(The Lovers, Charles Hawthorne, circa 1900’s)
A Poet’s Remorse
(The Lovers, Charles Hawthorne, circa 1900’s)
A Poet’s Remorse
(Wandering Shadows, Peter Graham, 1878)
A Highland Warrior
I dream of Scotland…
Glens and hills, peat and moss
A man belonging to the land as the soil beneath his feet
Rugged and rocky, nothing weak survives
The whipping wind thrashing his hair
Warning him of old man winter arriving at the hems of his skirt
Survival is not an option, for he does not know the luxury but to live and die
Warrior against warrior, clan against clan
Tides of the righteous binding the two in no man’s land
God’s will the destiny of his fate; barely a purpose of existence
I wonder as I dream, the black hills haunting my memory of what once was
A fur-clad figure standing firm atop the granite ledge, the green glen below taunting:
“Come hither. Lay within my arms and look upon the glories of the heavens.
Breathe in and feel the stir of life. Know of something more you cannot taste.”
Looking down upon the land that does not embrace him, nor anyone
The purpose of humanity lost as it passes from him to the next with bludgeoned blows
Withering ashes for the heather that blooms spring after spring, year after year
His life haunts me to remember…reminding me of a soul unfinished
(Urquhart Castle, Inverness, Scotland)
I sat in bed, as my mind awoke 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 was mine.
I made my through the hallowed walls of the Castle where I chose to end my journey in Scotland. Everyone needs to stay in a castle! It was all one would expect, with dark paneled walls, hand carved staircases, and a dungeon where men came in, and souls went out. It is almost 9am and the sun still has not completely risen to greet the morning. Sitting in the Orangery, I sip my coffee and and watch the tired sun awaken, slowly pouring over the tips of the trees, the golden rays filtering through the 18th Century windows of a 13th century clan home that has seen many reparations, as well as, lives that have been in and out of the halls. 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.
Today, I took siege.
I have traveled up and down Scotland for the last twelve days…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 foreign lands and their people. 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 – my senses heightened. The water is clear and cold, tasting of nothing it’s not supposed to. Butter and eggs are rich 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 mock me, knowing I am too far away to 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 ruins at Linlithgow? Catholics praying to statues of Rosslyn Chapel that were destroyed during the Reformation? Or the crumpled church, along a lonely road on Skye where gothic gravestones 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, where 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 the 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. It is, that 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.
(Lydia Crocheting in the Garden at Marley, Mary Cassatt, 1880)
Playing Chess With Lucifer
I wonder what you see
The face that once you looked
Lines of time, pallor of age
A young woman that no longer exists
I see it, saddened by my own loss
Cringing at what will never come again
Pained by God’s cruelty
Or is it Lucifer…who knows?
How wasted it was, never reaching out, never acting upon what could have been
Do you judge me the way I judge myself?
Do you regret what I regret?
I remember the man you once were
The man you still are
More than you could imagine to be
I see that…I see you, hidden in the depths of your making
An image of what you were supposed to become
Living up to everyone’s expectations
But where are you now, lost in the walls of your own making?
Wanting desperately to flee, if only for a moment, to escape the weight of yourself
Are we all doomed to the solitude of despair?
I hear you, your call for reprieve
Your hidden desires flare in the compounds of your words
Letting me know you are still there, reaching towards me
Unable to take hold, but wanting all the same
If only for those few moments where our lives are unbound by time
My spirit rises, a joy that finds me in my darkness
And I wonder…I wonder what you see
Fields sway with the breath of life
Branches carry the burden of fruitfulness
From the sweat of our brows
And the will our hands
The soil brings forth the bounty of life
There upon us, in the midst of dark
The golden moon tinged in burnt
Blessing us in our till
So that we may gather our harvest
And give back with our hearts
That which God has delivered to us
Under the Harvest Moon
Research and Writing…The Scotland Adventure
My third Novel, Life of Her, is about a woman who feels invisible. Invisible to her kids, her husband, the world. After raising a family, and defining her life for everyone else, an experience with breast cancer makes her invisible to herself, pushing her on the precipice of life? What life and who’s life she doesn’t know. What she does know is that she can’t stay where she is. Stuck being no one and nothing, she runs away from everything and everyone that has defined her…landing in Scotland. It is there she will discover who she is, awakening her passion for loving, living, and longing for what the rest of her life has to offer.
