Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Why we need to keep guns off our police

Most people understand why I am so passionate about not having police walking casually around Highland streets wearing Glocks. It is not just Glocks and the attitude they engender toward problem solving, but also how the decision was made. One man, the chief constable, decided to make this drastic change with no regard for public consultation--or even alerting the Highland Council to what he was doing. Since the arbitrary decsion, we have had armed police visit the council (shades of Caesar crossing the Rubicon), and nonsense explanations one after another. First, it would take too long to put on their guns (a demonstration had them gear up in 2 minutes); there are only 2% armed; it is a response to too many guns in the Highlands; or worst of all, the chief constable had 'intelligence' indicating the possibility of a potential future threat.  That last excuse brought back the long dark shadows of Iraq and the suicide of a misquoted advisor.

And then there is the way the public reaction has been handled.

The Chief Constable said that critics were mishief makers and working to a different agenda. The Justice Minister said arming police was an operational decision and within the remit of the chief constable. He tried to disavow any responsibility for the decision and continued that the police needed to be free of  'politics', which by all accounts translated as free of accountability. When did armed police own the streets free of any accountability in a civil society? When did they stop being public servants?

Now while this storm is blowing up over here, the tragic death of a young black man in  Ferguson, Missouri comes along like the spectre of policing future. If any one has wondered why I was so passionate about this issue, please take a look at this link that my daughter sent me to a British ex pat in America taking a look at the issue.

Here is an English expat comedian on the issue of police in Ferguson, which I daresay is a wake up call to us here in the Highlands.

We should be proud of the fact that we in the Highlands are seen to be leading the objections to routine arming of police. Write to your paper, email your representative, do not let this issue be ignored or crowded out by referendum issues. This is an issue for where we live right here, right now.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Just because

I don't think any of us can explain what makes us go Ooh or ahh despite being effortful or complicated or time consuming. That feeling, however, is contagious. Although I do not aspire to have the knowledge of Ken Butler our botanist in residence ( I forget his real titles but the queen noted his contributions a couple years ago so he has intials behind his name), I can enjoy sharing his marvellous passion and the accumulated knowledge that seems now to come so effortlessly. I enjoyed his wisdom and the transformation in him --and us--as we wandered over the hill in search of tiny orchids and the rare purple oxytropis  on a recent walk with the field club.

Both botanists and poets can make us appreciate the very grass beneath our feet.
Ken's fingers showing us how to differentiate among the many orchids up here. In this case, do not be misled by the spots. This is not the spotted orchid, it is the early marsh orchid, but you need to get close to tell the difference--and know what to look at.

Oh, for those who might be curious. The tiny, yellow, four-petaled flower is tormentil. Allegedly the name comes from the idea that it could be used to ease the pain of tootache. i dont think anyone now remembers if that were true or how it was used, but the name lingers.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

All the Way Back

I'm Back. This year's annual migration was more difficult because there was a death at the centre of it. If you've read previous posts, you know my brother passed away after a long struggle with Alzheimers. So back this year took on a whole new meaning with re-entry struggles on both sides of the pond.

Back in the US I once again picked up the roles/titles that had at one time seemed such a burden--an assault on my independence. I became again 'Mike's sister.' It hurt and it felt too big for me, which was more of my own personal metaphor than the role, but I picked it up with the heartfelt wish that some part of my brother lived on in me.

And then I picked up the mantle of 'Kate's mom'. I have always been proud of that one, but now that she is past her own need for self-assertion, we can both be happy with it. And there is such pleasure in having your daughter grow up and be like you and different in interesting ways and to have the luxury of good time together.

It was as hard to leave First Home this time as it has ever been, and the flight to Second Home seems longer and harder each time.

This year I came back North step wise. A lesson learned years ago when a steep ski slope threatened to send me into a panic attack and used again just the other day on a steep slope with poles but no skis. Once I knew I had successfully made my last connection with the train at Perth, I fell asleep on the train. Last year I had spent the night in Glasgow before coming North, which was even lonelier because I was between homes and all alone. The year before I fell asleep too soon and missed my last connection. Like Goldilocks, this year I got it right. My husband was there at Inverness and he had booked a hotel with tartan carpeting and a big old fashioned bath tub. This time, I fell asleep in the tub, but woke when the water cooled down.

