Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Making Irish adventure

Here we are in mid-November, which makes it almost six devastating months since I've seen Skye. Two weeks ago, I spontaneously gathered my things and grabbed a flight to Ireland. It seemed a grand idea at the time, taking me as close as possible to my heart's desire. I said farewell to new friends in Portland, including my Bear buddy (below), who developed a passion for me and my Trader Joe's dried chicken breast 

First stop was Dublin, where I had my first head-banging at a
hostel. Well, not quite true. I was broken in at the exceptional
Northwest Portland Hostel, but I was spoiled and had my own lovely room in one of their Victorian houses. I slept like a worn-out kitten and woke every morning to a few yoga stretches and a barefoot pad down to the main kitchen, where I realized I've become a social animal. The rush for a piece of multi-grain bread and peanut butter! and a cup of hot water with a splash of real decaffeinated coffee while playing dodge-car with international folks of all ages highlighted my day.
Yet, sharing a room with other people was a major concern and anyone who is familiar with my Crazy Lady travel books knows I am not a savvy luggage traveller. I came to Ireland ready for three months of digging in and an embarrassing amount of space was taken up with my ten furry friends--well, my colorful long-snouted Scottish Midge is not furry but he makes up for it with the affection of any one of my bears. My three days at the Dublin International Hostel were filled with a lot of begging the harried staff to let me into the storage room for this and that.

The hostel is a labyrinth of hallways, doorways and stairs in what used to be a convent on Mount Joy The adjoining church serves as breakfast kitchen in the chancel and holds refectory tables in the nave. 

My first experience in a dorm was a six-bed (bunks) and bless them, even though I was told the hostel was full, I was alone after a grueling 19-hour flight. Once I realized I was alone--and this was naive, because roommates can show up at any time to bash about the room with luggage, toothbrushes and door slamming--out came my furry children for company.

My second night was mostly sleepless. I encountered a roommate in the early eve and when I entered the room later, she was asleep in a bottom bed near the door. Now, I am going into my Crazy Lady travel mode, so if you are squeamish, exit to the right. I have this thing about movies where King Henry and Elizabeth the First never go to the bathroom. Well, I do! My travel chamber pot is a large yogurt container and it is a life saver on the road in a car, in non-ensuite lodgings and in freezing weather where I don't want to traipse to the loo. 

Remember that I have never slept with strange people since the late sixties and tonight, I get shy about having to get up in the night to relieve myself. I lay forever in a self-conscious nervous state, because after some hours of listening to half the population of hostelers coming home drunk and shouting below in the street and doors slamming all over the large building, I was desperate to go to the bathroom. I didn't want to disturb my roommate because she was tossing and groaning--meaning she was not sleeping--so I prayed that she would have to go potty so I could grab my chamber pot and go.

Finally she rolled out of the bed and slammed out of the room. I leapt out of my bed naked--yes, always and forever when I sleep--and rushed to my locker to get out my chamber pot. I couldn't find it and I was swearing and fussing and almost crying to get this deed done before she came back. Yes! here it is thank the great spirit...all the while I am being extremely vocal. Fit the top on it and shove it under the bed--here she is. I jump into bed and cover up, catching my breath in relief.

A few minutes later, someone climbs down from the bunk above her and goes to the toilets. I almost die of embarrassment and shock, then get a fit of laughter that almost knocks me out of bed. Have you ever laughed hysterically in silence? Since then, I nonchalantly do whatever I need to do after lights out.

My first walk along the Liffey turned up some sculptures representing the potato famine of 1845-49 and I grabbed a shot of a Dubliner on the quay who was more picturesque than the photo I managed to take.

There is some intriguing architecture in Dublin--bridges, leaning buildings, lots of modernity camouflaging the leftover bits of history that nationalists and politicians took the trouble to remove, before the conservationists stepped in, around 1990.

The bells rang out all over town at five p.m. on Sunday--what exaltation. Above, the bridge attached to Christchurch.  Afterwards, my favorite tearoom in the medieval town.
The pretty bridge leading to Old Town's Temple Bar.
Party time in the Temple Bar old town neighborhood The.guy on the right is actually 
selling books!