And there I go…
NO! I am not running away. My life is pretty damn good. Okay, I have teenagers, so maybe not so great all the time. But nothing a little wine or whiskey can’t help me forget. Ha!
Needless to say, I am off to Scotland. I had an opportunity to attend a creative writing retreat in the Highlands. Outside of the city of Inverness, the writing retreat takes place in a converted farmhouse tucked away from civilization. It is a time to learn from successful authors, share with fellow writers, and write.
Attending this retreat was the perfect opportunity to see the countryside of Scotland that I wrote about. See, I have never been to Scotland. Nor have I really known anyone from Scotland. And yet I conjured up people, a town, and experiences with Scotland in mind. Eeeeeek, that was stupid.
In my first two novels, I wrote about 19th Century England without ever having visited the United Kingdom. Ever! Yet, people who have have read my two novels and who have been to England said, and I quote, “You nailed it.” That is the power of the imagination, reading, and maybe a past life experience or two. So, I was not apprehensive about taking my protagonist in my new book to a city that she had never been, nor had I. I had always wanted to see Scotland, so why not take my character there. After all, look what it did for Claire! (Outlander fans will understand my desire to set my story in the charming countryside of Scotland – home to Jaime Fraser and the MacKenzie Clan.)
So, the opportunity presented itself…writing and Scotland. I get to work on my craft, and see the world in which I immersed my thoughts in for so many months writing my third novel. I only pray I got it right!
Who Does That?
As I take off, I am supported by many who are cheering me on, and to see and hear about my adventure. After all, it isn’t often a wife, a mom with two teenage kids, a needy dog, and Thanksgiving around the corner, just gets up and leaves for a couple of weeks. Did I say I was traveling without my family? They couldn’t believe it either.
“What about Thanksgiving?” they protested.
“It will come again next year…” I replied.
But here’s the thing…they don’t want to go with me! The thought of trouncing around ancient towns, in rain, ogling over architecture and amazed by empty ruins is not high on their sightseeing list. When I showed the pictures of my quaint retreat to my husband, he proclaimed, “It’s in the middle of nowhere!” He insisted he would hate it. Yes, he probably would. It has no TV.
Can You Imagine?
Well, I did imagine. And took it a step further. I planned a trip through Scotland, from Edinburgh, to Inverness, to Skye, to Fort William, and back to Edinburgh. I take a train up to the Highlands, a car around the Isle of Skye, and walk through ancient cities and towns roaming the multitude of abbeys, castles, estate homes, museums, and battlefields to my heart’s galore. I will explore, learn all I can, talk to strangers, eat what I want, and drink when I can. I will tour from morning to evening, and I will write until my eyes can’t keep themselves open. In other words, I am taking a trip my family would hate!
A Writer’s Life
And thus, I am off to Scotland. I am taking a trip that is all for me, on my time, with my interests. I am exploring new lands, researching for my latest novel and maybe novels yet to be, and studying my craft. I am doing what writers must do to produce work that is real and authentic. I am experiencing life!
I hope you stay with me on my adventure.
(Portrait of Two Women, Diego Rivera, 1914)
Your burden to not carry
Oblivious to the harm it caused
Or worse, knowing
Ignoring the deception
Rationalize the action and it all seem frivolous…
But the strike across the face still stings no matter the intention
Weakening us, harming the bonds that have been our foundation
All for the shining object that usually leads to nowhere
No gain, no glory, not worth the price to be paid
I am not going to lament this, nor try to explain
But know there was collateral damage