panting for heaven

panting

The sacred harp is your voice.

When there were no instruments or skilled vocalists or ready musicians
to accompany our voices in songs of praise, which happened often enough
in poor, rural places in the early days of America, music was created simply
with voices varied in pitch and harmony.

FASOLAers

harp hymnal

So it happened that my friends Paul and Laura invited me to join them for a weekend in the Bethlehem Valley–one of my favorite off-the-grid places near the Missouri River during the FASOLA singing this spring. The event is held annually at St. John’s, a tiny white-steepled cupcake of an old church on a tall-treed, slat-fenced curve of Missouri Highway 94. “You’ve got to see this, you’re going to love it . . . bring your camera,” Laura enticed.  I never need much of an excuse, in fact, I usually invite myself to the vineyard where they live in a perfect valley between hillsides bunched with Cynthiana grapes.  My car rockets around the hills and I leave the world behind me.

steepled
This time, the FASOLA singers transported me further still.

FASOLA (fa…so…la) is also known as Shape Note singing.  ” This is a very old method of sight-reading music for those who don’t understand how to read music. The relation of pitches to each other is found by using the scale fa sol la fa sol la mi (shapes are shown above in the page header) which is similar to the one we are all familiar with from the film, The Sound of Music, do re me fa sol la ti, except that the first three notes, “do re me” are replaced with “fa sol la” and the ti with mi. Although there are some secular songs written in the shape note style, mostly all the songs are hymns.  A singer does not need to adhere to any religion to sing these hymns, though it can be more moving for a singer if the words have meaning for them.” (I ganked this explanation from http://fasolamichigan.org/)

marking time

The Shape-Note singers all mark time with their fingers or hands metronoming not side-to-side but up and down, up and down.  And they sing LOUD. There’s a sign-up sheet in the back where you can volunteer to lead the next song . . . because everyone can do this, remember?  By “everyone” I don’t mean Paul, Laura or me, of course. We declined several vigorous attempts to recruit us into the direct vocal experience.  Paul and I just smiled and did that thing people with cameras do—we acted like we were on some sort of important commission from the Pope or National Geographic and fidgeted with the equipment.  In fact, we moved straightaway up to the balcony where the best angles were waiting. I really don’t know how Laura escaped the limelight.  She just did her level best to stay under their radar in the back pew, projecting her inner Goody Moeller.  I smiled down on her from on high–Paul chose wisely with this girl.  I’ve been vetting the candidates since his bachelor days.  I would know.

boy in churchhat

FASOLA enthusiasts at this conference included some people who seemed to, ummm, not get out much….for like these last 60 years or more they’ve mainly moved between the chicken coop and the kitchen.  I imagined the FASOLA sing-in as the highlight of their year, and I’d be very concerned about giving offense with this presupposition if I thought any of them had access to the internet and were likely to see my blog.  But I’m not even sure they’ve got access to electricity. They are not Mennonite (I asked) so the mystery of their early 20th Century look and strong German names remains unresolved . . . unknown and thoroughly, entirely delightful to me.

bearded
shoez

My friend Paul is a well-equipped, state-of-the-art professional photographer and artist, so my lensvy (the envy of another’s lenses) goes into hyper-drive when I’m at the studio he shares with Laura, who is also an artist.  They’re both incredibly talented, witty, beautiful and if I didn’t love them oceans of long-time, I’d probably hate them anew for every amazing thing they manage to be gifted at–did I mention they are also foodies as well as vintners?

hairdo

Plus, Paul lets me use all of his equipment, his cameras and lenses–anything I want. He shows me ways to do things, gives me advice like “always turn around and see the shot you’re missing behind you.” He hands me a lens or filter like a scrub nurse—before I’ve asked for it because he knows what I need more than I do. And he’s a most willing mule carrying around all this stuff I don’t know the names for just to make me happy.

kissing the baby

Paul has been profoundly good at our friendship for well over 25 years now. When he reads this he will mutter uncomfortably and make a smartass remark to Laura to cover his embarrassment (wait for it wait for it… yup).

Thank you for everything, Pauly-wog . . . for being there for me every single time.

