The highlands of Scotland loom large in the imaginations of writers and members of the diaspora. For those who are curious, here is a perspective on life on the edge of the North from an American from the heartlands.
The sky up here is the face of the weather. It has been cold and grey or rainy, cold and grey or windy and grey with intermittent showers for several days now, and that grey is in the brief interlude where the sun might be expected to shine up here. Everyone's spirits are grey and threatening to unravel.
I live in a breathtakingly beautiful part of the world. Alas, the tradeoff in this case for that wonderful scenery is that it can be very hard to make a living here.
It is Burns Supper time, so haggis has been on my mind. Haggis, for any of you new to Scottish things, is not an animal. A local butcher likes to have on display in his shop window: "Freshly Shot Haggis" but I think even the few tourists who make their way here know it is a joke.
After a hectic day with some unexpected events, I was almost too tired to go to our local for the Scottish dancing lessons, but I had promised my friend that I would be there and I am eager to get back the rhythms of this life here, so I took a quick nap and then tried to borrow some energy by listening to the lively upbeat music of my old band, Dog Talk.
With the moon slightly higher in the sky than the sun at three o'clock in the afternoon, it is a struggle to believe that the days are getting longer. I made this observation in the parking lot of our regular in the company of a good friend. She reminded me that it had been worse. More importantly, she reminded me that even though the sun is slow to rise and stays low in the sky, the unmistakable signs of spring are making themselves felt. The colors of the hills and the moors are casting off their ice blue shadows and warming themselves into redder browns and lusher greens. Even the lochans have shifted from an impenetrable black blue to a warmer watery hue. It is quiet, subtle but unmistakable shift into spring.
I have been back in Caithness for nearly a week now. The first few days were like sleepwalking. Gradually I picked up pieces of my left-side of the road life and shrugged off the jet lag. After two days I decided it was time to drive again both to get my brain back into left-side thinking and to enjoy the country that I love.
"Auld Lang Syne" was just a song at the end of the holiday songbook until the night of my wedding. It was a tradition to sing it at New year, but the sing song melody and the unfamiliar words meant that it was sung just because it was there.
January in Chicago is winter. That can mean a variety of weather even within the span of a week: cold, wet winds off the lake or moderate temperatures under benign skies that let you stroll in a park with just a light jacket. It can also offer the American equivalent of a howling gale as the winds are channeled through the artificial canyons created by the skyscrapers that make lovely picture post cards but play havoc with the workaday people when the wind goes wild.
Did you make any?
It is a joy to be old enough or free enough to enjoy the holidays in the way that you like best.