Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Snow and More Snow

The first snowfall--too much and too early for this new neighbourhood of mine--sent me scurrying to set up the bird feeders. The suet balls are more attractive than disco balls to the birds. This chaffinch was one of the first visitors. When I added a seed feeder to the usual bread crumbs in the yard and an extra suet ball or two, the party really started happening. Mr and Mrs chaffinch, a couple cheeky robins, a blackbird or two, crows--wary and quick to take off--and a thrush--I forget the name my friend gave it: a largeish brown bird with a speckled breast. But no sparrows. I had been so excited about the birds that were there that I had not thought about their absence until someone mentioned it. For as cheeky and aggressive with other birds as the little critters can be, nonetheless I miss them. I hope somewhere they are thriving or at least holding their own.
I had been reluctant to put food out for the birds because I have two cats that began life in a barn. The first day of the new regime, however, one or the other of the birds sent my cats--tails at half mast, hurrying back into the house. Let's hope it stays that way.
Since I loaded this photo and thought I would get back to it "later", I have had a birthday --thanks to everyone on three continents who helped me celebrate it--and we have had even more snow than the title of this post suggests. Instead of "wintery showers" which is the normal rain-snow-sleet continuum that falls and melts pretty quickly, we have had "squally wintery showers". I don't know the formal definition for that. In Caithness it seemed wiser to learn the Beaufort scale for measuring winds. Oddly enough with all this snow and cold, we have had comparatively little wind.
The best news with all this cold weather is that it might be a good time to see the Northern Lights. So whenever I think of it, I spy out the window and peer into the dark night sky. Maybe not tonight or even this winter, but some time I'll catch them dancing across the sky.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

C'est au cause du soleil

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We have had the first snowfall of the season. It is too early. I sat swathed in woolly clothes and accompanied by two cats. I could have ignored the snow, but the magic of first snow was calling to me. Between snow showers, the sun bathed the landscape in the warm golden light of the season. And so, I pulled on even more woolly clothes, set my cats aside, and put on boots and took my camera for a walk down to the moss.

I had spied the postie make a snowball and admire his own tracks in the snow from the comfort of the living room, now I crunched along thinking only briefly of making a snow angel. A bird caught my attention. I went back to the garage for a pair of suet balls. I tucked the first one in the usual spot in the willow tree by the back door. The other one I wedged into a crook in the branches of an ancient Sycamore tree where birds often shelter in their gnarls and nooks.

One of my neighbours rolled carefully along the road. The road is good enough and wide enough in good weather, but even a little snow makes for slow going. She stops briefly and shares with me the cards made from her daughter in law's photographs. The photos are beautiful; the scenes are beautiful; and the sharing in her pride and her family are also beautiful.

The snow starts up again; I head toward the moss; she eases slowly, gradually up the hill. We are not on the first or second or even third priority of the gritter, so the roads will be at the mercy of the sun, wind, and whatever desultory traffic comes this way.

I walk into the grassy verge of the moss--the tamed area where neighbours walk their dogs. Not even they have ventured here today, so I hunker down out of the wind to catch these wee seed pods dancing above the snow line. My camera battery sends out an SOS and I tuck my camera into its case, bundle up against the wind and content myself with footprints and the fading light.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Come for the Scenery; Stay for the Dancing

Most people when they think of the Highlands think first of stunning scenery --well, maybe the Clearances or tragic history comes first to mind, but scenery certainly is right up there. As well it should be because each season offers spectacular views both on a giant scale of double rainbows arching over the sky and shimmering above the water or golden light exposing tiny clusters of red beads or the last gorse blossoms of late summer. Within an easy walk of my home I can find stunning vistas that even a duffer with a point and shoot camera can make look like art.

I like sharing the scenery with my visitors, but perhaps more interesting is what we get up to here when the visitors go home. Dancing. I have always loved dancing. I had childish notions of being a prima ballerina and folk danced my way through high school and college as well as rock and roll. Opportunities got fewer as I got older, but there was always some dancing.

Here country dancing or Scottish dancing is an integral part of the social life. The dances are simple enough that just about anyone can do them, and good dancers can make them into an art form that is a joy to watch.

I was reminded of this last week at a charity fund raiser dinner dance. The local WRI--my WRI now--put on the dance so the food was wonderful and the organisation was military in its precision and magical in its apparent ease. It takes a lot of work to makes thing look easy, so before we could line up for Strip the Willow--a genuine crowd pleaser of a dance that basically involves a lot of whirling and waiting to be whirled--a lot of work had gone into it.