Your calm voice is a sacred harp.

watching

Words & Pictures © Leeanne Seaver July ‘12

Sisu . . . to do what must be done

Lac Superiore

It is a Finnish word that cannot be translated directly into English, but we understand the concept of Sisu.  It means having the courage to do what must be done.  There’s nothing exclusively Finnish about that assignation, still I respect that they have a word for it . . . that this concept can even be reduced to a single word.

A lot of Fins, Franks, and Scots settled in Northern Michigan, up at the Sault (pronounced Soo) and points west across the Upper Peninsula (UP).  Plenty of them settled in the Lower Peninsula, below the Mackinac Bridge, where they mined and logged and bore sturdy children who had to grow up too fast.

Folks in the UP refer to anybody living below the bridge as a “troll.” I am not Finnish, I’m Scottish-American; but I am a troll, born and bred, and like most people from this rust-belted, snowblinding place, I am familiar with Sisu.

Michigan

Michigan is shaped like a mitten, easily recognizable on the map of the United States. We natives just hold up our right hand to locate and navigate ourselves (and to annoy the non-natives). My great-grandfathers and uncles of that hardy era built the sand road around the tip of the Thumb of Michigan. They cleared a lot of the land up that way when they homesteaded. They were Clan Ross folk from Cromarty on the Black Isle, and the McGeachys from the Kintyre Peninsula of Scotland by way of Ontario, Canada.

For the record, McGeachy is pronounced McGathy—it’s a Gaelic thing. In my ancestry are names so Gaelic and vowel-less that I sometimes use them in an internet password because they already look encrypted.  At any rate, the family made it to Michigan before the Civil War, which was a long time ago, relative to U.S. history. As such, I can’t explain how—several generations later—my Grandpa Ross seemed to have a little bit of a Scottish brogue. He would say “wee” instead of “little” when describing a small thing. He must have picked it up from his grandparents, although he himself was born August 13, 1900, right there in a log cabin in Huron County that has been twice replaced by larger frame houses on the homestead.

White Fish Bay

So my family has been in America a long, long time, some of them were here during Colonial times. One of my great-great grandfathers from Port Austin marched with William Tecumseh Sherman from Atlanta to the sea. He was wounded and limped badly ever after, walking with the help of an elaborately decorated cane, I’ve been told. I wonder what happened to that cane. I don’t have it, but I still have the story because I am the Seanachie of this generation.

The Seanachie is the person who keeps the family stories. I was set aside for this duty as a child by my paternal Grandfather Gillespie (also Scottish; he said our name derives from gillie, the Gaelic word for servant, and Spey, for the River Spey. I’ve no idea if this is actually true . . . there is no one alive to dispute it). When everybody was out playing lawn darts during family gatherings, I was seated in my grandpa’s study for the newest installment of family history. I was miserable about this back then, but am grateful to have this genealogy today. And I am constantly shocked by people who don’t even know their own mother’s maiden name. Geez, I can tell you the maiden name of my fifth great grandmother (on both sides of my family); and I know how her name became Anglicized to “Mustarde” but that’s another story.

to Bee

In the summertime, it’s very hard to imagine northern Michigan’s sugar-beeted, evergreened, pine-strawed landscape as the frozen white cerement it becomes shortly after Thanksgiving. That feels far away in the campfired, star-smothered nightscape of August . . . my toes circling acorn cups in sugar sand dimpled by the rain. It’s a forestful place.

Honestly, I love Michigan frozen or flowing in all seasons, although I’ll admit that early spring is endurable only for the promise of lilacs. My muse gestates and the Great Lakes are amniotic. I can feel the heartbeat of the stories I’m holding inside me.

me

There is something so reassuring about the land here, and the water . . . the plentitude of flora and fauna. It’s good to feel life going on about its business, taking happiness and sadness in stride. There has been amplitude of both, but the sad stories still get told—the baby brother who went missing one bleak, frigid day of winter over 125 years ago—this is where that happened, to my family in this place.

