10 October 2006
09 October 2006
08 October 2006
"Sea rovers here take joy
As from our song of Troy
Greybeard and rover-boy
Goeth more learnéd.
"All feats on that great field
In the long warfare,
Dark days the bright gods willed,
Wounds you bore there,
"Argos' old soldiery
On Troy beach teeming,
Charmed out of time we see.
No life on earth can be
Hid from our dreaming."
the ancient ones declared that with both of your parents gone, then there is nothing between you and the sky.
it came so fast, the nothing.
unready for parentlessness, and stepping onto the soft ground, i wanted to sing that first taste of Joyce again – “Amen, so be it. Welcome, O life! I go for the millionth time to encounter the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race” – but i could never get the voice right.
i think of you, mommy, and your growing up with an outhouse and how that might have affected your view of the world, putting a heavy coat on over your nightgown, stepping out into the frigid night with shoes too big, and a little fear, perplexed that your little-girl body invaded the dream, forcing you out into the darkness, stomping all over your cloud as if it were nothing. and then to come back inside to the cold smell of a fire gone out, and sheets nothing like the warm ones you left. it made you a fighter, didn’t it. and there’s you all whipsmart, canning peaches with a taste of sunshine in them, throwing a barbecued crab feast in the driveway, and making the best damn pickles that lady ever tasted.
the ruin is fragile now, and charred. more of it blows away with every breath, and when you take a step, you fall straight through to the beginning of things.
with this tree, the earth gets busy on a new batch of life, and a piece of the empty sky fills up again. with this tree, back to your roots, my love. it might seem dangerous to plant a tree in such ground, but i have heard it said that out of the ashes a golden bough will spring, and rock us all a-bye.
amen so be it. welcome o life. i go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.
*b. 27 July 1922, d. 16 January 2006. wife of Fred and wife of Gary; mother of Janet and Judi and Don; grandmother of Scott, Danielle, Jennifer, Clancy, Sarah, and Gary; great-grandmother of Benjamin, Brandi, Amber, Casper, Ida and Hazel.
but i am getting ahead of myself. the tree was in its pot just outside the gift shop (we had walked right past it). so off we go then, our wee procession: andrew, lindsay, and me, through the gate to millennium wood, down the path to the rightmost fork and across a footbridge, to the spot selected. the hole had been properly dug. lindsay and andrew tugged at the pot and extracted the tree for planting. janet held the tree straight while, andrew returned the unearthed soil around it. once planted, andrew joined lindsay on the trail, and janet read the homage.
it sounds simple and straightforward, and it was, but it was also weighty and moving – of course it was that – and because it was so solitary and so singular in purpose, because the words fell mostly on listening leaves and grass, it was also, for the one spoken of, mostly a homecoming, not just to scotland and to the seat of the macleans, but to earth, and the nearby sea she loved so well. even now as i write this, other exquisite moments are hurrying away almost as soon as they arrive, and so are to be cherished, even when they are spent honoring the thing that’s lost.
the further away i get from this day, the more i shake my head in sheer wonder at lindsay’s impeccable planning for our time there. the idea of our going first to tobermory, then to calgary, and then, or rather at this point, retracing our route back to duart castle, even now strikes me as absolutely brilliant, to say nothing of the necessary advance bookings and arrangements. small wonder that the whole trip took on a seamlessly carefree character, all because of her investing so much thought and preparation.
night on mull
the host, matthew, brought us a glass of wine while we perused our books (no hurry - very un-new york), and later led us into the dining room, which was lit exclusively with candles and a fire, giving off a warm glow to the dark wooden tables and chairs. six tables? eight? no more. yet each were contained in individual, occupied worlds, and spaced in such a way that their boundaries were in tact.
the meal proceeded with the same elegance and panache i was by now growing accustomed to, the pinot noir complementing the goat cheese tart and perfectly dressed green salad, as well the wild salmon and haddock gratin. i wish i could recall the meal in more detail, but the ambience subverted my efforts to do so. we lingered in that dining room a long time, i think largely because it was so comfortable, conducive to finishing fragmented conversations, and starting new ones, synapses firing in all directions. or could it be that i just didn't want this day to end? perhaps.
crawling into the 300-count sheets that night, i tried to write down what we'd done so far. it was my first attempt at that, and not too successful. what i realized was this incredible sense of fullness, and that there really was no way to properly document a return to one's metaphysical and genealogical origins - no way to depict the stirrings in the soul that frequently brought with them unmitigaged lachrymose joy.