One friend from the States visited in October a couple years ago so she had a chance to join us in a ceilidh--a Gaelic word now used loosely to mean any get together, but it almost always involves music and music almost always involves dancing. So if you happen to come this way out of season, you had better be a dancer.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

First Frost

The sun, in its brief course today will melt the edges off this leaf, but I caught the early morning shiver as we walked along the hedgerow. The sun stays flat this time of year--people call it a lazy sun --because it never gets very high in the sky. Dark lingers until 8am; sunset by 4pm. The leaf and I both have to make the best of the lazy sun. If you look carefully, you can see a hard working, chilly caterpillar on the bottom leaf. No doubt he is waiting for the sun as well.
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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Where the Wild Things Are

I have been galomphing along at a frantic pace. All the things I chose to do, I enjoyed. I don't regret a single one, but saying yes to things inevitably means saying no to others. That's what I regret all the things that had to be set aside as I moved at what seemed a snail's pace through a whirlwind of activities.

In a bit of a pendulum swing I have found myself now saying No nearly as often as a petulant toddler--or at least that's how it seems. I don't like saying no to people or things, so I console/encourage myself by becoming more aware of the things around me that I have been too busy to notice.

The cats noticed them first. As I held the door open for Solomon and Sheba for their early morning promenade, Sheba stiffened, hunkered down, and sniffed energetically. I followed her attention and saw a deer--the white tail of one and then a quartet of them loping off unhurriedly in the uneven ground of the moss across the road. I didn't see them moving across the hill, so I thought they might have snuggled in for a morning's nap. Sure enough later as we walked by the moss, we saw a deer trot off into the far distance. Again, with no particular urgency.

As I walked up the hill to the loch, I noticed the cattle in the field have been replaced by sheep. You may think that this is because their wooly coat protects them from the cold. That is half right. Actually, it is their wee feet. The cattle poach the earth with their large hooves. This time of year we have wet ground. We get an occasional frost and some snow, but mostly we get wettish and coldish.

In the field across from me as I type this are sheep acting as gleaners in a field of oats, I think. It has not been that long since harvest, but already I lose track whether this year the field was full with the golden flowers of rape or the translucent heads of grain. At any rate, the sheep are hard at work nibbling bits of something. The tranquil agrarian scene was interrupted by something dark moving in the field just at the edge of my peripheral vision. After two or three tries, I caught the spectre in action--a pheasant helicoptering above the rows. Apparently he, too, is gleaning in the field.

Even if I had not spent a childhood watching Roadrunner cartoons, pheasants wouild make me laugh. They don't fly well, so their flight is at best ungainly and shortlived, but, poor things, they also have a walk that Monty Python and their school of silly walks might well have imitated.

But all of us--deer, cats, sheep, pheasants and others nestled in the grass or in the air above the loch are enjoying a day of sunshine, mild temperature, and relatively calm winds. We all know it is to be treasured.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Shadows on the Heart

We all have them. Shadows on the heart. Those spots that when you run across them much like your tongue running along to find the wobbly baby tooth, you give a little sigh or shed a tear or shrug your shoulders against a sudden chill. As adults we like to think that children are immune, but with children each disjunction in their young lives is loaded with existential angst. The world is new and fragile and any misalignment is fraught with the terror of the unexpected.

As we get older we get a perspective. Missteps and misalignments need not mean the end of our lives. We can move through and around the shadows usually, but we can never avoid them or ignore them. Their peculiar geography means that the more circuitous path to avoiding them, the more likely they are to be with us.

These peculiar shadows also have a unique physics--light dispels the chill if not the shadow. The best antidote is a conversation around a kitchen table.

Shadows come in a variety of shades depending on their source. Some fade with time; some disappear altogether. Shadows from a sense of loss get different--not necessarily better in some real world version of Cartesian grid lines or Pangloss hyperoptimism--but comfortable in their familiarity.

Homesickness is an incurable disease. Not because it is the emanation of a manipulative virus or a legion of bacteria not yet subject to the restraints of science but because it is a yearning for something that does not exist. It is not one of the many syndromes to be given a code for insurance purposes in the big red book in the psychiatrist's office, although I suppose it could grow into such a thing. Homesickness is nostalgia for the same kind of life we thought we had as a child--in recalling we omit all those shadows on the heart that are as much a part of that time and place as the halcyon days we think we recall. Not even time travel or ruby slippers could get us to the spot we think we have lost.

I have spoken of my homesickness usually only in private whispers because it hurt to talk about it, there was nothing that could be done about it, and because I did not want to hurt the people here in my new home. I have friends and family and jobs and ideas and all the things that make me the person that I am--curiosity, distractedness, love of cats, and an only slightly moderated with age tendency to tilt at windmills.

So having put it down in words, I have broken the spell. There is no place like home.