I try to imagine my great grandmother, Catherine, who was just a girl then . . . her frantic siblings—all 11 of them searching—one no doubt had been in charge of this toddler. Their anxious father and desperate mother—my great, great grandmother—her name was Ladesna Ann Ross, nee Schell. She was actually German, not Scottish, and her father was killed by Indians at Schell’s Bush which later became Herkimer, New York. That was before the American Revolution. Some stories do not have a happy ending. This is how we learn Sisu.

lighthouse

Today, the land that was my ancestors is still in the Ross family; at least some of it is, although my Rosses have a lot of other names now. But we’re all drawn to the old homestead under a sailcloth horizon that stretches over rows and rows of navy beans edged with rock piles and copses marking the end of one farm, and the beginning of another. These fields are older than most of the trees now. They square off in neat 40 acre parcels, quilting the spans, and then diffusing into the forest that grows right out to the Huron waterline if you let it. Of course, we never owned that land because “you can’t farm a beach.”

shorelining

In all seasons, the seagulls coast the cotton-clouded skies from Port Austin to the Saginaw Bay, as they always have. Their ancestors no doubt saw the whole thing. Somewhere in one of the deep ditches along Etzler Road, little Donald McGeachy’s frozen body was found by Albert Hokkanen, the neighbor boy whose parents still spoke Finnish. An anguish that could not be born was added to the family lore. It was a very long time ago, but several generations later I still feel that story hanging in a low place of my heart like a cold fog.

Somehow life went on . . . glacial. Time pried the grief slowly from another day, a month, and then a year, and another. But a wee quiet thing with no voice at all like an unmatched sock . . . an empty swing or the wind in sotto voce  . . . he was lost and we couldn’t find him. Life would break apart again.

graves

It broke and mended, broke and broke but mended because it had to . . . there was no choice. We do what must be done. Life goes on, says the wave to the shore . . . the sand to the rock. You carry the sad stories in your heart carefully like shards of glass. You hold up your right hand, bleeding but alive . . . now navigate. This is Sisu.

leap

© words & pictures by Leeanne Seaver 8/2012 Photos taken in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

Y’er Among Yer ‘Ooon, Lass

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My Highlands Journal, October 2013

There is something about being Scottish that claims you. It calls your name across an ocean of years until you hear it above the noise of all the other nationalities that went into making you a fourth generation American currently living somewhere in the midwest. By “you,” I mean “me,” but it is understood that most of us with ancestors from Scotland inhabit a Celtic cosmos.

My longing to return to the land my Grandfathers Ross and Gillespie called home (even though neither were born there) was filled, however temporarily, with a trip to the Black Isle in the fall of 2013, a season I’d not seen before in the Highlands.

I went alone except for my camera and Hester, Jezebel and Ophelia (my lenses) who are great companions. They were eager to see this place my heart had been beating about before we even landed in Edinburgh. I was taking pictures before I’d even left US shores, and so my Scottish journal officially began in Newark.

redeye outta newark
Redeye Outta Newark to Edinburgh
October 20th

I was looking out the window from my seat over the airplane wing. The lights of Manhattan were raked by lift-off, the colors so incredible I grabbed my camera from under the seat and started snapping even as my seatmates rolled their eyes at me. I could read their thought-clouds loud and clear: oh brother, here we go, a greenhorn over the pond.

Actually, this was not my first trip to Scotland and I travel abroad often enough to have mastered the transatlantic without even checking a bag. My seat was paid for with frequent flier miles, and the only tattoo I’m likely to ever get is a passport stamp with the destination left open. But I digress.

When we finally landed in Edinburgh, I forgot to be tired. I was back “home” in one of the places in the world that my soul knows.

one george street

One George Street, Cromarty October 21st

Lachy the fishmonger stops every Tuesday morning to see to all the fresh seafood needs Judy could possibly have at the house on George Street, Cromarty.

My hosts on the Black Isle are Peter and Judy Harvey. I’ve known Peter since 1999 thanks to an on-line geneology search that put me in contact with this retired barrister who had a cottage in Cromarty to let. We didn’t meet in person until June 2010, but have stayed in close touch.

