Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Woman on the Train

I thought I had left the anonymous woman on the train in Inverness, but she had hidden in a little line written among other notes in a notebook lurking at the bottom of my purse:

Constable's clouds
lead oxide
cloud appreciation society
Woman on train to Inverness
For many years I have started notebooks only to find them later with the first of the pages earnestly labelled with whatever was the idea du jour followed by a depressing forest of blank pages. This page, fortunately, was on the back half of a recycled notebook from Morris. He had torn out the front pages without the apparent anxiety that it always caused me to toss out those ideas and half starts. He then passed it over to me. We are alike in such things as having way too many ideas. He has the ability to adopt a "just get on with it" attitude for some things that stop me in my tracks. I can do that for him sometimes. It's a balancing act and today he has saved me from the anxiety of empty pages and lost ideas.
"Gollans, Constable's clouds, lead oxide, and cloud appreciation society" all relate to observations of a skyscape. Gollans is a Scot's word for big lumpy clouds, the kind so often seen in Constable's paintings. Constable was famous for his clouds, which were not only beautiful but also meteorologically accurate. Constable would not have been able to paint these clouds so beautifully if not for the development of a pigment based on lead oxide. A BBC program based on the worst jobs in history detailed how lead oxide was made. The process was unpleasant and very dangerous. The health risks of lead were known back then but neurological exams were not sufficient to detect overexposure early enough for the workers, usually women. The last line, "Cloud appreciation society" refers to a neighbor's response to my praise for his photo of clouds. He is a member of the Cloud appreciation society. I meant to check out their web site.
Why did the woman on the train to Inverness slip in under these notes? She refused to be forgotten, so I will bring her out of the notebook and back into mind and share her story with you. She got on the train in Thurso. She sat at the table on the opposite side of the car. In retrospect we have the luxury of being wise, but I still cannot say what it was that drew my eye to her. The younger woman--a daughter or daughter in law perhaps--seeing her off lingered longer than most in saying goodbye but it did not seem an especially affectionate goodbye. The younger woman was anxious. I heard her repeat the word "Aberdeen" and fuss over food and a magazine for the older woman. At last, she had to leave as the train started on its way.
Alone, out of the corner of my eye, I sometimes saw the woman apparently reading her magazine. Only later did I realize that she never turned the page and yet did not seem to read that page with any great interest or intensity. I knitted and looked out the window and had a cup of tea from the refreshment cart that rolled by without much more thought about the woman until they announced that because of some problem with a northbound train we would have to change trains. I understood about half the words and so thought I would simply follow the flow of traffic off the train. The woman struggled with her suitcase. I offered to help, but she apparently did not hear me. A man wordlessly picked up her bag for her and carried it along as we all trudged up a set of stairs, walked over a trestle over the tracks, and back down again. She said something to me but I did not catch it so I smiled and shrugged.
Back on the train the man lifted her bag onto the luggage rack and found his own seat. Inexplicably, she pulled the bag down and lumbered with it nearly the full length of the car. She found a spot between two seats and tucked it into that space. She seemed relieved to have done this and looked at me with a smile of satisfaction. I smiled back a bit puzzled but with a growing awareness of something that I would have avoided if I could because it is both awkward and painful.
We live in a world where we define what is as we go along. It is a mutual understanding. We all know that luggage goes on luggage racks rather than behind seats. But what happens when that mutual understanding breaks down? I like science fiction because it makes literal narratives around the metaphors of parallel universes and shared realities. It is much easier to understand that wormholes are unstable and that time lords can break through the 4th dimension or even that an android can remind us that there are more things on this earth than are dreamt of in man's philosophy. That is easier than wondering where a woman with a suitcase on a train to Aberdeen is coming from when she hides her suitcase behind the seats.
Buddhists say that a breath can be a prayer and so as I inhaled the awareness that this woman was struggling with a different worldview, I prayed that the world would be kind to her. She sat down and the train rolled along. I saw that she would have to change trains in Inverness for a longer ride on to Aberdeen. I vowed to help her get her connection. The restlessness came on her again and she walked the length of the train looking for a place to put her small carry on bag. I watched where she put it. She said something about having it near the exit because she moved slowly. Very practical except that now she, her large bag, and her small bag, were all in different places on different parts of the rail car.
I have seen this behavior in someone I love. A wise friend shared with me a description of dementia as being on a train and you can't remember where you are going and all you want to do is to get back to the people and places that you love and are familiar but nothing looks familiar any longer. The anxiety from this emptiness, this lost feeling in an unfamiliar world can lead to desperate behaviors. Behaviors, like putting her bag between seats, that are nonsensical to observers. I hope that my loved one will meet with kindness in this world when he needs it. I hope that I may find it should I need it, and in that hope I keep track of the woman and her bags.
As we approach the station I begin to worry just how I am going to manage a woman who does not know me or know that she needs rescuing. One of the train employees shows up at about that time. She is looking for something. I point out the suitcase behind the seats. Yes, that was it. She looks at me as if to say what a cuckoo the woman is and we know that luggage goes on luggage racks. I smile a polite smile and say that her small bag is on the seat two rows behind me. The young woman rolls her eyes up but moves gently and slowly with the woman.
When I get off the train in Inverness, I look around to make sure that the young woman stays with her and ensures that she makes her connection. I watch them out of sight and then turn and make my way into Inverness but she made her way into my mind and has lingered there.

From the Top of Spittal Hill

Morris had not been there for many years and I had never been there, so we left the farm behind in the capable hands of our stockman, a grandson home from working abroad, and a neighbor on a tractor in the field below and drove off to climb Spittal Hill. Bright sunny summery days here are all the more precious for being rare. The best advice I got was that whenever you have a day like today, drop everything and go out and enjoy it. Good advice.

We had to ease slowly down the farm road by his son's farm and past the quarry to get to the old road, now unpassable even in the sturdy, 4-wheel drive Volvo. The rest of the way had to be on foot. The slope is gradual but even so it was a bit of a climb. Each step produced new discoveries as the terrain changed or a new plant held sway. A tiny, violet-like blue flower swarmed in the first few steps up the hill, supplanted further on by tiny buttercup yellow blossoms. Wet ground had rushes; drier ground had grasses and heathers.

The heathers are beginning to bloom. If you were only about 1/2 inch tall, the heather would look like an evergreen forest. Looking down on it, the individual flowers can be so small as to be overlooked if not for the outrageous color they display. Today I saw heather I dubbed lipstick heather because the tiny florets at the tips of the heather were a scarlet red. Among the heather were lichens and mosses, some of which were blooming with tall red shoots--tall relative to the mosses, that is.

