Whenever I get that old travel itch, I scratch it gently by looking at photos of some of our past adventures. We spent two weeks each year, usually in September, on the Isle of Arran in Scotland, from 1998 to 2004. The main town, Broddick, has a pretty little post office. I adore the hanging flowers and the red door.
The first time I saw these adorable “hairy coos” in 1998, I just stood and stared with a silly grin. I am 5 feet 4 1/2 inches tall, so you can see these highland cattle are diminutive — just the right size for a small island. They don’t get in a hurry, especially when standing in the middle of the road.
The view from the Adrossan to Broddick ferry, as the Island of Arran on the west coast of Scotland comes into view. It was our first visit. We would return six more times. I miss it, still.
Most of the stories remain in rough note journal form, although a few did make it into blog posts at Switched At Birth (archived Isle of Arran, Scotland)
Helpful word compost for future narratives.
Buck and I bundled up for a woods walk yesterday. Brilliant sunshine, paper cut wind, and temperatures right at freezing in the mid-afternoon. When we lived in the Smoky Mountains near Asheville for a few years, I loved putting on a turtleneck, jeans, two pairs of socks, hiking boots, and a heavy hoodie to go hike the mountains. But now that we're back in flatland Florida, I expect my winters to go a certain way, and found myself kicking a pine cone as we walked down the fire line and muttering: papaya, avocado, mango, tank top, shorts.
"What did you say?" Buck said.
"Papaya, avocado, mango, tank top, shorts, Costa Rica, banana daiquiri."
"Did you say Costa Rica?"
"What about the monkeys?"
"Oh, man, I forgot. So, when do you think the weather's going to warm up?"
Meanwhile, back at the house, I've been writing but not blogging, taking a kick-butt online fiction class, pacing the floor, talking on the phone and reading. Pretty eclectic reading list:
Literary Nonfiction: Learning by Example by Patsy Sims
Anticancer: a New Way of Life by David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD
Acedia & Me: a Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life by Kathleen Norris
Hooked: write fiction that grabs readers at page one and never lets them go by Les Edgerton
2010 Writer's Market Deluxe Edition
2010 Guide to Literary Agents
Plot: elements of fiction writing by Ansen Dibell
Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell
Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard
River Teeth: a Journal of Nonfiction Narrative
Ninth Letter (friend Sarah Einstein has a seriously fine story in the Fall/Winter issue called "Mot." It is courageous and tender. It blew me away.)
All the Lavish in Common by Allan Peterson
Prick of the Spindle: Fiction Open Competition, No. 1, Fall 2009
The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen by Rebecca Katz with Mat Edelson
And I have been missing Scotland, especially the tiny Isle of Arran. I'll leave you with two photos from several years ago. One is Buck and me with our Arran friends, Charles and Lynn Fforde. The other is the tiny, sweet post office in the village of Broddick on Arran.
Metatarsalgia is a technical-sounding word for "sore foot." I have been foot sore and unable to play the piano for more than a month. Ha! That sounds pretty funny; creates an image of me playing the piano with my feet. Didn't know I could do that, did you? But actually, the right-foot operated sostenuto and sustain pedals have a role in many pieces and even sitting on the bench with a throbbing foot has been uncomfortable.
Until last night.
An early evening rain storm, its glassy sheets of water surrounding the house, created a cocoon of comfort for us, the sound a blessing of white noise. Even the satellite television system was out, reminding us of the joys of human conversation over dinner with no attendant original-thought-killing soundtrack.
I started with a piece already on the stand. It was Brahms, Der Gang zum Liebchen (The Watchful Lover), surely one of the most lovely, haunting melodies ever written. From there, I picked up what was closest: Jacques Brel's "If You Go Away," and Randy Newman's bluesy "Louisiana."
Darkness was complete in the room, except for the circle of light within which I sat. An old John Denver songbook peeked out from the pile. I pulled it out and started with the first one, then just kept on going. When I got to the softly rolling "Back Home Again," an unexpected surge of memories swamped my small tidal pool of song, and suddenly I was back in Scotland, our first trip to the Isle of Arran. The year was 1998.
Buck spent the week stalking red stags on Goatfell Mountain and its environs, while I explored the island on foot and by bus once I learned the schedules and became halfway confident in which coin was a ten pence, twenty pence or pound.
I remember waiting for a bus one rainy day in a high wind, swaddled in my green rain suit, hanging on to a light post for fear of blowing down the narrow road like some out of place tumbleweed.