I now think of the Harveys as my “muttuls” (that’s Cromarty fisher dialect for “dear ones or family”). They met me in Inverness. Our smiles were too big to use our mouths for words.

“Let’s get you home,” Judy said, which pleased me no end. We headed straight north over the bridge across the Moray Firth then northeasterly to the very tip of the Eilean Dubh (the Black Isle) where the ancient fishing village of Cromarty stands like a time capsule to the late 18th century. That’s because the inland railroad was completed about that time and the shipping business dried up for this little village at the end tip of the peninsula where the Cromarty Firth and Moray Firth are sieved between the huge rock precipices known as the Cromarty Sutors.

My ancestors Ross, Munro and Mustard are from Cromarty. They would have known the Harvey’s 200-plus year old house on George Street where I’d be staying.

After a restorative cup of tea, I declined a nap and was ready to stretch my legs and my point my lenses around “toon”.

the BBC fisherman

Catching Gold October 21st

I walked down to the wharf right at the crespuscular moment of dayset and serendipity found me a willing subject to pose with the golden sky. His name was Gareth and he was an engineer for the BBC with the enviable task of monitoring and maintaining its broadcast towers in the remotest parts of the United Kingdom. It was his first visit to Cromarty and he pronounced it lovely, even if it lacked an abundance of hungry fish.

In Which I Fall in Love with a Highland Sutor34
The North Sutor at Dawn

If the Highlands had biceps, they would be the Cromarty Sutors. Tall, dark and rugged, the Sutors guard the entrance to the Firth and protect this wee fishing village from being ravished by the North Sea.

Naturally, we need to know if they’re from a good family, so we Google them:

“The Sutors stand guard over the firth, and many stories have been told about them. Sutor is the Scots word for shoemaker, and one story tells of two giant shoemakers, the Sutors, who used the two cliffs as their workbenches, and tossed their tools to and fro between one another?” http://www.secretscotland.org.uk/index.php/Secrets/SutorsOfCromarty

These two massive rock precipices muscle up the land where the deep harbor waters of the Cromarty Firth narrow to meet the Moray Firth as it opens into the North Sea. It’s a job that deserves a better metaphor than sutors but they’ve been doing their thing very effectively for eons so who am I to say?

Inside the bay, the quiet is surreal. I sleep in very late the next morning. From a lambswool slumber, I finally awoke at the insistence of the seagulls.

Cromarty cottages

The South Sutor Gets All the Attention October 22nd

…so I make him wait there in the background while I concentrate on clothespins.

pinned

Naturally, you’re expected to photograph the two-shot of the Sutors, but I resisted this until I found a way to do it with some originality.

Mostly, I was feeling the pressure to do so before Thursday evening when I was invited to the Cromarty Camera Club for an evening of wine and paralytic intimidation.

Eventually, Hester choose a view from the end of Shore Street that takes the lovely walking path and sheep meadow into consideration.

south sutor walk
Whatever the view lacked in originality, it certainly made up for in beauty.

Actually, this trip to Eilean Dubh was by invitation of the Black Isle Writer’s Group to give a workshop on ghostwriting. I have my “agent” Judy Harvey to thank for that…that woman has missed her calling. She is a publicist at heart with a heart of gold. What a combination!

Judy Harvey 78

“I dinna ker ‘ow ‘ard ye try, ye kanna burn a cow” October 22nd

I met with 20 writers whose experience ranged from beginner to much-published author. One exercise we did required an on-the-spot reflection or short story that could be read aloud in a minute or less.

Leeanne speaking to the Black Isle Writersworkshopping

The brevity was supposed to ensure time for everybody to participate in sharing what they’d written. Well, everyone’s story went a wee bit long, but in truth, they didn’t go nearly long enough. Everyone wrote so incredibly well…I didn’t want it to end. One woman’s brogue was so strong I couldn’t quite understand her, but when the others laughed, I laughed, too, so no one was the wiser (I hope). She seemed pleased with herself, so I praised her genuinely if generically.