Above the heathers we saw orchids--not the showy prom dress kind of orchids--Heath spotted orchid and moutain orchid. Both looking a bit like scaled down foxglove. I also saw a favorite plant whose name I actually learned and could share with Morris. Butterwort is a lovely little blue flower so named because it was once used to make butter, or so the Highland Ranger told us. This dainty blossom, however, has a hidden talent for gaining necessary nutrition--her leaves are sticky and trap insects that it then devours!

Along the side of a burn running down the hill, a dozen larks took wing and hovered above what were probably their nests. Their alarm call sounded like, "Please. Please." The hill was more than big enough for larks and the two of us, so as we moved away from the nesting area, we were rewarded with a lark singing--lyrical and complex. No wonder larks are the subject of poets and song makers. If my high school English teacher could have taken us to Spittal Hill, I would have been much more willing to pay attention to English Romantic poets. In the suburbs of Indianapolis, however, lark song held no magic for me.

From halfway up the hill, the scene below was magnificent. Fields of different shades of green contrasted with grey dykes, white sheep, and dark blue water in a distant loch. On a clear day from Spittal Hill, you can see both Thurso and Wick, the two towns in the area, and much countryside in between. A haze in the air obscured that extent of visibility but left plenty for me to enjoy. I would have been content to go down then, but Morris insisted on going to the top.

We leaned on the ordinance survey monument and looked around. Morris spied evidence of possible buildings but only a trace remained. We walked down the hill and talked about how quickly the land can remove any trace of habitation. I had a chance for a hands on lesson about electric fences. Morris, with the long knowledge of fences, decided to test whether it was live rather than walk down to the gate. I was not keen on experimenting, which I think made him even more determined. So, if you ever happen to be wandering through a field with an electric fence and you are bold (or crazy) enough to test whether it has current running through it, you can try this. Pick a green blade of grass. Morris said that twice, so I think it must be important. Lay the blade atop the wire. If the wire is live, you will feel what Morris describes as "a pulse." Bear in mind that British English is often more understated than American, and the electricity in the fence is intended to discourage animals that weigh 5 to 10 times your weight.

In addition to flowers and heathers and broad vistas of farmland, I got to see fox dung on Spittal Hill. Now this may not seem as beautiful as flowers or as dramatic as how to test an electric fence, but in the country it is probably more useful. Fox dung is grey colored, larger than sheep and rabbit dung and smaller than cow dung. For good measure, my recent study of manure has included otter dung. Otters like to leave their dung and urine in places they visit as little calling cards to other otters or other animals. If you find fresh dung, the Highland Ranger told me and the rest of a group of eager hikers on a recent walk, then you can be sure that an otter is nearby. In case you are interested, otter dung has a rather pleasant smell.

We sat for a moment and listened to the wind through the grasses in an otherwise quiet world. Not even the larks were singing for a few moments in the bright summer sky and then we made our way back down. We took a different path down the hill to take advantage of a gentler slope and discovered a patch of lichens and lipstick heathers with bog cotton weaving above it all. Beneath us we saw a field of grass gone to seed in the distance and the purple seed heads swirled in the wind like small animals in a world of their own.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Midsummer and Mysteries on the Moor

Two nights ago I was up unusually late. As I went to bed at 1am, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was dark. It is easier to sleep in darkness: to wrap oneself in that comforting web of quiet and isolation, but I know that all too soon, the long sunlight will be hidden in darkness and I will crave the light again. Today is the longest day. The sun dips below the horizon only briefly before it makes its way back up again filling the sky with a broad, clear light. In ancient times, midsummer night or Johnsmas was celebrated with fires on the heath. Some people still light a fire although that may be a necessity more than ritual as it can still be quite cold here. Nonetheless, the longest day seems a good time to talk about darkness and the sometimes delicate balance between light and dark.

I grew up in the midwest of the United States. It got dark at night. In summer, we chased lightning bugs. Their flashes were bright contrasts with a black late night sky. After years of living in cities, I moved to a small town in Indiana where, once again, night could bring an all-embracing darkness, at least in one sheltered spot in my yard. For me, this darkness was welcome and comforting. A friend who had always lived in cities reacted with dismay to a place where it got dark at night. That had always puzzled me a bit, but it is at the heart of the paradox of dark--both welcoming and embracing and full of the unknown.

The moors, isolated homesteads, and rugged shorelines have mysteries at any time, but in darkness a different perspective can take hold. The first time I drove home from a friend's house in the dark, I realized just how dangerous it was. The road was carved through wet, mostly unpopulated ground with no shoulder on either side. The small village between me and home would be long shut and the lights out all along the way. If I were to have a flat tire or a deer run out into the road, I would be absolutely alone. It gave me a brief shudder and I hunkered over the steering wheel as if to get closer to the light of my headlights.

The first time I walked the farm road home from a meeting nearby I took great pride in walking down a path so familiar that I walked it easily in the dark. The road was differentiated from the background only by the comparative greyness in the surrounding black. The person who dropped me at the edge of the road must surely have thought I was walking into oblivion. She asked anxiously several times if I were sure I wanted to be dropped there. As I walked I recalled the story of the silver ferns--the national emblem of New Zealand-- and how I learned in a Botanic garden in broad daylight how their silvery backs were used to help Maoris follow a trail in the dark. It was just a fact there and then. Here and now I understood it.

I heard the cattle on either side of the road as they stirred. I coud hear that some lumbered onto all fours to get a closer look. I heard the geese who had settled into the field for the night rustle their wings and wonder if they should take flight. Perhaps one of the barn cats looked on from the grassy verge pausing briefly from her hunting to watch me pass. The light from the lighthouse at Strathy Point was so clear and bright that it startled me, and then I marveled at the new idea that a lighthouse was not just a beacon for ships at sea but also wanderers on land, if there were any. Although it stood out to sea to tell ships where not to go, it cast an un-shadow to help those of us on land find our way. I counted the seconds between sightings of the light. Each lighthouse has a unique signature in the time of its revolution. By my count, Strathy Point is 16. Between the bend in the road and the lights of home, there was absolute darkness with the stars overhead popping out of a velvet sky.

The light from the house welcomed me around the last stretch of road on that first walk in the dark. In the half light I thought I saw one of the cats enjoying the evening air just outside the cottage door where they sometimes reside. A white patch and a pair of shiny eyes were all the clues I had. Perhaps it was wishful thinking. At any rate, I scooped up cat food from the bag in the garage and left it at the cottage door. If not now, then certainly in the morning it will be a welcome treat either for the kittens—now nearly half grown—who seem to be there most often—or to the wandering adults.

