Into The West
For the second time in about a week I find myself heading down the farm road with no destination in mind. Last week the day had started hectic and left my mind blustery with ideas bouncing off each other. I had pulled on boots thinking I was needed to help move cattle--reprising my role as the biped that stands in as a temporary gate. Instead I just needed to move my car out of the way of the impending move. On the way to a safe parking place, it struck me that I wanted to keep going. "Where?" my husband asked. "West," I said. "How far?" I shrugged.
West leads quickly into even less populated country and wide horizons that I find soothing when I have too many ideas colliding. When I was 17 I took the family car, a 1963 Corvair, which Ralph Nader later famously declared a death trap, and headed North. I lived then in a suburb of Indianapolis where North meant open country of corn and soybean fields and roads whose official names are their direction from the nearest township or county line, "200 West" or "100 North". If I went far enough, there were gravel pits and the two tall stacks of the oil refinery burning the gas byproduct like an offering to the Gods of Fossil Fuels. Now those stacks are extinguished, the city has swallowed that open space, and I am thousands of miles and many decades away in a Volvo headed west, still looking for those broad horizons.
Last week the day was calm, but the sky was overcast. Beneath a veil at this time of year the light favors the blues and greens with such depth of color that the heather looks as if goes all the way to the center of the earth. Today the sun is flat--low in the sky--but earnest in its intensity. This low, bright light favors the ambers and reds with a golden vitality. The red-brown of the brackens is a rich port color spread out along the hills, the reds of the rose hips lingering on the bushes on the verge invite sonnets, and the beech leaves in the hedges complete the red-brown pallet with merlot tints against the darker stems.
We drive past the back road into town. If he wonders where we are going, my husband does not say so. We pass the split stane that divides Caithness from Sutherland where the swath of gorse along the sides of the road rewards me with a few yellow blossoms among the green. I smile. Some gorse is always blooming. Not the outrageous burst of summer yellow, but blooming nonetheless.
We continue past blue lochans in heathered hillscapes. I could climb to the top of those hills and the rolling gold-green-brown hills of heather and rock and bracken and gorse would extend as far as I could see. I could sit like the fool on the hill and watch the world go about its business.
The thought of those vistas is enough to make me smile with the richness of it; I do not need to stop.
We carry on past the improved road and enter the land of polka dot hills--more formally, striated rocks. Glaciers passed through here at least once and these rocks bear the marks of the ice and the pressure. I note with pleasure that the little cafe by the side of the road opposite the sheer cliff face is open. On the way back we can stop for coffee and ice cream, but I continue now with the same vague sense of destination as when I was a young girl on my bicycle pursuing a road to its end, often making arbitrary decisions about what was the end.
In this case, the end of the road came at a sharp turn by a river after the road had narrowed down to a single track road which the sheep felt was more their domain than mine. I had been here before and thought then that someday I would walk up the path that said simply "Strathnaver Trail."
I parked the car in a convenient space off the road facing the golden light dancing on the burnished water of the stream below, grabbed my camera and a sun hat, and walked up the trail. Walking the trail for pleasure on a warm afternoon is a joy, but I can't help but be mindful of the many folks who walked that trail for long days and hard nights when they were cleared off their villages. I have a walk only as long as I choose and a safe destination waiting for me. They had neither.
The sheep by the side of the path either find their perches too pleasant to abandon or perhaps they recognize me as a transient. In any case, we seem for an instant to have the kind of gentle orderliness of a newly laundered sheet falling into place on a bed. Everything seems content and at home with itself and its surroundings. Perhaps the photos will capture that and I can share the images with you, but the broad horizons had worked their magic on me. I sauntered back to the car and began our way slowly back home.
Instead of the little cafe, we stopped at the Betty Hill Hotel overlooking one of the world's most beautiful beaches. Over coffee and chocolate cake, we talked about this and that, fiddled with a word puzzle in the paper, and, watching the waves break on the beach below, knitted our lives back into harmony.