My favorite gem was Marsh's Library, the  library of the early enlightenment. Founded by Archbishop Narcissus Marsh in the early 18th century, next to the palace of the archbishops of St. Patrick's Cathedral, it houses rare books, and research still carries on, with Marsh's ghost approvingly turning the pages. I took a tour with the keeper and got to practice my quill writing, which could use some help from Archbishop Marsh. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Gimme the Song - White Kitty Blues

Here I sit in Portland, Oregon, still working on acquiring a visa to return to Skye. Anyone who loves this place knows what I am going through...but I am still on Skye, and my friends are around me, I am looking forward to attending the Skye Book Festival in a couple of weeks and I shall enjoy myself with treats and laughter and if it rains, "Yay! "and if the sun visits, "Hello Sun!" and all is right with my world. Call me stardust til I am materialized in flesh on the Isle of my heart's desire. Til then, I share my past with you.
Excerpted from "Gimme the Song O' the Pipes! 
Crazy American Lady Tours Historical Scotland"
MaxCat Recirculated?
8 October: Our host is gone, and Fooh is as nosy as I am so we feel free to explore the closed-off room upstairs. It is full of sheets and cleaning supplies. I grab a rag, some cleanser and Kleenex, and also sniff the sheets—they too, like mine, are a bit smelly. I think the cleaning-person leaves them in the washer too long...or maybe its the pervading Skye damp.
   I’ve been putting off the drive to Elgol, having heard it was just a long drive through nothing, that leads to a cove. But wanting to leave no road undriven, we head west from Broadford and are soon on the one-track road of fifteen miles. Instead of nothing, we pass the proverbial refurbished white croft houses, sheep and cattle in the fields and along the road, a beautiful marsh area with grasses and a view to the Cuillin hill, Bla Beinn (Blaven). 
Two miles in, there is a walk (which you can also take from Broadford, from a gate and path next to the river) that heads to An Sithean, the Fairy Knoll. We trek around, looking for the mound, and find a gentleman crofter who used to be the vet on Harris. He quickly points to the hilltop, saying, 'There's a "feddy" now - see her?' We follow his finger and exclaim, 'Oh, yes, yes, there she is! Let's go try and catch her.' We plow up the hill of grass clumps but she flickers away and disappears. We do find an imposing chambered cairn, with burial remains of the earliest farmers in the area. 
   Glen Suardal is where the old church of Christ in Kilchrist (Cill Chriosd) sits with its graveyard. To visit the old marble quarry, there is a path on the rail bed across from the church. The diverse rock formations here attract geologists and walkers alike. Marble deposits have been quarried for many years and currently are still actively mined in Torrin, up the road. In contrast, the Cuillin range is magnificent with its black, volcanic rock—not to mention the magnetic properties that suck visitors in, who never know what hit them til they’re in love with Skye.
  There are many B & Bs in the area, along with self-catering cottages. Loch Slapin seems a sort of non-descript area, but the mist and light turn it to magic, with the fishing vessels sitting prettily upon its waters. As I ascend the road on the other side of Loch Slapin, there is a track to walk to Camasunary (3 miles round trip), for what some people say is the best viewpoint in Scotland.
  At Kilmarie, we go up the pretty driveway of the old Strathaird Steading mansion, to Duncan House keep. I am not so interested in the Celtic jewelry and knives advertised, as to see the keep. Fooh waits in his tray, while I walk through the break in the old wall and there, next to the house, I spy a white Persian cat. He immediately jumps down from his perch and walks around an aged stone circular structure, which functions as a fountain. He walks right up to me and as soon as I start petting his pretty white head, I say, ‘I’m going to miss you so much.’ It just comes out. I can’t stop petting him and tell him I can’t leave him. This attraction must have something to do with my MaxCat Black Persian, who was the light of my life.
  The cat walks with me to the gallery. I go in and after a minute, I look out and he’s staring at the door. A few minutes in the posh gallery tells me this Garth Duncan is a gifted artist. There is an impressive array of ancient Celtic knotwork, some combined with gorgeous gemstones. Among Pictish designs, impressive buckles and brooches hearty enough for any sturdy apparel, are his traditional Scottish knives (sgian dubh) in intricate designs. It is all beautiful work.
   I sign the guest book, go out and say, ‘Can I have a kiss?’ Kitty stretches his squishy, slant-eyed face to me and I kiss his forehead. This is amazing. There doesn’t appear to be anyone around so I feel free to play out this drama without seeming like a nutcase.
32.  The face that launched a thousand tears.