The next day we took the long way home: instead of the A9 (aka Killer) Highway that the government proposes to 'fix' by installing average speed cameras, we came over the struie. The struie, the former main road before the world outgrew it, provided a welcome return. Whatever faults this country has, the scenery is the balm in Gilead.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Dolphin Dives and a Lopsided Somersault

‘We are water people,’ my brother explained to the anxious lifeguard cautioning us about undertow as we splashed in the edge of the surf of the Andaman Sea. I had no idea what he meant. I lingered on the we-ness. My brother was always at least a step ahead of me.

Water: Quixotic. Defining its own boundaries. Fast-running water in the I ching means both danger and opportunity. Fall Creek was our playground as kids and it provided both opportunity and danger. The pond where we skated as kids back when winters were cold enough for skating outside. The pool in the backyard, filled-in limestone quarries and the gravel pits pock marking Indiana. Finally growing into the abyss off the reef protecting the northern edge of Grand Cayman. Water was never far from our best selves.

I am at a conference of writers. I should be at a workshop or networking or something earnest. Instead I am in the pool. Blissfully nearly empty. I swim a bit and think a bit and for no particular reason do the rapid fire up and down simulating dolphins to get from one side of the pool to the other. I might have walked, or done a lady like breast stroke. My brother made me do it. We used to practice those rapid up and down moves in our own small pool or the pool at the house in Cayman. I put myself safely in the middle of the pool and did a somersault—lopsided and more demanding on my lungs than it used to be—but a somersault nonetheless. My brother did it in scuba gear along the wall in view of the anemones and the purple vase sponges. It is harder to do than you might imagine. It was some time before I tried it, but I had to try. My brother made me do it.

If he were here now, I’d tell him I understand what he meant. He would be unimpressed that I got it at last. For him it was so obvious that he could not imagine that I would not have understood, but he wouldn’t have minded either. He liked being one step ahead of me—it was his birthright.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Caithness Writers web site up and running!

Thanks to our hard working (and techno savvy) secretary, the Caithness Writers web site is up and running.

If you are local, check out our program there and join us.

Also, use the link to buy our ebook (It is a bargain, really).

Also be sure to check form time to time for news such as connections with Scottish Book Trust and online competitions.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Back to St. Magnus Cathedral

The first time I crossed the Pentland Firth I was with my brother and sister in law. In fact, the only reason I am in Scotland now is because they invited me to come on their trip with them.  So many things about who and what and where I am are the result of their individual and combined example. Mike is gone now, and we are all struggling each of us in our own way to come to grips with that. St. Magnus Cathedral is part of that for me.

It is about a thousand years old. It was built as a penance supposedly for some of the internecine bloodshed that fills much of Caithness-Orkney medieval history. I like staring at the massive sandstone columns and thinking that dozens of stone masons spent their entire working lives on this single building and reading the walls and listening to the secrets of the millions of people who have been here with broken hearts, newborn babies, all the big and little moments of our lives echoing off the stones.

I am grateful that I push open the heavy wooden door into an emptiness. Today I do not want to share this cathedral and my time here with anyone else. I do not want to pass the time of day with a stranger or even a well-meaning guide. I punctuate the silence with my sturdy walking shoes on the outer aisles and linger over the ancient stones. I like the phrase from some century long ago--'beloved in life, regretted in death.'  Then I sit awhile in the dappled, multicoloured light from a stained glass window. Another time I might have liked to study them. Today is about listening, finding stillness within myself that will allow the healing.

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Long Goodbye is Over

As soon as I learned that my brother was in the last stages of his Alzheimer's, I was distracted, angry, sad, keen to do something if only I knew what.  For a week I ached and cried at the oddest times over the oddest things and tried to behave like a grown up--never my strong suit--and walked a bit like someone who had been too long at sea because I thought I had lost an essential mooring.

But it was Alzheimer's that lost. It ravaged my brother like a demon sucking him nearly dry, but when he tumbled over the edge into that world we cannot see, he took Alzheimer's with him.  Now my brother is free, and I have him back.

I do understand the physics of the northern lights, but one of the many gifts from my brother to me is the certainty that there is always a plurality in ways of looking at things. Last night the northern lights were dancing on the horizon. I stood on the crest of the hill just outside and looked into a sky that clearly welcomed my brother into its midst. Heartsease.

Today I hung tea towels on the line and watched them dancing like prayer flags in the wind. I suspect it was that complexity of thought that made Alzheimer's so jealous that it had to silence my brother, but everyone who knew him will carry it on. We can't all be stopped.