Friday, May 25, 2007

Culloden Winds

Packaged history, like cafeteria food, is designed for a mythical average taste. Culloden is a battlefield marking one of the more foolish battles in a long conflict. Scotland was tearing itself apart. Religion, class, and cultural shifts swirled like the winds in Dante's fourth circle to keep people apart. On Culloden, clan chiefs held on to their honour and fought for a not very bonny prince. Soldiers followed their chiefs because that was the honourable thing to do. An honourable memo to the winning side was forged to say that no quarter should be given, so soldiers behaved honourably in slaughtering everyone they found still alive.

Now long after the fact bus loads of tourists can come and shake their heads at the tragic foolishness of it all and buy lucky heather and highland cow key rings or wander among the markers on the battlefield to find the names of their great great uncle's clan.

"It will be windy there," our new friend says when we announce that we are off to Culloden. It seems always windy here on the moor. I first came to Culloden as a tourist and bought a tiny kite guaranteed to fly. My future husband wore his kilt when he greeted me at the airport in Inverness and we stopped first at Culloden to help me get over jet lag and ease into Scottishness. The wind moved the pleats of his kilt like summer storm playing with the blinds on a window. It was not hard at all for me to imagine the winds as a restlessness inherent in the spirit of the place. Several months later, we went to Culloden with a prospective car for me and I made my first uneasy drive over the roads around the battlefield. Now my own personal history swirls in the winds of all the other restless spirits who came here.

Today I am restless. We have come here with no particular sense of purpose. We have seen the presentation and walked the paths. I have gift money from the National Trust that I can redeem in the gift shop, but something more is driving me but I cannot put a name to it. We walk to a croft house made into a replica field battle station and then pause out of the wind on a bench in front. It is a lovely moment of peace until a pair of tourists arrive. It is an awkward moment for us both: they don't want to intrude on our moment in the bench, but they are doing what needs to be done here, so they carry on stiffly into the cottage. My husband engages them in small talk and in that instant I know what I need to do.

Even now I struggle a bit with the words. I need to listen to the land. I need to let the winds blow away all the social, institutional words of the past three days. I walk not briskly but purposefully. I pick my path solely by the fact that it has no people on it. Culloden is not large, but before long I am out of sight of the buildings and the people. I am alone with the wind. I sigh, slow to an amble, and on the next breath I am rewarded with the unmistable coconut-butter-chardonnay scent of gorse in full outrageous bloom. I walk into the center of a blooming patch and breathe deeply. I capture a few blooms and tuck them into my pocket and walk back into the world.

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At 1:10 PM, Anonymous ampiggy said...

You needed solitude in nature, something I can identify with. The moor there is a bit like the desert, which is my solitude place of choice. This is a very touching essay. I lke how you combine Scottish history, nature, and your personal history. I can visualize what you describe.

At 8:16 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

Oh Ampiggy I never equated this with your desert, but of course you are quite right. I added a photo for those folks not lucky enough to have seen gorse and in the process mucked up some of the text but IU take it as a triump because all too often I have given up in despair without a photo or a post or whatever. I may go far enuf to get an HTML book so I can read those stupid tags.


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