Saturday, July 08, 2006

A Visitor's Perspective: Amy's Page

My hostess is a transplanted midwesterner. I’m a visiting midwesterner on vacation here—temporarily ‘heeled in’ until I can be better planted where I belong. In the meantime I’m sending out shallow feelers to people I’m meeting, feelers which will break when I leave and may be reconnected when I return for my next visit. My thin tethers are the connections I’m making on social occasions. We’ve paid visits to Morris’s nth cousin Angela (also a good friend of Sharon’s), to Morris’s sister, and to an old friend of Morris’s down south. I’ve been with Sharon to a kaffee klatsch for women ‘in-comers’ to Thurso and to a barbeque of the Reay Garden Club.

I’m just about socialized out and ready to be only with Sharon and Morris and learn more history and see more landscapes. Oh, the landscapes—to describe the vast moors and the flat sea beyond seems impossible. I’m reminded of the time I rode horseback to the top of a mountain in southwest Texas, where the view was so wide it seemed there were more than 360 degrees to look around at.

Contrasting to the soft fields are the hard-edged vertical fences called dikes. These fascinate me. They are stone walls composed of Caithness flagstones set horizontally on top of each other. They are not mortared together, so the edges of each stone are visible—except for the two top rows, which consist of a layer of long flat stones topped by softball-sized stones set vertically like books on bookshelf but with their points sticking up. The grey, black, white, rusty, and yellow speckles create a fragmented multiplicity that is balanced and grounded by the simplicity of the long sweeping lines of each wall. The rugged jaggedness of the top stones is balanced by the calm, more or less straight direction of each wall. The absolute unpredictability of what color of spots a particular stone will have, how much it will stick out, and what slight angle it will be set at, is balanced by the predictability of the shape of the whole.

Greyish dikes, grey sky, white clouds, grey clouds, grey and/or green and/or blue sea, green fields, yellow fields, white sheep, yellow broom, purple heather, white bog cotton, grey ruins of buildings—all look as if they belong here and belong together. The roads have texture and follow the gentle curves and swoops of the moors, so the roads look natural even though they are man-made. The road signs, however, have flat surfaces, perfectly crisp straight lines and neatly painted colors. The signs look industrial and modern. They intrude upon, as Sharon says, the softness of the landscape.

Am I like the road signs? Yes, in the sense that I’m a visitor and they’re a relatively recent addition to the landscape. And yes, in that my American accent must sound odd to my new Scottish acquaintances and the signs look stark next to the grass. Ah, but the road signs are utilitarian and I’m not. I’m here for reasons of friendship and pleasure and adventure. I’m a social being. The Scottish people up here are too. They talk a lot about their connections, both living and dead. I’m now a part of their network; they’ll talk about me at least a tiny bit after I leave. I like that fact. Road signs don’t make connections with their surroundings. I do.


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