I recently read in the local paper a story about a retired farmer, who, late at night, makes his way to bed after watching, perhaps dozing, in front of the television. Through his window in the incomplete darkness of a summer night, a pair of large, golden eyes stare back at him. The eyes are surrounded by a large head and the head is attached to a long cat-like body--nearly 7 feet from tip to tail. The tail is slender and held poised above the ground. The cat-like animal is nearly 14 inches high at the shoulder and when the mouth opens, it reveals large, sharp teeth without any signs of age or hard living. With the practised eye of a farmer, he notices not only the size and condition of the animal but also its behavior. The panther "marched" rather than slinked or ran "as if it knew where it was going" and seemed headed toward a rabbit nest.

I believe this story because the farmer's knowledge about animals is something that he could exercise even if he had been sound asleep. I might have doubted his description of anything else. Morris tells a story (probably fictional but truer for all that) about a man in court who is struggling to answer the attorney's questions. The attorney, in desperation, demands that the man describe his wife. "Oh," the farmer replies, sadly shaking his head, "I canna do that. I ken her when I see her, but I cannot describe her."

Several people confirmed stories about similar sightings. The plausible explanation is that the presumed panther is someone's exotic pet either released or escaped. The big cat is so far behaving as a big cat should--avoiding people (and livestock); and people are behaving as they should and leaving the cat alone. The moors should be big enough for both in the balance between the day shift and night shift.

I also believe that story and the others about sightings in the night because I need to believe in a difference between night and day. Different creatures work on the night shift. With the rich cultural mix up here and long history of habitation, darkness is populated with trows (trolls), pixies, fairies, witches, giants who hurl boulders, and demons who can split giant stones with a sharp crack of their tails, and other things without names. Numerous tales are told of people out in the dark for one reason or another who are held sway until day breaks or the farm yard cock crows, signalling the end of the night shift.

The north shore of the largest of the Cayman Islands shares with the highlands a fondness for the queen and places where darkness still reigns at night. In the darkness of a Cayman night, I have seen bioluminescence: tiny creatures making their own light and stars as they like to be seen without any competition from lights. I have also dived into the darkness of the sea after the sun has gone home. I did not stay long. This darkness was not a familiar one to me, and in that unknown darkness, my imagination sent me reeling. Caymanians have a simple phrase that sums up well, I think, our feelings about workers on the night shift: "Duppies is." There are some things out there that we cannot quite explain by the same rules we use during the day and that is how it should be.

Monday, June 19, 2006

A Message from Galilee

For some time now I have had it in mind to write about my church back in Indiana. In the photo my friend Joanna and I are in front of Galilee on the last Easter Sunday before I left Indiana. She often wore hats to church and sometimes I managed although I never had quite the diva attitude that she did. Today when I got a bulletin from Galilee in the mail, I knew it was time to put some of those experiences into words.

I came to the church to do research for my thesis in linguistics. A little like the man who came to dinner, I left 7 years later. I did finally manage to get the thesis written with an enormous amount of help from more people than I could acknowledge even in an Oscar-length speech. Along the way, Joanna and I became friends, I got baptized, and I learned how to accept being loved without question. In retrospect, it was a very busy 7 years.

Occasionally there was another white person in the congregation, but usually I was the only one. I was certainly the only one who knew so little about the bible that even after some time, I relied on the alphabetical list to find the text for the service. The first time I heard the pastor say, "The doors of the church are open," I thought it meant the end of the service, and the only songs I knew were the songs everyone sang at Christmas. (For my British readers, there are big gaps between life in the States for black and white Americans, and these gaps are often most apparent on Sunday mornings. Martin Luther King, Jr. called Sunday at 10am the "most segregated time" of all.)

I have never been fond of early mornings, so the 5am Christmas service was always a struggle for me. I lived nearly an hour's drive away from the church, so I was up at 3:30 to get to church on time. One of the best Christmas presents I ever received was the day I got to church early and only Deacon Glover and his daughter were there. She was not a regular attender, so she had asked her father who that white woman was. Deacon Glover told me later, "I said 'that's no white woman, that's our Sister Sharon.'"

I was welcomed into the neighborhood around the church as well as the church itself. Joanna's mother took me into her home and sat me down around her kitchen table as if she had been waiting for me. Her gift of hospitality and that of Deacon Glover and the other members of Galilee helped pave the way for my coming here. My visits to Galilee were an initiation into being an other, an outsider. Because they took me in, ironically, it made it easier to leave.

When I think of speaking truth to power or moral authority or courage that comes only from a faith forged through hard times, I think of some of the women in Galilee. I include my friend Joanna in that group, but I believe that she and I share an admiration and a hope to grow up to be like Miss Mattie or Miss Gloria or Miss Margaret. Miss Mattie is nearly ninety now and still sitting in the front pew on the right hand side of the church on the days her health allows it. I was surprised one day when she stood next to me to discover that she scarcely reached my shoulder. She packs an incredible life force into a small frame. She delivered a sermon on Women's Day in the church and managed to rock the pulpit with the force of her delivery despite her tiny, seemingly frail frame.

Now in her eighties, Miss Gloria sings in the senior choir and wears higher heels than I do. One Sunday she told Joanna and me that she had baked cookies for us, so be sure not to leave church without getting them. We both forgot and in a few moments Miss Gloria arrived at Joanna's mother's house with the cookies and a severe tongue lashing for the two of us for being so forgetful. I never forgot anything she said to me after that day.

Miss Margaret is the widow of a Tuskegee airman and the first Black woman to head the Republican party in Indiana. She wore leopard print shoes and at 80 decided to buy herself a corvette which she struggled to keep within the speed limit.

We need that kind of moral authority and practical wisdom right now for the cease fire in Lebanon. We need the international equivalent of a church lady to turn to the squabbling pair and remind them of their better selves.

"Stop it right now. I don't care who started it. You both know better."