The Black Isle Writers are an incredibly talented group. Every one of them demonstrated such a unique sense of “voice” and creativity. If I lived here, I would set up coffees every single morning and teas every afternoon to get to know them better and share ideas and thoughts.

village green

The roses bloom late into the fall and the grass on the village green remains verdant until winter finally wins out over the long autumn on the Black Isle.

roses in october

One of my favorite stories was one Peter told me over dinner… about how to speed up the decomposition of a late cow. In the local dialect, they’re known as “heilin’ coos.”

Why he needed to do so was also a good story from his WWII days, which makes me wonder why Peter doesn’t join the Writer’s Group himself…he’s a wonderful Seanachie.

Everyone’s contribution to the Writer’s Workshop was utterly original and worthy. I wish I could share them all with you, but “Ah wudna ken artil start…” (I wouldn’t know where to start.)

fencerow

Damackie at Dayset October 24th

After the writing workshop, Peter, Judy and I were invited to tea by a “damackie” named Euphemia who lived in Fortrose near Avoch (pronounced AKKKKK with something wet happening in the back of your throat between the W and the rolling K). “Effie” spoke Gaelic until she was five, and was still fluent.

On the Isle of Lewis, off the western coast of Scotland, there wasn’t a lot of exposure to English 92 years ago where she was born in Breacleit. Her cousins came to visit from the mainland during the high holidays, bringing along a new language, so I imagine she learned Christmas words in English first.

Effie grew up in a crofter’s cottage with her parents and seven sisters. Her grandparents lived nearby. She speaks with a sharp clip of “eh” opening, intersecting and closing her sentences.

Euphemia Mcintyre

Effie and her Aga

Lace curtains edge the wavy glass windows of the formal sitting room where we drank our tea in proper china cups. It grew dark as we talked on and on about her childhood spent playing on the Callanish Stones, sweating the apples at this time of year so they could be wrapped in newspaper and stored under the hay for the winter.

There was lots of hard work to be done, even for the children, but breaks would be taken for oatcakes spread with crowdie.

In case you were wondering, this is Effie’s recipe for crowdie:

After churning, you separate the butter from milk with paddles,eh, then you take what curds are left in the whey and work them by hand with some butter and seasoning as you like, eh saltern and peppern probly, into a spread.

It’s good on bread or oatcakes or biscuits as you please.

32 

There’s a Word for Grass Growing  Where It Can’t October 25th

…no doubt, in Gaelic.

How could there not be considering there is even a word for “a fish that has been bitten and sucked by another,” which is “bleyan.”

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A Ferry Tale October 25th

It’s hard to describe the feeling I get here…  knowing this is where some of my ancestors boarded a ship and left Scotland for North America five generations ago.

I know their names and a few of their stories. Some of them lived on Kirk Street (now Church Street) and others were out at Meikle Farness, a small cluster of crofter cottages where Davidston is today.

Of course, lots of them didn’t leave. Their descendants share these names and look familiar to me (I don’t even care if it’s only my imagination).

10

Wrapped in Cromarty Arms: Bingo Night at the Pub October 25th

On Wednesday night, Judy introduced me as a prodigal “Ross” to the Bingo crowd at the local pub, the Cromarty Arms. “Now yer among yer’oon,” said Nora, smiling big at me. Virtually everyone there had cards and blotters.

After a lot of good natured ribbing, mostly of the caller—also a Ross—who defended his shiny bald head with “nothing this grrreat shud eever be covered oop”—the game began. Judy and Nora kept an eye on my paper to see if I was keeping up.

I hadn’t played Bingo since pigtails, but how hard could it be? Once I got used to the caller’s cadence and descriptive plays on words, I got the rhythm. I even won ten pounds for a full house, after which Judy and Nora started paying closer attention to their own cards.

My favorite call was (hear the brogue): LEGS: ELEVEN…to which everyone wolf-whistled in unison and the caller replied, “thaunk’yew.” This happened each and every time 11 was called. Other calls were “unlucky for some: 13,” “Kelly’s Eye: 1,” “pair of ducks: 22,” “either way up: 69,” and “Downing Street: number 10.” There must have been a good story for “21: key in the door,” but I never heard it.