   He follows me to the car and when I open the door, he jumps in. Fooh almost has a heart attack, but Kitty calmly goes to the back seat and sits on his haunches, facing forward like he’s ready to go. I figure if I take him out, I may accidentally run over him, as he seems to want to be with me. Having ascertained that this is another of the species of cat that is benign, Fooh is now delighted with this fluff of fur.
  As tempted as I am to just drive away with him, I find a teen-aged boy in the workshop who introduces himself, and on the way to the car he says, ‘You could just as well take him, no one would care.’ This is not a good thing to say to me—I have fallen in love already. I say, ‘Oh no, someone must care because he’s so beautifully groomed.’
  My new friend says there is a girl staying here who brushes him. He explains that a Polish girl came to visit, bringing all of her pets; when she left, she deserted the cat. ‘The cat just kept hanging around, so we had to feed it,’ he complains, 'no one can remember the cat’s Polish name, so he is just "Kitty".'
  He spies Kitty still waiting in the car and says, ‘This is weird.’ He lifts the cat out from the back door and the cat jumps right back onto the front seat and digs his claws into it. ‘I hate that about him,’ as he takes Kitty out again, ‘and I hate the fur all over the place.’
  As he and I talk, Kitty keeps sniffing the car then walks away and I sense that he feels secure in my presence to do that. So I feel like a rat when, as he jumps up at a bird on the other side of the fountain, I quickly walk to the car and drive away. I know that is the only way I can go; it is best for him not to prolong it. I have an inexplicable longing for this guy and he seems to know me—perhaps I resemble his Polish mama and he thinks I have come for him. How heartbreaking. I have run away when he wasn’t looking, then he will happily come back to me and I will be gone. I am sick.
  What follows is big melodrama. I sob all the way down the road, to think he is not loved by those people and he knows it and wanted to come with me, who he instinctively knew loved him. Wah is me. I am not loved either. This brings it all back... my beloved Max, so sick and dying around this time years ago and my ex recently abandoned me and I feel lonely, sick and sad—I want that cat. I want to reassure him that he is cherished. Emotions run rampant all the way down the road to the picturesque little cove and ferry.
  I am barely aware of what I am passing and find myself at Elgol and the Cuillin View Coffee Shop, nibbling on a Stilton and walnut scone—scrumptious. The owner says he knows the family and is sure they will treat the cat well, which is why I am able to get a nibble down, in case you were wondering how I could savor this taste with my broken heart.
  Fooh and I walk along the muddy path on the side of the hill overlooking Loch Scavaig. To the west is Canna and Soay and ahead, the Cuillins’ Gars Beinn is closest to us. It is a beautiful sunny day, and trawls, creels and the tour boats are on the water. It looks like the Bella Jane is heading to Loch Coruisk, which is right in the midst of the Cuillin. The hills are amazing from any angle or side, but from Elgol, I can look right into the heart of them. Some day I will walk the Cuillin.

  We have hopped a few small burns, passed several walkers, saying hello every time, and reach a beach, which has some trash scattered about. I decide we have gone far enough, though Fooh wishes to bask in the first real sunshine we have seen this trip. The walks here are wonderful, but usually so muddy, it gets tiring darting about to evade the constant muck.
I head back, stepping in with a couple who enthusiastically join in on my obsessive concern about Kitty; they have five cats and understand, telling a few of their own stories. (To appreciate this, dog owners must imagine this to be a canine tragedy.) We part at my car, they heading off toward Glasnakill, a mile and a half walk to the old crofting settlement, where you can look across to Tarskavaig and the Sleat Peninsula.
  I drive back down the lane, now paying attention to what I had passed with tears in my eyes. We stop at Kilmarie graveyard, which looks out over the Loch. Moss and vines cover gravestones, which look more ancient than they are—sunken, lichen-painted, and black with a hundred years of damp. I take photos with my camera pointed up toward Kitty’s house on the hill then drive up the driveway, stopping at the gate of the mansion. Fooh chastises me and I know he is right: What am I thinking of? If he sees me, he will think I’ve come back and I will break his heart again. This is selfish - oh dear, now I have become a stalker. They will report me and you'll see me on Facebook: "Cat Stalker Shot from Tree"... 

  At the Cottage, since our host is gone, we peer into her windows. Fooh is as curious as I but I 'm certain he would never creep about like this on his own. I am setting a terrible example for this proper English bear. I poke around the yard and decide I feel okay about snagging a few more bits of small wood - now I am teaching him to steal.  Buying that coal was the right thing to do! My eyes are tired from the crying and to nurse myself back from the pain, I eat a half cup of Cornish clotted cream ~

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Day in Glenelg

 Excepted from my book, Gimme the Song O' the Pipes!  
Crazy American Lady Tours Historical Scotland

  7 October: Up and dressed in clean clothes, I leave Fooh by the window and walk up the small road as far as it goes, saying hi to cattle and a man who waves from his precious croft house. Then Fooh and I are off to send photos—this takes a long time from the UK to America. I get chatted up by a grungy guy who is staying at the hostel...precisely why I don’t stay at hostels—they smell like dirty hair. Fooh grins his Cheshire cat smile and says, 'A chat-up is better than no chat-up, any way you look at it.'
  Now it’s time for a fun trip. We head over the Skye bridge, through Lochalsh, east on A87, along Loch Duich, turn right at Shiel Bridge on the little road to Glenelg. The old road takes us up over the 1100-foot Mam Ratagan Pass, dropping down the other side to Glen More and Glenelg.
  Here are the Bernerra Barracks, completed by the Hanoverian government in 1723, after the 1715 Jacobite uprising. They are still quite intact but fenced off. What a shame, as they would provide an impressive exploration op and historical insight.
  We cruise through the settlement of Glenelg and continue on a tiny road to Gleann Beag, home to three somewhat preserved brochs. The first we explore is Dun Trodden.
30.  Dun Trodden.
It is a beautiful spot, with amazing views up the Glenn. Then a stop at Dun Telve, the larger and more complete one, which stands under a canopy of oak and sycamore trees.
  These squat and round or somewhat elliptical brochs are thought to be built by Iron Age farmers between the fourth century BCE and first century CE, though the many interpretations of origin include Pictish towers and Danish forts.
  The double walls take up as much space as the living areas and have stairs built between them, which lead to galleries.