But the moral authority to say that and be listened to comes from a place that few politicians really visit. I don't mean just the church on the corner, but the faith that underlies it.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Sycamores There and Here

Oh, the moonlight's fair tonight along the Wabash
From the fields there comes the breath of new mown hay.
Thro' the sycamores the candle lights are gleaming,
On the banks of the Wabash, far away.
Official song of Indiana, "On the Banks of the Wabash Far Away,"
from the Indiana Historical Society website,
Some environmentalists are purists who want to get rid of any plants that are not native. To do this, of course, they need to pick some arbitrary point in time and try to recreate the conditions appropriate to the plants they have decided are native. Sycamores are not native to Caithness, but they do well here and they have been here long enough that, perhaps, as with beeches, they can be considered almost native. I hope so because sycamores are a connection for me between here and there. I hope so also because as an incomer, I, too, want to be accepted, and I don't have centuries to wait--unless I can somehow count the time of my ancestors from before the clearances.
Sycamores come to mind today as we sit in the window nook of the Strathmore Lodge to enjoy one of their afternoon teas. We had met the owners of the lodge some time ago at a friend's house and had meant to get out to the lodge for a meal and a ride in the country. "In the country" means something very different now because I live in the country, so perhaps I should say more country. To differentiate our farm from more country, two things come to mind: more sheep than people and the single track road is the main, the only road.
Despite grumbly, greyish weather, we set out for the lodge. Along the way I meet my first Shetland sheep. Although I knew a bit about sheep before I got here because I dabbled with spinning and weaving, I was at a loss to tell one breed from another and to remember their respective characteristics. Morris is so intrigued by the sight of a Shetland sheep that he backs up (no mean feat on single track road with wet boggy ground and sheep and lambs on either side) so that I can get a close look. Shetland sheep have, according to Morris, a hairless, rat-like tail and a face with an intelligent look. I can see what he means about the tail, but the intelligence in her face eludes me.
Nickie, the hostess and co-owner of the lodge, is an incomer, too, but her husband is local aristocracy. Patrick is the second son of Lord Thurso. His brother passed up a seat in the House of Lords to get elected as a member of the House of Commons. Tucked unobtrusively in the lodge, which is their home as well as a hotel, is a photo of Patrick's grandparents with Winston Churchill.
From the window nook, I look down to the river and the broad flat area--the strath--from which the lodge has taken its name. Firmly established on the other side of the drive to the house I see three large sycamore trees. Their size and location between the river overlooking the road to the house contribute to the stately aura of the house. To have obtained that size in this country where the wind can whip the leaves off broad-leaved trees before they have even fully opened, they must have been young when Patrick's grandparents were young.
Although I am grateful to be able to enjoy the beauty of my new home--the coast and the heaths and moors and the arable, rolling hills with cattle and sheep and ancient stone ruins--I miss corn fields and trees that rustle in a summer wind or slowly shed their leaves after turning outrageous shades of red and orange. I look at the Strathmore sycamores and I am reminded of the grand sycamore along the back road that I took to my old house. It too had grown old after the person who planted it had moved on. I always saluted it even as I drove home late at night.
Sometimes the deer that lived in the fringing woods on the other side of the road could be seen under the sycamore. I drove slowly to try to catch a glimpse of them although they saw me more often than I saw them. I hope the sycamore is still there. My car was destroyed not long after I left when the new owner collided with a deer.
After tea with clotted cream and strawberry scone and home made jams and little sandwiches and cakes, we go for a drive along the old farmsteads around the river. The road is full of pot holes and uninviting, but Morris takes the car as far as it can reasonably go. After going through a couple farm gates, we come to the edge of a bridge that looks as if it is remaining in place simply out of habit. My relief at turning back is short lived when I realize that there is an area about the size of a postage stamp in which to turn the car around. I have visions of pushing the car out or getting one of the tractors we have seen go by to pull us out, but Morris's car is a farm car and behaves like a well-trained horse in a tight spot. We are soon back jostling along the road while he runs his eye over the fields and the grass and the sheep and I think about how to capture the colors in yarn or water colors.
At the end of the farm road, he hesitates because the main road hardly looks larger than the farm road. The rain comes in fits and starts as we turn toward home. The afternoon light suffused through the cloudy sky makes the white blossom of the bog cotton shine pearly-white against the heather and the rushes. Some of the heather is beginning to bloom. Each flower is outrageously purple but tiny . When there are broad stretches of heather, the tiny blossoms become a chorus of purple in the brownish landscape. As we get closer to home, the heather, the yellow blossoms of the gorse, and the dark green of the evergreen trees give way to the gentler rolling fields. I laugh softly to myself thinking that I will some day walk again under that old sycamore and perhaps be homesick for heather.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Trooping of the Colour for the Queen's 80th Birthday

Sometimes my husband can say things that stop me dead in my tracks. I was watching with detached fascination the trooping of the colour for the queen's official birthday. As he walked away I said, "Don't you want to watch this? After all, she's your queen."
And that's when he dropped the bombshell: "She's yours, too."

I had thought about a lot of things when deciding to marry him. I knew he came with cattle and an accent that most people in Indiana thought was cute but incomprehensible and a far flung extended family, but I never even thought about the fact that he came with a queen--sort of a Ginzu knives package deal. (OK, for my British friends, forgive the American pop cultural reference. Think late night shopping channel fervor and the worst of American high pressure marketing and you'll have all you need to catch the flavor of the phrase.)

I am still struggling to get my driver's license over here, so I have given only fleeting thoughts to acquiring a red passport. What does it mean to become a citizen of a country where you have a choice about it? I remember my friend Xuan struggling with that decision. She never intended to go back to Shanghai, but becoming a US citizen was a real stretch in a lot of ways for her. She finally resolved it in her mind by saying that she never agreed with everything that happened in her country of birth, so she shouldn't expect that in her adopted country. It made good sense. I never thought I would have to apply it in my own life.

So let me get back to the trooping of the colour. It is always a spectacle but today was remarkable (as the BBC informed me) for several things. But first, some back story. The queen's actual birthday is in April, but her grandfather (I think, Edward VII) decided that it was kind of a gyp for the people if the monarch had a birthday in one of the drearier seasons, so he made an official birthday in the summer so everyone could have a great party.

Normally reserved British women seem to put all their expressiveneness into very elaborate hats or hat-lets, large hair ornaments or tiny hats, in which they manage to compress a lot of material with exuberant feathers and rows upon rows of pastel organza or other prom gown fabric defying gravity. Among the Royals the only exception to this frothy head gear was Princess Anne who appeared to be dressed as a man in a Gilbert and Sullivan admiral's hat. She was a colonel of the parade or something so she rode a horse and apparently had to be dressed like that to fit her role. Remarkable also among the headwear are the bearskin hats worn by the guardsmen. (Controversy about their hats includes the fact that the bear fur is going to be real bear fur again rather than the synthetic they had been using.)

Today's celebration was noteable for the fact that the queen was given a feu de joi, a celebration of shooting guns somehow distinct from the 41-gun salute that she was also given. It was also notable because the flyover by the RAF contained more and more varied planes than ever before. It included their latest plane as well as a Spitfire that actually saw duty in the Battle of Britain.

