gravestones of a lost church on a remote road on Skye, that sag to the left or right from hundreds of years of neglect, religions claiming the building for their sacred beliefs. Each site was a magical portal to a world I have read about in history books. I walked on hollow ground of the royal, the religious, the renegade, all colliding into piles of rocks and remnants of walls that I stood and snapped photos of their once turbulent, and often, bloody lives.
It is my last day in Scotland. And I leave here longing for more; knowing I must return to reality. A reality with all its glory and hardships of my ordinary life that one day may be mere rumble under someone’s feet, taking snapshots of the brick wall that remains of lives past.
It is a cycle. Nothing magical. Nothing extraordinary…except for me in the moment. Moments in the present. That is where the magic really happens. Not the past. Not the future. For those are fleeting realities that will be stacks of stone in the end. I came. I conquered. I go. Enjoying the mere beauty and pleasure it brought me as I looked upon what was in front of me, my hands gripping the coldness of sandstone, my face feeling the frigid air, my ears listening the rain. I wish I could show you the dense dark forest with its mossy pathway that led to where I don’t know. The sunrise that slowly made its way above the black rock of the Cuillan Hills. The hairy “coos” that stared at me with disdain. But I will never capture what it meant, or even how beautiful it truly was.
I have come to Scotland to see the people that are now ghosts, their legacy hidden in snippets of a painting, a found button, an educated guess of a curator, and a whisper of tales passed on. I am touched by something that lingers. An energy? Who knows. But there is something that remains that I connect to and leave with. That we are all specs of sand in the scheme of life. Our wars are not worth fighting, or loves are not worth losing. We must take life for what it is, and embrace the moments.