31.  Stairs in Dun Trodden.

 They are reminiscent of castle keeps, which also have these thick walls with stairs, but brochs are so much smaller. It appears they had central hearths and probably roofs made of timber—or something lightweight. Fooh wonders if researchers have simply sat in the center of them to try to divine how people lived here, since there are so many opinions. The floors are uneven and lead some to believe the inhabitants did not live on the ground floor, but kept their livestock here. There is evidence of spaces for floor support beams in the walls.
  It’s time for tea, so we back-track to Glenelg. The ferry here still carries a few cars at a time across to Kylerhea, on Skye, during summer. Before the 1819 completion of the road to Lochalsh, this was an age-old watery passage to the Misty Isle. There is a camping ground on the shingle beach or you can stay at ye olde Glenelg Inn. I make the mistake of thinking this is the inn which lives on in Boswell and Johnson’s literary history, as an unforgettable lodging. Not so. In 1773, the only lodging inn was the Ferry Inn. It is now a self-catering house here, set above the narrows of Kyle Rhea. James Boswell writes in his 1773 Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides:
 As we passed the barracks at Bernea, I looked at them wishfully, as soldiers have always every thing in the best order: but there was only a serjeant and a few men there. We came on to the inn at Glenelg. There was no provender for our horses: so they were sent to grass, with a man to watch them. A maid shewed us up stairs into a room damp and dirty, with bare walls, a variety of bad smells, a coarse black greasy fir table, and forms of the same kind; and out of a wretched bed started a fellow from his sleep, like Edgar in King Lear, ‘Poor Tom’s a-cold’. [Footnote: It is amusing to observe the different images which this being presented to Dr Johnson and me. The Doctor, in his Journey, compares him to a Cyclops.]
   If you like this area of the world and want a bit of historical insight for appreciation, check out Boswell (and also Samuel Johnson’s version of their tour, Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland) for your enjoyment.
    We are in the Glenelg Inn pub on this late and (what’s new?) chilly afternoon. The building looks Elizabethan to me, but I am always wishful of these things. I find out it existed way back in 1875, at least, but burned to the ground in 1947. The east part of this inn is on the earlier stable block.

   I have never seen a pub so comfy—it takes me by surprise. A rock fireplace provides warmth, and fresh flowers in vases add beauty. Lots of books fill the reading corner. There are big candles and a slightly worn, warm red tartan rug, and Fooh entices the friendly cat over here to finish the cozy ambience. The only downside is the loud rock music the pretty bartender turns up...why doesn’t anyone around here listen to pipes or fiddle? ~

Sunday, July 20, 2014

If You're Stuck, Read a Book: Anthony Doerr and Elaine Ambrose

Tony Doerr with Bonnie Jemmett, of Salt Lake City, Utah.
 Bonnie wowed everyone at the retreat with her gift for 

quick response writing and her story and dialogue 
of an aged woman:
 "Not only has the world left you forsaken in its wake...
you are not who you once were and the question is, when will it be over?"
While trying not to hold my breath until my flight crosses the Atlantic back to Skye, I often walk downriver to the streetcar and head to Powell's Bookstore, claimed to be the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world. I think it may be considered the largest in general, at least, based on shelf space. 

In any case, it is a blast hanging out and looking at everything from (new and old) kid's books to (new and old) cookery, and I've discovered a treasury in the Japanese form, manga, which I'd never even known existed - how can that be? you may well ask...and Graphic Novels...Alison Bechdel's Are You My Mother is hysterical, and there is much more of her. My ignorance astounds even me.

I was disappointed when I missed the chance to make a reservation to see Diana Gabaldon. Though not an author I've read, after the first chapter of an Outlander book, she is very popular and successful as a writer and it's always fun to see one of those in the flesh. 

So - deep breath - when I saw that Anthony Doerr was going to make an appearance to promote his latest book, All the Light We Cannot See, at Powell's City of Books store in downtown Portland, I made sure I was there, tea and crumpet in hand. (For Doerr's bio, see bottom of page.) Silly me forgot my camera, but I cheated and used above photo I had taken previously.