Even with the BBC guiding me through every step of the way I lost track of Welsh troops doing a slow march to a Scottish medley and why the baton was given to the other drum major so that the first one could raise his sword and why it was that there were bands that played on horseback. Last year, one of the troops on parade today had been in Iraq. Another one of the troops there will be going to Afghanistan when they have finished their drilling tour of duty. If a prerequisite for becoming a citizen is to understand all this or appreciate it without any trace of irony, then I am going to be relegated forever to resident status.

I have actually begun to like the Queen. I had never really thought about her before, but looking at her today I thought that she was a hard working grandmother fretting about handing her responsibilities over to her somewhat disappointing son or untested grandchildren. For me, even harder than accepting the queen, will be accepting her son. I don't much care about the whole Pricess Di thing, but I am struggling with someone who has had all the money and privilege and seems still for all that to be, at best, mediocre. He and Camilla would be pretty good country lords--doing environmental things and farming and riding and local community events. I think he could do that well. Or mostly well.

Up here Prince Charles is known as the Duke of Rothesay and he and wife Camilla do attend local functions since he inherited his grandmother's responsibilties along with the Castle of Mey. It is the subject of much local gossip and cynical disappointment, but that says as much about the character of gossip as about the Duke's abilities.

More disconcerting to my mind are the recipients of the queen's awards. I don't know the difference between a CBE and an MBE. Some of each were given out on the occasion of her birthday, but one has sparked a controversy that even I have to appreciate as a genuine impediment to absolute affection for the queen. One of the recipients is the deputy police commissioner in London who is currently under investigation both for the killing of an innocent man in the aftermath of the July 7th bombings as well as a heavy-handed pre-dawn raid on two brothers' homes in which one was wounded.

I joke that I left the country rather than live under George Bush as president. Of course it is never that simple or that easy. Just to be even handed about it, I remind my British friends that Tony Blair looks up to and listens to Bush, which if they try teasing me too hard, I suggest is even worse. Sadly, both countries have much in common in the assault on individual liberties and visionless leadership. Is it an advantage to have a queen, a monarch who is, in theory, at least, not political?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Two Hamefaring Ghosts

As an expatriate, the first loss is for what one of my friends dubbed, familiarity: the ability to turn on lights and walk across streets without having to actively remember physical details. In the first few months I struggled not only to know how many digits were needed to make a phone call and which coin was worth how much, but also experienced what I called "breakthrough." I would think that I could walk out to my old garage and get the flashlight out of the glove compartment of my car. Sometimes I missed those things once I remembered that I no longer had them, but mostly I was disoriented and disconcerted.

Just once when we were jangled out of bed by the police to retrieve cattle loose on the main road, I actually wished for a McDonalds. Not that I have a particular fondness for the golden arches, but if it could have materialized for an instant so I could lean out the window and pick up an Egg McMuffin and a Diet Coke without skipping a beat, I would have been a happier cattle wrangler.

Some times the most prosaic things are the ones I miss the most. A few weeks before Morris came to the States to finalize wedding and travel preparations I drove past a corn field under a harvest moon. It was a warm evening and the window was down, so I heard the rustling of the leaves and the amber globe shone down with a benign intensity. I knew that no matter what wonderful things I saw I was never going to see that again, and hot tears streamed down my face.

My normally frugal husband was content to let the return portion of my ticket to the US expire in April. I believe he was afraid that if I went back I might stay there. He may have been right. Leaving home and family far behind are best done quickly. If you thought about it for too long, you just wouldn't do it. I understand now why some American families have Scottish ancestors who never spoke at all about the home they left behind.

By June, however, Morris and I were both comfortable enough with my going back. I wanted to go to an Indian Market with a friend as we had done for several years. I wanted to be warm again. I wanted to wear cotton clothes and sandals. I wanted to eat a real tomato and corn fresh from the field. I needed to finalize taxes and tie up loose ends. Mostly I needed to say a proper goodbye to family and friends and to an entire life.

When I was back in Indiana, Morris asked me in a phone call what I missed most. The question landed with the force of an ocean wave. Not gale force, but strong enough to rock me back. My logical mind thought that I would have to think of all the things I missed and then rank them. I did not want to open that Pandora's box. In retrospect I think he just wanted me to say that I missed him. Not the first time in my life I missed the easy answer, but during the first year of my life in transition I was often much more fragile than I realized.

I have met many expatriates now from a variety of other countries. Often the conversation meanders into variations of the question: "What do you miss?" The answer is always the same: "Family of course." Even more interesting than the common refrain is that those words are always accompanied by a movement of the speaker's eyes into some private place, a memory icon. The glance may last for only a moment, but it is universal and intense.

When my mind's eye wanders, sometimes I am in my daughter's living room where she and my grandson bustle around and the cats watch. Sometimes I am on the upstairs balcony of my brother and sister in law's house. The trees are always in full summer and there are newspapers and cats and the smell of coffee. Sometimes I am back in my old house, watching a sunset from the deck or listening to the red winged blackbird singing on the locust tree at the edge of the yard.

Folktales from Orkney and Shetland tell of wanderers who decide suddenly to go home. When no one recognizes them as they make their way home, they realize that they have died and it is their spirit making its way home. They are hamefaring ghosts. I believe that my fellow expats and I are latter-day hamefaring ghosts. If my brother and sister in law happen to be sitting on the balcony as my mind's eye wanders back, I am sure that they will feel something just slightly different or perhaps think of me just in that moment for no apparent reason at all.

When I had Morris take this photo in New Harmony, he objected that our shadows would be in it. "That is what I want in the photo," I insisted. Only now do I realize that the photo was meant to capture that sense of a connection to a place stronger than time or physics. Overlooking the stubble of a cornfield in the rich dark earth of Indiana I was acknowledging the real and cultural soil that nourished me.

Down an unprepossessing road to the right of this photo is a spot very near where the original boatload of knowledge landed. The boatload of knowledge was a handful of intellectuals with a vision to create something new in the wilderness of Indiana. Robert Owen and the Scottish enlightenment floated down the Wabash to New Harmony, Indiana. Thus, it was a homegoing in a sense for both Morris and me. We could merge our own lives along the banks of the Wabash. We have vowed to go back for our fifth anniversary, but if we don't, we will still be part of that spot and it will be part of us.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Living on Glass

My friend Tony and I have driven for an hour into the west along the north coast of Scotland. The green fields of Caithness with cattle and sheep have given way to the moor lands of Sutherland with long swaths of heather turning from brown to purple as it starts to flower. The brown grey tan is punctuated by gorse in riotous yellow bloom and rocky outcrops of white grey or pink. Sheep have replaced cattle and wander freely along the road because the open hills are not fenced.