still, i persist in the attempt.
i want to tell about this trail to calgary bay and the wild blackberries we ate along the way, the wall of fuschia in full bloom, the handcarved birds in the trees. i would like somehow to depict the dark green forest against which was set this wide crescent beach of white sand, but i get concerned this will begin to sound like a travelogue and not the odyssey it was. ahwell. nothing to be done.
the expanse of white sand, framed by tall beach grass on the approach, and outcroppings of rock at the shore, provided a compelling foreground to the sky, now full of pre-sunset drama with colours and clouds performing like cello and orchestra, singing farewell to the sun again. you can't help thinking how many thousand million days like this one have taken their leave, only to return in a few hours all wet with hello. it's impossible to think of it as ever stopping, even with death, especially when the darkest starless most stormy night is still supplanted by morning.
on the way to calgary, we stopped at dervaig to see the mull little theatre, which lindsay had often talked of visiting. we had just missed their last performance by days, and now the theatre was closed as such, with plans to re-build another, larger facility. the end of an era. oh but what a lovely little wooden structure it is. impressive in its simplicity, though i neglected to photograph it (why is that?), this building reminded me of the something original i had first envisioned when embarking on things theatrical, almost out of ancient greece, evocative and singular, magical and real. no wonder i couldn’t photograph it.
we checked into the most elegant hotel i have yet to visit, with its whitewashed walls, its cozy rooms and hallways and the sudden delight of a small detail like a handcrafted light fixture or candlestick, or a pine-paneled shower that brings in the whole outdoors, much the same way the deep window sills and french windows bring the mull sky right into the room.
06 October 2006
off we went, then, for tobermory, this wee seaside town with a 100-year-old clock in the town square, next to a cart selling the most delicious chips to be had. they were potatoes, folks. but getting there – getting there required some of the most skilled driving and concentration imaginable. bad enough driving on the wrong side of the road all the time, but on mull, there is very little two-lane traffic. instead, one lane suffices, with intermittent “passing places” – the rule being - well, there are no rules, other than heaps of courtesy from both sides in order to avoid crashing into each other, with lots of waving when finally the maneuver succeeds, and no crash occurs. lindsay was spectacular in all respects (she has a fabulous wave, too), especially considering how often these little turn-outs were required.
so. tobermory at last and a lovely wander around the wee bay. it was all quite enchanted, including a museum hosted by an older, wiser resident, gracious and knowledgeable. even there among the geological and the military, i found something on the clan maclean, which seemed a kind of welcome. i also found a pair of wellies in tobermory, filling such a void in my wardrobe that i continued to wear them the whole of our time on mull.
the position of this wee community beside the bay, with its fishing boats and piers, naturally recalled my childhood in newport. in fact, the topography of mull, to a large extent, mirrors familiar stretches of the oregon coast, but unspoiled and wild, sans billboards and grand tourist-targeted enterprise. plus of course it’s an island, so there’s lots and lots of coastline.
mussels & whisky
in oban, we queued up for the ferry, then took a walk along the waterfront looking for coffee. we found much more than coffee: freshly smoked mussels, plump and delicious – not in the shell! – and drizzled some tangy sauces to have with our coffee while we waited for the ferry, which did in fact appear, majestically, coming round the point.
on the top deck of the ferry there were plenty of chairs and not many people. the sky was magnificent all day, telling a thousand stories with clouds breaking up, then re-forming and moving on until one of those breaks occurs, sending a shaft of light cascading to earth. usually such a sight evoked for me the day my father was buried. this time, though, two distinct shafts of light came out of the thunderhead onto the sheen of the water, and i couldn’t help thinking not only of fred, but also of velma.
the odyssey begins
i went to scotland to plant a rowan tree on the isle of mull in memory of my mother, who passed away in january. when i first had this idea, i pictured a lilac tree any old place on mull. however, lindsay, a dear friend in glasgow, contacted the tourist board there, which led to duart castle, the seat of the clan maclean. and thus it began. begins.
05 October 2006
at life's defining moments, it becomes necessary to sort through them, like the contents of a long-neglected trunk in the attic which, all that time, held essential clues to the present. such was the leitmotif of a recent trip to the isle of mull, where my gloom was overtaken by scotland's luminous, ever-changing skies.