Three years ago, I spent a day with Tony, at a beautiful cabin on the South Fork of the Payette River in Garden Valley, Idaho. Being the spoiled writer for the local county paper, I was invited to attend the informative and joyous week-end writer's retreat, Write by the River, hosted by humor writer Elaine Ambrose. 

Saturday afternoon's workshop with Tony Doerr kicked me into a different writing reality. He is the master of the non-cliche and he beat it into our heads, imploring the writers to "shake up your habits!" regarding cliches and to "convince your readers they are 'not reading but there'". 

An example of the latter, set by Tony himself, was described when he recently was asked, by Tweed's Magazine of Literature and Art, whether it was daunting to write as his blind, young female character and how she would experience the world around her (in All the Light We Cannot See).

The author replied,  "...I found it more challenging to try to render other aspects of her life: that she is French, that her father goes missing, how she would think and speak. That said, there were hours when I was working hard on Marie-Laure’s chapters and I’d look up from the desk and forget that I could see."

On the evening Tony appeared at Powell's, again he powered the room with his punchy and efficient mode of speech. He exhibited the intensity that I remembered - along with the dedication that we as writers have to have to create. He said, in answer to someone's query about when did he know he was a writer, "Everybody's a writer who goes to her desk every morning and works."                          

Now all of this is fine but to read his work is to find the beauty, the rhythm and grace that is formed at his desk...well, not just at his desk, but in every fiber of his intuition and investigation. All of the electricity, the travels to sites, the delving and searching of heart and mind and science and metaphysics and history and every aspect of life that can be inspected, contribute to the special stories he serves to the reader.

Anyway, it was gratifying to see his vibrant self again and to suck a little more wisdom from a teacher. He left us with a quote by poet, Wislawa Szymborska, from her Nobel Lecture in 1996:

Granted, in daily speech, where we don't stop to consider every word, we all use phrases like "the ordinary world," "ordinary life," "the ordinary course of events" ... But in the language of poetry, where every word is weighed, nothing is usual or normal. Not a single stone and not a single cloud above it. Not a single day and not a single night after it. And above all, not a single existence, not anyone's existence in this world.


Some Books to get high on...

Elaine Ambrose, at Millpark Publishing, has a knack for publishing solid, entertaining books and her own are always a tickle in the ribs. I haven't seen her latest, Midlife Cabernet – Life, Love & Laughter after Fifty, but I've read enough of her essays on the subject to know that this is something I have to pick up and actually read. The book has just grabbed the Silver Medal for Humor in the annual Independent Publisher Book Award (IPPY) competition that honors independent authors and publishers worldwide. More than 6,000 entries were judged in this year’s competition to recognize and reward independent spirit and creativity in publishing. 
   New Book by Idaho Author Wins National Humor Award           

Midlife Cabernet was published by Mill Park Publishing of Eagle, Idaho, USA, which Elaine founded to publish works by local women writers, and she donates proceeds to local charities. This is the company’s second IPPY award, and the author's other books also have won a national humor award from ForeWord Magazine and five awards from recent competitions sponsored by the Idaho Book Extravaganza.

Elaine says they are thrilled to receive another award to acknowledge quality books from Mill Park Publishing: “The success of Midlife Cabernet proves there are millions of middle-aged women who would rather laugh than break something, preferably while holding a bold Cabernet."

Though recommended by the tipsy authors, I never filled a glass while reading this book and my favorite chair was my morning throne, with the sun or cloud cover lighting the pages—but for a couple of weeks, this was my reveille, because my soul rises to meetings with intriguing women and intelligent literature, and I got my daily dosage each time I re-opened Drinking with Dead Women Writers.

 Elaine Ambrose and AK Turner must be commended for the concept and title—and who knows how many books never make it past the edge of the shelf because of uninspiring covers. This book looks great and feels good in the hands.

Whether contrived or not, all of AK Turner’s stories are written in the present, while Ambrose meets her spectres at a time already locked into the past. These playful rendezvous take the reader alternately across the mist of time. Turner successfully plays with our suspension of disbelief, because we want desperately to believe that Virginia Woolf is here with us, hair still wet as though she just arrived from her dip in the river. Her women are in the flesh. We are at the table when Dorothy Parker tells Turner to drink up, and we feel woozy after the second bottle is gone.

Elaine Ambrose passes through that mist away from us and keeps her writers where they rightfully belong—dead and buried—they are shades who beckon her to a contemporary meeting place but we get the story after the curtain has closed again behind her. When Edna St. Vincent Millay tossed the cork over the banister, we could all appreciate it as we would a bard’s tale—but we didn’t get to smell the cork. When Ambrose sweated and drank margaritas with Erma Bombeck in the Old Town Tortilla Factory, the reader enjoys one funny woman with another as through an open window to a dream. Was it yesterday that Louisa May Alcott ranted about toy mice wearing Civil War costumes? Seventy-five years ago? Ambrose keeps her dead women at bay from us—she is allowed intimacy and shares it with us, but we are distanced and we have no illusions about the dead being dead. This is delightful fantasy.