At week's end, the guides, ghillies and other guests gathered for a party at Sannox House with many rounds of drinks, toasts and music. Some German fellows drank dark beer and shots of Jagermeister and later on scotch whiskey. One of the ghillies was a tall Englishman, Neil Fox, who told us he had once played guitar with Eric Clapton's band. Neil had brought along his karaoke machine and guitar. He knew most every song ever written by John Denver, plus all the words to every verse, and was thrilled to have two Americans in the house who were familiar with Denver. After a wee dram or two, we were induced to sing along. Before the night was out, we danced with abandon, oblivious to the two younger German guys snapping photos.
When Neil played "Back Home Again," Buck and his guide and good friend, Alan Ross, wrapped their arms about each other's shoulders and sang along, jocular at the beginning, but earnest and nearly sober at the end, singing Denver's timeless tale of love for home and family.
". . . and oh, the time that I can lay this tired old body down and feel your fingers feather soft upon me. . ."
On a later visit, a small group of us ended the evening standing in a small circle, glasses raised, as Alan's wife, Farquhar, sang The Flower of Scotland a capella in her clear, beautiful voice. It sounds ancient, with it's surprising atonal shifts, but was actually written in 1967 by Roy Williamson of the folk group, The Corries. My own nostalgia for that moment surprises me, and I suddenly long to be back on Arran.
Music opens the door to memory, puts me in direct and immediate connection with emotion, and down the rabbit hole I go!
Lemon Tree is an itty bitty store tucked into a corner of the Balmichael Visitor’s Center on the String Road between Machrie and Broddick on the Isle of Arran, Scotland. It is stuffed to the gills with unique toys, bodacious parasols, cuckoo clocks with an attitude, handmade dolls — and purses. Handbags made for children that make everyone smile. When we were on Arran in September, I bought several for some of my favorite little girls. One of them looks like a sheep (or maybe the horse in Toy Story). It has wobbly feet and brings instant smiles. Another has the face of a little blond-haired girl with corn cob curls and it is bursting with personality.
But I saved the best one for myself. Well, that is, I bought it for someone else. But I think I’ll keep it for awhile because I like it so much. A long while.
Kate Spade eat your heart out.
One month ago today Buck and I were on the Isle of Arran on the west coast of Scotland. One month ago today Hurricane Ivan came ashore in Pensacola and coastal Alabama.
That night, we had dinner guests at The Kennels, the self-catering home we rented during our stay. I prepared fresh salmon fillets, broiled with a mayonnaise, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, horseradish and fresh dill topping, served with a Greek style salad (mixed greens, tomatoes, feta cheese, kalamata olives in an olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and oregano dressing). I marinated some fresh raspberries in port and we spooned them over Arran Dairy vanilla ice cream for dessert, along with port in a glass and espresso.
Yeah. It was that good.
After our friends left for home, we turned on the TV while brushing our teeth and making preparations for sleep. Not to be. Even on this somewhat remote island, our friends (and landlords) had arranged for full satellite tv for us, and so as we clicked on to U.S. stations, we were riveted by the sudden awareness that Hurricane Ivan had neither weakened nor veered off in some other direction, but was about to make a direct hit on our home town.
We stayed up almost all night, watching. We were able to reach one set of our kids before the phone lines and power were zapped.
Ah, well, the rest is history, but I had intended to share a few photos with you from our trip, and just haven’t gotten to it until now.
One afternoon, we visited Creelers Seafood to see what fresh fish or shellfish they might have that I could prepare for our supper. The fish pickings were kind of slim, but I decided to go with a monk fish, a/k/a “poor man’s lobster.” The monk fish is thick, squat and kind of ugly, but the Creeler’s chef came out and, along with the fishmonger, we ended up in a four-way discussion. He showed me how to fillet the whole fish, cut it into small scallops, then saute it quickly with the scallops.
The completed dish was served over garlic mashed potatoes, with a few steamed fine green beans and a Greek-style salad (my obvious favorite and the Arran-made feta is fabulous). Here’s the “beauty shot.”
Click here if you would like to walk through the Brodick Castle Gardens or become acquainted with a very special young boy named Marcus, a native of Arran, or share our walk on the Goatfell Mountain path.
As for tonight, it is a cool, crisp evening in Pensacola with a shining crescent moon. The screened porch and house were “power washed” yesterday, fresh flowers out and the setting perfect for grill smoking a whole chicken.
Now, if I only had some raspberries and vanilla ice cream.