In a few more miles there are no houses, no sheep, and long stretches of golden brown with grey stone and hills in the distance. The road through this landscape is good, albeit a single lane. Remnants of the old road are visible here and there winding along through the bogs and sometimes curling up to the new road. A long way from anywhere sits what my friend Tony has called Moyne House. Years ago when he was actively climbing the hills in the distance, the climbing club used this house as a bothy. It had been by the side of the road then and on the gable end of the simple stone house was an inscription to those who had managed to create the road. In that broad stretch of emptiness with secret silent rivers of water in the peat-sponges it must have been quite an achievement. Now Moyne House has lost its roof and even the memorial is worn so that the text is no longer legible.

From Moyne House, it is another hour's drive to our destination: Laid (Leathad in Gaelic), "the slope down to the sea." Place names either from the Gaelic or the Norse of the Viking explorers have in common a tendency to be descriptive. Laid does indeed slope down to the sea. Laid was created in about 1830 when residents were cleared to this area to make way for sheep. Throughout the highlands there are stories and testimonies in relic stone walls and houses of the people cleared from their homes. The process was a long and slow one. The earliest clearances came without an outcry but later clearances, such as this, captured the imagination of socially conscious writers of the time.

The clearances were probably inevitable as agricultural practices changed, but the dislocation of thousands of people has left scars on the minds as well as the lands of the highlands. Laid has no village hall, no post office, no store, and no school. The 40 people who have come to hear about the regeneration of woodlands have swamped the resources of this tiny village. Three crofts have combined to share their stories, with another crofter who is also an artist offering a tour of her home and studio three miles down the road. The local cafe has been closed for the day to accommodate us, but it is too small for all of us to sit inside, so we have morning sessions in a tent on the lawn. The weather is perfect, so a tent on the grass is festive.

After preliminaries, Hugh Maclennan, one of the three crofters hosting the event, gives a brief history of Laid and the day they decided to start planting trees. A superquarry planned to set up operations nearby because, according to a local paper, Laid was already nothing but a jumble of rocks. The clearances helped populate Canada and the United States with displaced Scots. Hard working and sturdy, the expatriates tended to fit in well and many became very successful. The Scots who remained, however, are every bit as sturdy and can be fiercely proud. The superquarry underestimated the few residents left in Laid. Today there is no superquarry and Laid has nearly doubled its population--to 40.

One of the first questions from this audience of foresters, nurserymen, conservationists, and members of community woodlands, is what kind of soil are these trees growing in? A member of the audience answers, "basal quartzite, like glass." The practical part of my brain thinks about porosity and mineral content and wonders how on earth trees can grow in such an environment while the poet-metaphor making part of my brain is hijacked with the image of a village perched on glass like a collection of miniatures on a curio shelf.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

One Short Day and Two Long Nights

I woke earlier than my husband, which is a rare occurrence. The sky was grey, which is not rare. It is not the most overbearing of greys, however--not a filled in sky, one that holds no prospect of budging for days on end, or a petulant one that will heave down drookit, sticky rain. Just a grey that contrasts too sharply with the bright sun of yesterday. I dress in work clothes and think about going out to the cattle. I cannot justify in my mind going all around the cattle and then going to look in on the calf, and something keeps me from wanting to look at the calf.

Morris comes downstairs, looks in on me, and goes wordlessly to look at the calf. All too soon, I hear the two doors to the outside close and know that he is back and I know what he will say when the door to the office swings open, "The calf is dead." Neither one of us is surprised and we both try not to show that we are bothered. He starts looking at a newspaper article and taking his anger out on pettifogging bureaucrats. I want to walk. I pace as I listen until I can get out under the sky.

First I walk around the garden. Is the peony still there behind all those nettles? I assure myself that it is. The calf has lived one short day and two nights. He was born in the afternoon of a day we wrestled to bring his mother into the paddock where we could watch her troubled pregnancy. The calf was born in the field but was not right from the beginning. It made a weak, half hearted salute to the world and when Morris called me to go out to the field, it looked so little like a calf that only the presence of his anxious mother led me to believe that it was a calf, and then I was convinced that it was dead. When we got close to it, there was only a faint quiver of a leg to suggest life remained.

When we got it into the barn we could see some signs of life and so we began the uphill struggle. Heat lamps, milk from his mother, Lectaid--electrolytes and fluids. He got better. He looked around, he sucked, but he never stood up. Would it have been kinder to have left him in the field? Kinder to him, kinder to us? I cannot make myself think so, and as I scuff the grass with these fretful thoughts, I know exactly where I need to go.

I get a small bucket from the steading, scoop up a bit of barley and beet root, and head for Harper's Field. I want to see Wee Calfie. I want to see a calf that made it. I need to remember a success against the odds.

Down the middle road between the fields. The sterks (young cattle less than a year old) on the left follow me as I walk. Honey-blonde leads the way as always. The older cows on the right watch me but do not bother to move. The bull is quiet. The skies are getting darker but the water on the firth is calm, so I think that the day will clear. The young barley in the next field looks lusciously green and stands out against the dark brown earth of the next field where turnips are getting sowed slowly, intermittently as the weather allows.

I undo the gate to the field adjoining Harper's Field and walk over the hillock at the edge of the growing barley. The long grass on the hillock is wet even in the well worn tracks on the grass and my feet are soon soaked. I come to the gate of Harper's field and see all the cattle--mixed young ones dotted along the hillside. I see the black tub where I left beet root and barley when I tried in vain to get Wee Calfie to come to me. I know someone has eaten the grain left behind. It may have been birds or any one of the other cattle, but I like to think it was Wee Calfie.

I call her as I did when she was still fighting the odds to survive and I brought tubs to all the calves and made sure that she got her fair share. As the smallest and hand reared, she had to learn the rough and tumble world of the herd around the feed trough. I wanted her to learn that world, but of course now that she has I am sentimental about the old days. I call her and I see her looking, watching intently from the crest of the hill. She is still small, the youngest of last year's calves. I hold the little bucket high and pour the barley in a golden stream into the black tub. Perhaps she sees this and will come and enjoy it later, perhaps not.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Hot Sand at Coldbackie

There is more than enough cold to go around in Scotland, so even if Coldbackie has no particular claim on cold, the name is still apt. Thus, when Fred said "Once it was so hot that the sand in Coldbackie was hot," I knew that must have been extraordinarily warm. The comment is prompted by the glorious sun pouring down on us at an outdoor eating area at a local cafe.