Ambrose’s humor and Turner’s straight man-with-a-prod quips keep the chortles coming, and I could only holler for more. So I bought Drinking With Dead Drunks. Ho - boy...have fun with this one.


Books by Elaine Ambrose and Millpark Publishing can be found on or 

Anthony Doerr is the author of The Shell CollectorAbout GraceFour Seasons in RomeMemory Wall, and the New York Times bestselling novel, All the Light We Cannot See. Doerr’s fiction has won four O. Henry Prizes and has been anthologized in The Best American Short StoriesThe Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, and The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Fiction. He has won the Barnes & Noble Discover Prize, the Rome Prize, the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an NEA Fellowship, the National Magazine Award for Fiction, three Pushcart Prizes, the Pacific Northwest Book Award, three Ohioana Book Awards, the 2010 Story Prize, which is considered the most prestigious prize in the U.S. for a collection of short stories, and the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award, which is the largest prize in the world for a single short story.  His books have twice been a New York Times Notable Book, an American Library Association Book of the Year, and made lots of other year end “Best Of” lists. In 2007, the British literary magazine, Granta, placed Doerr on its list of 21 Best Young American novelists.

Monday, July 14, 2014

In this excerpt from my favorite memoir (mine), 
Gimme the Song O' the Pipes!
I continue the saga of my first holiday cottage on Skye.

Wot a fine tea, he says,
Oy’ll sit me down to sup!
Milady never bats a lash
But titters behind her cup.

2009, 6 October: After an evening in this finger and nose-numbing cottage, with me protesting (and now understanding) the many webpage comments about 'romantic fireplace', I and Fooh, my English-bear traveling buddy, lie in bed waiting for the heat to come on - to no avail. I fuss with the radiator and become a bit perturbed at my host. I figure she’s aced my heating privileges so I leave her a note.
  In ‘town’, I do a little laundry—this may become a habit like going to the bathroom every time I see one, in case the opportunity doesn’t arise again. While waiting, I pick up a book on early crofters and the Clearances. 
   There is a long history in Britain, behind the Clearances. In Tudor times, this concept was begun to depopulate rural England, for ‘better’ use of the land. In the Highlands, the clans still expected to have homes and land to work, provided by the chief. After the last Jacobite uprising in 1746, clans were ‘discouraged’ and families were displaced by sheep and cattle-raising land owners, for higher income. By the nineteenth century, the Clearances had become even more brutal, and emigration was forced. The Highlanders have never really recovered from this tragic upheaval of their family life and existence here.
   A sign on the road seen several times - 'Spinners Having Fun Spinning' - finally entreats me to turn into the old pier road at Broadford. I discover Teohandspuns and the beautiful yarns of my dreams and must have a bunch of some mixed chocolate-colored, curly Wensleydale yarn...the most beautiful I’ve seen. Owner Teo will wash the lanolin from it, so I am to pick it up Friday.
  Contrary to information from locals, I discover an internet cafe on the end of the town road. For £2.5 for thirty minutes, I plug in. (Note: this cafe is no longer open.)
   Okay, time to begin celebrating my sixty-first early. A drive down the Sleat Peninsula takes us to Kinloch Lodge, home and business of famous Scottish cook, Claire Macdonald. She is married to Godfrey Macdonald, High Chief of Clan Donald.
Old World tea and service is available at Kinloch Lodge. 
   The buildings sit on Loch na Dal, surrounded by trees and hills. With Fooh in my small pack, I open the front door to what resembles a mansion-like croft house, to be met by an older woman who says, ‘How mae I help yoo?’ I say I’d like tea, so she leads me into a cozy front sitting room, with five people sitting around the inviting coal fire. I settle in on the love-seat against the wall behind them and take up writing in my journal.
  On the table is a menu listing afternoon tea as £15, which puts it around $25 without tip; Fooh says, 'Go for it.' He has a nose for the delectable sweets that are hiding around the corner.
  After sitting here for twenty minutes or so, an older gentleman (older than me!), has come back into the room and gently says to me, ‘I apologize for you being tucked away from the fire; would you like to join us?’ in an impeccable British dialect—no Scots in this room. So, being uncharacteristically hungry for human communication, I accept readily and settle into the plump overstuffed sofa next to the fire. I am drawn into the conversation immediately.
  The man and his wife are waiting for longtime friends from England; the wife of the expected guests has no clue she and her hubby are meeting these people here. They seem to be upper crust, she more quiet, he sociably adept. Next to me on the overstuffed sofa is a heavy-set guy in his twenties; on chairs next to him are two ladies, with the dialect I have come to recognize as Welsh.
  Their tea starts to arrive, along with goodies on three-tiered servers. I hungrily inspect my neighbors’ offerings with no reserve, while they do the same openly and remark about each lovely morsel – a mini chocolate cake, fruit tartlets, tiny cups of chocolate and smoked salmon tea sandwiches. My tea arrives; I pig out with, yes, characteristic piggishness and Fooh devours the little sandwiches.
  I beg clarification from my companions: A-ber-ge-VEN-ny is the proper pronunciation of that town in Wales. I certainly wouldn’t want to be guided about by anyone on a tour, but it is helpful to have someone to ask these things, and getting the correct pronunciations is so much fun and important to me. It always makes for conversation, as when Sally in Lacock made fun of me for the way I said ‘Sal-is-berry’.
   Lots of laughter abounds. I am chatting away to the young man next to me and not paying proper attention to the way he is being addressed. Thus, I embarrass myself, when I refer to him as ‘he’ when talking to his mother, who doesn’t miss a beat when she corrects me: ‘She.’ Oh my gawd. We all just keep talking and the moment passes. Oick!
  The expected couple finally arrives and I love watching the exuberant joy of friends meeting friends. What fun talking to someone humorous, intelligent and friendly, as these folks are. Just what the doctor ordered.
  Thus nurtured emotionally, I decide to break my protest against the lack of heat provided in my cottage and nurture my chilly little body. I head to the Co-op. The guy at the internet cafe had instructed me on how to build a coal fire. I decide not to use firelighters but buy the cheapest local newspaper. I get a laugh from my friendly cashier who nods and says, 'Aye, bum fodder for kindling—smart lass!'
  There is a note from my host, who sends her student to bleed my bedroom radiator. I tell her I’m impressed. When my host shows up, I whine about being surprised by the added expense of heating the house, since I paid for a week’s utilities. She says the rent is very low, but understands that I am one person, so it does seem higher for me and out she goes to her shed to get me a generous bucket of wood.
  She informs me she’s leaving on Thursday for the States, to stay with friends for a month. Harumph. Not even a neighbor for my last three mornings. I think my disappointment comes from her being an interesting musician and I had so looked forward to some serious chat. This is surely why she doesn’t offer bed and breakfast,to avoid these cozy natters, and certainly, couples staying here would usually prefer being left to themselves. The cottage is perfect for that but I would not choose self-catering again. No point in hiding out alone when there are so many Scots to be had in conversation, not to mention the international set who come and go in a B&B.
  Once alone, I crumple my newly discovered ‘bum fodder’, lay down sticks of wood and coal on top and voila! We are in a cozy room. What a difference warmth makes in a cold, damp Hebridean abode. With rain outside and dinner cooking, we are in bliss. Now I recognize the little fireplace for what it’s worth—quaint and precious in appearance and a life-giving vitality in the cottage.