6

The “Croms” (locals who’ve been here for generations) play every Wednesday night at the pub. They fit this in around lots of other things going on nearly every night of the week.

I’ve never seen a closer knit, more socially engaged community. For example, there must have been 30 people at the Cromarty Camera Club meeting the next night in the Village Hall. Any regular who’s missing is explained by someone who knows why, and if no one knows why, then another one puts on his hat and scarf and goes to find out.

They take care of each other here. I wonder how anyone could leave this…either 140 years ago or next Tuesday?

40

“Slooch Moochd” is Cromarty Fisher Dialect for the “pig alley” that angles through north edge of town and harkens to a time when an alley for pig transport was needed and everyone living there knew what the words meant. “Northern North A” is the dialect unique to this Cromarty.

Ma Thrapple’s Hewt* October 26th

I have just finished writing the last o’me postcards home, all in Cromarty’s “North Northern A” dialect which was last spoken fluently by nonagenarian Bobby Hogg who died in October 2012. The whole toon closed down on the day of his funeral and carried his casket through the streets to the cemetery where they buried more than just a man.

Fortrose Cathedral
The ruins of the Fortrose Cathedral

I anticipate the recipients back in the states to comprehend maybe one or two words in each sentence unless they avail themselves of a copy of “Dualchainnt Lasgaeirean Chrombaidh” for translation (I did).

On a lighter note, Peter and Judy hosted a cocktail party in my honor on Friday night. The more Bohemian set of Croms were in attendance and we had the best time.

Theo wrote a play in honor of the occasion and performed it with Jeremy to a delighted and slightly inebriated group of maybe 30 who had dressed appropriately. The Croms were not exactly sure what would be appropriate, dresswise, since their context for American cocktail parties was The Great Gatsby. The phone rang several times throughout the day with inquiries about this, so Judy assured them that cheroots were not in order.

I myself hadn’t really packed for a fancy party, so I fished through Peter’s closet and found a stiff-collared tuxedo shirt he said I could borrow. This is what I mean by “muttals.”

*my throat is cut (in useage, this intensifies the expression “please, for the love of god, I need a cup of tea in the worst way”*)

*for the record, there is no cup of tea in the world that would to fix my head the morning after said cocktail party during which I gaen clean tae the tootrach and am now fyown and skilbygelk.

cheerful

Here I am in the tux-shirt borrowed from Peter’s closet raising a glass with Jeremy and David… Slàinte

23

Hif thoo’ll walk wi’me, bring yer brelly October 27th

Most days I’d take at least two walks even if there was a “steeper” (heavy drenching rain) since Peter also loaned me good waterproof boots to wear. Whilst I was ‘avn tea in the afternoon at Lettoch in North Kessock with Richenda and Douglas in their kitchen warmed by an old Aga, the drizzle drained the color out of the sky until it went entirely dark out.

up the Brae

Lettoch is a graciously unfussy old country house of the sort with wee bells above each door from back in the days when there were actually servants to respond. On the wall in the drawing room is a map circa 1748 that shows the house was in existence even back in the days of Culloden . . . if these walls could only talk.

Richenda told me her daughter once tried to recite a poem she’d written in Gaelic back in school, but was struggling with the pronunciation. So Richenda dialed up an acquaintance who was a native speaker originally from Wales. He retorted without an ounce of remorse, “Madam, Gaelic comes from the heart, not from a parrot,” and he refused to help.

While on that topic, dinna worry aboot mye accent…it’ll shorly be extinguished as soon as I git ‘om by my oon dooter Makena with that look a’hers that cud singe yer ai’brows.

 Peter Harvey and his cheese straws

Me Own Muttuls October 27th

Peter taught me to make cheese straws from his mother’s recipe. They’re his specialty—much requested for every Harvey party and gathering.

He patiently fielded my questions about what it was like to be at Normandy on D-Day as he kneaded the cracker crumbs and cheese into the flour by hand. He’s full of so many good stories, and like every good seanachie (keeper of the stories), I was happy to sit and listen.