I had been hoping for a quiet lunch, but Morris ran into people that he knew and so I listened to stories about people and places that have still very little to do with me. I answered the obligatory questions: How are you adjusting to the weather? Whereabouts in the States do you come from? and Did you come from a farming background? And then mostly I am set aside in the swirl of conversation except to be warned again how other people may talk about me.

When bureaucrats could not do something for me, they invariably told me that someone else could--another office, a different branch, a different organization. I am convinced that it was a mixture of motives--a genuine desire to be helpful, an eagerness to be rid of me, and perhaps a sense that everyone else had more power than they did. It began to sadden me more than make me angry. And now Mary, the amiable wife of Fred, both former Caithnessians, tells me what other Caithnessians will think or say about me. I wonder about her motives but then realize that, like Morris, she tends to say just what comes to her mind and not to think too deeply about it.

And so when Mary talks about how she heard about me, "the new wife," from Denise, whom we had visited on Saturday, I try not to let my heart sink. I had thought it was a good visit and there had been a real connection with Denise and her mother. I had not felt like an artifact or a curiosity. I stare into my soup and Morris says, "How long do you think you'll have to be called 'new wife?'" I think it will be forever. I wonder if I will ever have a name here.

The conversation moves easily with Morris and Mary. Fred and I both are quiet. He has written a book to be published in two weeks. A technical book. I think some of his quiet is a preference and some a well-practiced habit. I wonder how long it takes to develop those habits. A nephew is getting married in October. He and his fiance had been acting like an old married couple for some months before they made the announcement. They have the same stride and even though she is from Australia, they think and talk very much in synch. Not alike, but closely meshing one with the other.

I am called back to the conversation by a new question: "What about porridge?" "In the States we call it 'oatmeal' and make it without salt," I reply thinking I have covered the standard comments.
"Well, let me give you a little advice. Try it with coconut milk. It is delicious."

For an instant we are joined in the pleasure of something shared. I will try it and remember Mary and the conversation in the sun.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Escape from Box Canyon

When the bull led the cows into the box canyon, I sighed with relief because that was going to make sorting the cattle so much easier. I have never seen a box canyon but many Saturday mornings in the balcony of a movie theatre seemed to involve box canyons--desperados disappeared through a tiny opening into their hideaway, naive cavalry were lured to their doom in box canyons; and more benignly, they were used to keep cattle safe during a cattle drive. In this case, the tiny paddock was as good as a box canyon.

Two of the expectant mothers need to be in the paddock where we can keep a close eye on them. One is just ready to calve; the other one is not quite right. It may be just a slow labor or it may be a dead calf or some unpleasant variation. At any rate, we will watch over her and do what we can. All the cattle in the box canyon get a bit restless so Morris can fairly easily move out all but the two we want to keep there.

Once out of the paddock, the cattle--one bull, one little bullock, and six cows yet to calve--amble easily down the little field that doubles as a nursery. They move through the open gate they just came through with only a moment's hesitation and then one of the cows leads the way across the little field and back into the field from which they have just come. I have to make a little noise to get the bull's massive hindquarters moved far enough into the field to close the gate, but it all seems to have gone smoothly enough.

Morris and I turn back toward the paddock/box canyon. He wants to take a closer look at the two cows. They are both restless now and, apart from the herd, they find the box canyon confining. Morris signals for me to go to the other gate. I walk steadily but not too fast. I see the one cow sidle to the edge of the paddock that is no more than flagstones with two thin lines of barbed wire over it and a hedge behind it. She sees through the hedge into open territory. Like the Saturday matinee desperados, she has found a way out of the canyon. I can see her muscles coiling just beneath the surface of her skin and I know that she is going to jump and there is not a thing I can do about it.

Before the words are out of my mouth, she is over. Morris, of course, knew better than I did that she was jumping but he may have been a bit surprised when her companion followed her. The first desperado jumped again. Her first leap landed her in the front garden; her second leap took her back into a field. Now it is the two of us with one, restless desperate cow in the front yard.

I stand in the farm road between a tractor and a car. We have not had time to properly close off the road as we would have done if we had expected cow company. I need to look as much like a sturdy fence as I can. Oddly enough, Bottom the Weaver and their play come to mind. I have a new appreciation for the character who had to play a wall. It is not as easy as it sounds.

The cow comes out of the front yard and turns toward me. I wave my arms and shift left into the empty space large enough for a cow to pass through. She shifts right and keeps coming. I move as boldly as I can and she decides to head for the open space--the barn. After a brief but successful performance as Wall, I am on the move again. She is looking right, so I come along on her left. I hear her climb the little stone ramp and I am relieved that the wooden door is closed. She turns and ambles back. Her desperation seems dissipated. She passes by the mountain of barley in the corner and moves slowly back toward the barn door. I see Morris coming and shout to him that she is coming, so he moves just out of her view behind the door. When she emerges, he is able to turn her easily and get her back through the gate into the paddock, which, with gates opened, is no longer a box canyon. She moves easily through the gates and into the larger field and rejoins her companion.

And then it feels as if I breathe again for the first time in ages. "When I see a cow is going to jump, what should I do?" I ask for an ad hoc lessons learned session. "Turn your back and walk away. Smartly." I tuck that away into my cattle lore for the next adventure. After all those Saturday mornings I should have remembered that it was nearly always a woman who found a way out. As I look at the hoof prints in the front yard, that reminds me of another lesson for cattle and for people. As my mother always said, "Never underestimate the power of a woman."

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Little Red Heifer

"A lot can go wrong," says Morris in classic understatement. And there is little time in which to correct it or rue it when calving. The day began for the red and white heifer in companionable silence with the other cow waiting to calf. Both of them are too full of the life inside them to be comfortable in any position. The evening concluded with sprung hips and a new calf. Between were several opportunities for things to go very wrong.

The red heifer moved easily enough into the lane between the delivery room and the paddock, but she was skittish: uncomfortable, wary, defensive. She wanted someplace quiet to settle down, but she resisted going into the small building. Once in, she charged repeatedly. On one charge she carried Morris briefly along with her but was stopped before she could put him between her and a wall or an immovable gate--the proverbial rock and hard place made all too real. With each misstep--hers or mine--I lose more and more nerve. When she picked up the heavy steel gate that had been my shield and wore it like a necklace as she pushed me along in her mad charge, I lost my nerve completely. "One more time, and then we leave her," I say, hoping not even to have to make that one more effort.
"No," says Morris. Simply no.