29.  Ahhh, yes!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Bloom Where You Are Planted...or...Make Lemonade...

My first week here in Portland, Oregon, was splashed with colors of early summer - the Rose Parade events drew huge crowds from all over the world. The NW Portland Hostel Guesthouse was a new experience for me and I reveled in my early morning coffee and bread that they provided, because it put me smack in the middle of the backpackers and other international travelers. I continually surprise myself these days by seeking out the company of other humans. Even on Skye, you may remember, I often relished the group activities - though nothing takes the place of critters. Here in Portland, they show up whenever I do and for that, I am ever grateful.

 Creatures of another sort are plentiful in the city.
 The various Farmers Markets provide fantastic epicurean treats and music fills the streets and green spaces.

Portland Rose Garden out-blossomed the parade and continues to attract flower children, who just can't get enough olfactory pleasure and bury their faces into bush after bush - stopping only to point the camera at particular  fancies.
Right next door is the serenity of the Japanese Gardens, which is welcome after the masses of flower lovers. 

Below is the beauty that took my breath away.

The Sellway Bridge, near my lodgings, allows for a photo op of the majestic Willamette River - Lewis and Clark country.

Just turn around and the green and clean city of Portland peeks over the tranquil river.

...and of course, I've maintained that I am still on Skye in my heart, so why shouldn't I run across some wee ones practicing in the park on the way home?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Why I Love Skye

 The Home Office refused my application to remain in Scotland, even though I told them what an asset I am to the country. Can you imagine?! So off I flew last week to the United States, where I could be a fish out of water but I am still on Skye in my heart, so here is my Springtime on Skye.

In April, my friend Ann let me have a caravan on Tote, above Loch Snizort Beag, just across the loch from where I joyously spent the winter. Here are two of my views. The one on the left is the ubiquitous clothes line, which I never seemed to get the hang of...I saw clothing flying on lines all over the moors and lochs and townships and I have to assume something dried, as folks I talked to seemed to think nothing of it...of course, there is often the slight sour scent of old wet washcloth on some people--but not on my friends! I do think they are delusional about their drying lines.