Peter and me

Meanwhile, Judy was lining up all these wonderful people to meet and incredible things to do, which made me feel like a royal with a handler. I can’t find even a rough articulation for my feelings about leaving the Highlands of Scotland and my muttuls in just a few more days. I am coomin’oop with noothun.

For Reals October 27th

This was the only day I had a car (loaned from Peter & Judy). I nearly ran off the road when I saw this in front of me, and not because I was driving from the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the road either…it was incredibly, painterly beautiful. This is an actual place, not a photo-shopped dream.

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Do the Scots still see how beautiful their homeland is?

A Fancy on a Flattie October 28th

I was walking up George Street in the foggy quiet of early morning…the air smelled of sea and peat smoke. The portal between that world and the next was cued by a wee bell jingling on the door when I walked into the yeast-risen warmth of the Cromarty Bakery. The shelves were banked with breads and rolls and oatcakes. There were savory scotch pies and raisiny rock buns and dainty Empire cakes and neat little jam tarts and and and and and…

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It’s entirely acceptable and very polite to talk with your eyes full here. A flattered and accommodating Nora (my Bingo buddy who works here) answered a question I didn’t even think to ask, “how ‘boot after 2200, ye ken come back to see the elves (my term, not hers…she calls them “guys”) when they’re making all this magic?”

Older than Celsius October 27th

On Sunday night, I waited until late, then slipped down the narrow alley between the buildings and knocked on the bakery door. No response. So after a wee while, I just pushed it open and entered the golden glow of the kitchen.

David and Ian were doing their nightly relay between tables, stacking racks, sinks, and ovens.

74 Sutor then Train, last Crom day 059

They seemed only mildly surprised to see me…and didn’t slow their pace one bit.

I played the “Nora said I could” card and they let me have anything my lenses could lick.

I never did to get David to smile. Actually, I did ask him if he’d like to smile for one of the more posed shots they may use for their website, and he said, “I am smiling.”

With a large paddle he pushed pans of dough into the vast, ancient-looking oven, then pulled other trays out and flipped the hot bread onto the table for sorting.

I asked all kinds of questions including the temperature he kept the ovens. He told me in Fahrenheit degrees because he was “too old for Celsius” having grown up before the UK converted to the metric system.

Every night but Saturday, the guys work until 5am getting the baked goods ready for the Cromarty Bakery as well as the one David and his wife own over in Dingwall.

So I got a wee primer on Scottish baking, and we talked about lots of other things.

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I figured I’d better go before someone had to start looking at his watch. David took some steak and kidney pies out of the oven and said I should take a few with me. After a very disingenuous effort to decline his offer, I picked one up and stifled a shriek…it was hot as an ingot. I tossed it to my other hand until the epidermis there was also burned off, then back to finish off the subdermal layers of skin remaining the other palm…and so forth.

David’s mouth lifted on one side in a half grin…they’re meant to be eaten, not juggled, gurrrl.

The Clootie Well October 29th

There was just one more thing we would fit in before the trip back down to Edinburgh where we would enjoy a lovely tea at the Caledonian Hotel with Seonaid, another Scottish friend of mine.

here hear

Richenda had encouraged me to visit the Clootie Well near Munlochy. Judy agreed, so we stopped and took in this magical place.wishet

According to wikipedia, “In Scotland, near the villages of North Kessock, Munlochy and Tore one mile west of Munlochy on the A832, is a clootie well at an ancient spring dedicated to Saint Curidan (or Curitan), where rags are still hung on the surrounding bushes and trees. Here the well was once thought to have had the power to cure sick children who were left there overnight. Craigie Well at Avoch on the Black Isle has both offerings of coins and clooties. Rags, wool and human hair were also used as charms against sorcery, and as tokens of penance or fulfilment of a vow.”

Well, I wished for things to come true that I wouldn’t have had the nerve to put into an actual prayer. I love the feeling I got that there weren’t really any “rules” when it came to what you were asking of the Clootie Well.

Then I tied my sock around the limb of a tree and my voiceless desire joined a thousand echoes of hope hanging from every bow of every tree.

And when I come back to Eilean Dubh again, it’ll have come true in the most wonderful way.

the Clootie Well

Maybe it already has.