I don't know whether he is just stubborn or has finely honed intuitive knowledge and so is certain that we can manage. Inertia or faith result in one more time with a lasso around her neck to draw her into the space where we can attend to her and her calf. More charging, rope tangled, stuck between a gate and a wall with a wild animal at the other end of a rope with madness on her mind. I tell Morris I have lost my nerve. "No more."
"OK, then go."
"Not without you."
"Your choice."

Stubborn or insightful and courageous? If we survive, we are the latter. If not, then people will shake their heads knowingly and talk about the foolishness of it. A lot can go wrong. Even with the heifer in place, a lot can go wrong. The rope meant to be a lifeline to the calf slips. It catches on the small bones rather than the larger bones of the hooves protruding expectantly, hopefully from the now subdued heifer. The wild escape at any cost look has been replaced by the unseeing stare of pain or exhaustion.

The calf's hooves, barely protruding, yield to the rope a further sight of the front feet. Reddish, warm to the touch. The warmth is both a relief and a call to urgency. More hard work and and the tongue shows itself. Pink, moving. Now begins a race against time. The calf's nose appears and it takes a breath on its own.

The heifer, small, perhaps too small in the hips, cries in pain and then bellows and drops her head and falls to her knees. Morris quickly loosens the rope around her neck which has grown dangerously tight with the thrashing of her head in pain and the confusion of the calving. With more exertion, the calf's head emerges. He open his eyes. He makes a noise. But no more progress. He is stuck between two worlds.

Morris works alternately pulling the calf out and sticking his finger's in the calf's mouth. "Just keep breathing, little fellow." Now we all have a job to do. I hold her tail and worry about Morris, the calf, the heifer, and myself. The calf breathes. Morris tugs on the block and tackle and sits on the ropes to persude the calf into this world.

The little heifer bellows and struggles to remember the morning in the paddock in the cool silence of a Highland morning. Her companion echoes her cries. And finally in a splash of blood and fluid, the calf slides onto the floor. The heifer collapses with the exertion. She breathes heavily and has the empty eyed stare of someone looking into a different world. Morris unties the rope from her head, moves the calf onto a soft straw bed, and then returns to get the heifer onto her feet. She rises quickly but unsteadily. She moves awkwardly but without hesitation toward her calf as she rumbles the special language of mother and calf and starts to lick him dry.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

"Je ne veux pas" and the Transcendent Sky

It is June and the weather still requires at least three layers—one of which should be wool and one of which should be water resistant. The sky is an ambiguous grey-blue and the wind varies from hurrying-may-bring-in-a-gale to a changeable breeze that ruffles the edges of my newly planted nasturtiums. I fret. I have bought the most compact, shortest variety of nasturtiums: my compromise with the wind and my desperate need for color. Nasturtiums and marigolds and calendula will dance like jesters against the back drop of dark soil, if the weather will only allow it.

My body aches from yesterday’s efforts in the garden. It is beginning to look like what I want it to grow into, but the season is short and I am frustrated that I cannot work as long and as hard as I remember being able to do. After a half-hearted morning’s work, I ache so much that I take two aspirins, put an ice pack on my elbow and go to bed. When I wake, I feel better physically, but hungry and disconnected. I browse the kitchen and nothing appeals to me. I eat a cracker and wander back to my garden.

My spirit is picking up as the postie arrives, but falls again when I discover that my passport is not among the mail. I have had to send my passport to Swansea along with my marriage certificate and a complicated application for a provisional driving license. With that in hand, I can then apply to take a test and then an actual driving test with an examiner in the car. All this because I have an American passport. I tried to find alternatives but the bureaucracy here is more convoluted than I have ever experienced. Scotland has a devolved government. That means it has its own parliament but nearly everything that involves money is done somewhere else. In this post 9/11 hyperparanoid political climate, I worry about each day that passes without my passport, which also contains my visa.

I walk into the house with the mail in my hands still covered with garden dirt. Morris is intent on doing his farming paperwork, so I reluctantly drive into town on my own. Hungry, tired, dispirited, my outlook momentarily brightens when I see cows and calves in the highway. I stop and wonder if I need to get out and help. I recognize the man whose cattle they are. The cows are quickly marshaled off the road and he waves my car on. I smile and wave as I go by. He recognizes me and his smile widens. I know him and I know the situation. That familiarity warms me up as I turn into town.

I buy a few groceries and get some money for lunch. I walk to one of my favorite eating spots—a little cafe in a reclaimed shack that adjoins a surf shop. It is good food and good company and it is a success story. I like it for all those reasons as well as the fact that it is a portal into a whole new world. Waves for surfing up here are among the best in the world, but you need to wear a thick full wet suit because it is always cold. I have decided that I will try it, but I am not yet sure when that will be.

After lunch as I pay my bill, I check out a rumor that there is going to be an introductory session in June for surfers reserved just for women. As often happens, stories here have a grain of truth and collect elements of each storyteller’s wishful thinking along the way. The young man behind the counter doesn’t know much about that. He says that on the longest day there is going to be a party on the beach and anyone who wants to can take a go at surfing. This has in common the elements of June and surfing, so those elements are likely true. The rest will resolve itself in time—Caithness time. I am learning to move to that rhythm.

I go back to the grocery store and stock up in earnest this time. I see my nephew and comment to the cashier that he has the look of a man in love. He is getting married In October and I don’t think he has stopped smiling since he and his fiance made their decision. They are having their own challenges with bureaucracy because she is Australian, but they are in love and nothing can dampen that wonderful glow.

As I climb into the car for the trip home I am still stuck in the mood reminiscent of the lines from the Pink Martini song, “Je ne veux pas travailer.” In the early days here the Je ne veux pas was sometimes so intense that I could barely get out of bed. When I emailed to friends and family for help, they all had wonderful suggestions. My daughter suggested that I immerse myself in the things that first attracted me here. I am reminded of that when I come over the ridge of the road from town. Heading past familiar fields of cattle and sheep and crops, the beauty of the landscape catches me with the same awe that I experienced when I first visited here.

In the three-part choreography of earth, sky, and sea, the sky is now the prima ballerina. The luscious golden light of long days renders the clouds pearlescent and pours through a clear space between the long banks of clouds stretching along either side of the highway. It is so like the voluptuous clouds in the Sistine chapel that I can almost see the hand of creation stretching from one cloud bank into the other. No je ne veux pas mood can stand up to that.