Spring, I understand from Jennifer at the West Highland Free Press, is still upon the isle. Though I have only been away not quite one week, I have gone into summer mode and dread the heat, even though Portland
is supposed to have a rainy climate...where is it?
Sweat and two showers a day whisper...'summerrrrr' above my left ear.

 I was lucky to get so many shots of the pretty spring flowers on Skye.
I love bamboo and at my old home in the Rockies, I planted it, trusting what they said about it spreading...I said 'oh yay, I hope it does'...but it didn't. Wah. 

 Just walked around the isle snapping pretty flowers.

  Took a lovely drive off of the island to Attadale Gardens. My first thrill was to meet Nicky Macpherson, who owns and designed the gardens. I told her 'what a privilege' and mentioned that I wrote about her and the gardens in my book, Gimme the Song O' the Pipes. She is a gracious and very pretty woman of mature age and she was just taking a break from her heavy, springtime gardening schedule. Thrills happen every day of my life!
I have included here some of the sculptures in her gardens. The roe deer (above) crept upon me and we both startled each other. Hamish Mackie is the artist.

Alexander Jones carved the Chameleon (below) out of lime wood and cast him in bronze.

Profusions of bluebells were everywhere on Skye and in Scotland, as I made my way out of the country.

Above: 'Bream' in Attadale Gardens is a creation in pink dolomite by Kapasa Banda of Zambabwe.

 I actually drove to Attadale to
see the blue poppies--this is the only one I saw! Heavenly.

 I caught some children in Dunvegan, practicing their safety signals across the loch from McLeod's Tables, left.

 One of my many self-portraits, hopefully too small to scrutinize!
 Heading down the west side of Skye, toward the Cuillin, with Loch Bracadale on my right.

 My last little trek up from Sligachan was peppered with French teens passing me and me passing them. I practiced on them: 'Pas de probleme', 'Excusez moi' et 'C'est une bonne journee, n'est pas?'...oh yeah, my German and Dutch weren't so good but I faked it, by generally keeping my mouth shut...yes, me!
Good friends made it so hard to leave. Sob. Dawn is taking care of my sweet little Astra, Patience.

Stewart and Anne saw me off and received my second suitcase a few days later from an Edinburgh post office...consequences of my overly optimistic packing. I'd rather have it on Skye, waiting for my return. 

The Labrador puppy is Stanley--he kisses better than any guy I know and he lavished them upon me.

Photos of places and things that I love. The Fairy Glen, mid-winter, above.

I have a thing about gates. Sooner or later, I will do a post on Skye gates.

Uig Bay on a winter's day.

Edinbane Park Is a joy for mom and dad and kids alike. Dawn is the perfect example of motherhood.

Coral Beach, its turquoise water and mini islands are favorites of photographers and walkers.

Home Office wasn't happy that I was helping out at Crossroads Charity but it was so much fun, I'd never take it back...great employees, volunteers, community support and visitors to the island make it work and I've been volunteering since I was sixteen--wouldn't know what to do without it! 
Peter, the big cheese volunteer, with a certain reporter from the West Highland Free Press.
Two days before I left Skye, I was served tea and crumpets by Claire Macdonald, at a Marie Curie benefit tea under the trees at St. Columba's Church. I know we're not supposed to get excited by the laird concept any more, but I decided it was serendipity that this cook of Kinloch Lodge fame and wife of the Clan Donald High Chief spoiled me a wee bit!
Island townships are receiving defibrillators, one at a time. This was a neighborhood training session at Skeabost--young and old, we all took our turns and became pros at saving lives.
The Fairy Pools are a beautiful surprise on the way to the Cuillin's Sgurr an Fheadain.

 Me lovin' it all - an early March day so warm, I could wear a light cotton skirt... and my little blue kitchen in my cottage on Snizort Beag.

Skye Gathering Hall

 More that I love...Portree Bay, above...

I haven't seen a sheep in Portland yet...
 Remnants of the Clearances are all over the island...

 Castle Duntulm has an amazing prospect...Lewis and Harris are far off on the horizon...

...Skye roads are sublime.

Springtime on Skye is an explosion of babies...beware the roads...the good thing is, lambies and calves are not jaded yet and will run from the road at the sight of humans or automated creatures.

I am enamored of the history here. The McLeod castle of Dunvegan has this marvelous sea gate off of the loch. Below this, the Portree Skye Quilters' representation of the Battle of the Braes, for the famous Great Tapestry of Scotland, which chronicles 12,000 years of Scottish history. Notice the lassies throwing rocks...the women of this community beat the tar out of the bad guys (policemen and soldiers). This gives me faith that I shall overcome the 'powerful ones'.

Cheery, til we meet again.