Friday, July 11, 2014

and she shall have music wherever she goes...

It's an old English nursery rhyme. Do you know it?

Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross,
To see a fine lady upon a white horse;
Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
And she shall have music wherever she goes!

After a period of much angst and difficult worries, I learned last night that on January 9th, if all goes well as now expected, I will be a grandmother to a baby girl. 

Throughout all these months, as my older daughter faced one issue after another and uncertainty ruled our days, I never let myself think ahead to that fact of grandparenthood. But as of last night, the skies have cleared and I am like a million others out there, anticipating with tremendous happiness the birth of a grandchild.

It is, therefore, by definition a lovely day and you'll forgive me if my travel notes stray toward this personal story a bit. It's inevitable.

It is a relaxed morning. I take it easy. Foodwise at well. In future weeks, when I return home, I will shake my head in wonder at my choices -- how could I pass on those eggs and Scottish salmon in favor of porridge?

(I suppose you'll notice, too, that I'm the last one down for breakfast!)

But I find that with every bliss, there is a need for a pause so that you can rest and refresh yourself for the next round. So it's porridge for me today. Island superstition has it that it should be stirred clockwise for good luck. Remember that! (On a high note, there's a dram waiting for me. And delicious Acacia honey for my toast.)

 Right after breakfast, I take a walk to town. Prodded by readers' comments I take another look at that woolen sweater in town and I think how perfect it will be as a cushion against the gift whisky bottles in my suitcase!

This is a chance for me to glance at island life as it plays itself out on a shopping morning. Where do the women of Islay socialize? Well now, it's obvious, isn't it?



...while the children wait patiently, as I once did, for their mothers to be done with the gossip or the pleasantries.



In the early afternoon, I again have a date with Becky the Welly Walker. She takes me this time to Oa. (Pronounced "Oh." That's it. Forget the "a" -- it's there for decoration.) It is the southernmost tip of the Isle of Islay. I'd walked towards it that drizzly day, but I didn't get even close to the drama of the Oa cliffs.

Is there drama? Follow along and we'll see.

As we get out of the car just on the peninsula coast, Becky eyes my hiking shoes and shakes her head.
Consider wearing Wellingtons. I have your size.
I'm dubious. People think you can't navigate a stream in my lightweight hikers? Ha! I've forged rivers and crossed wetlands! Still, I'll wear the Wellys. What the heck. Might be fun.

I look at the coastline that stretches before me. Beautiful but tame. An empty ribbon of gold.
That's a beach that stretches for some seven miles -- Becky says. Boring. We're not going there.


Instead, we go inland. Up the hills, toward an old farming settlement, in ruins now, evocative of an island life that surely has no parallel now.


Becky is a naturalist to the core and before long she is spotting and naming the flowers that dot the hills.




It really is quite different from the meadow we walked through two days back. I am reminded more of highland flora. No wonder: you will see a lot of heather in my photos. Much of it is not in bloom yet, but there are early varieties that are in their prime! In purple hue...



The sheep scatter when we approach them. Becky is amused that someone would still find sheep photogenic and delightful. They're part of Scotland's wallpaper. It would be the same as if someone took a fancy to photographing cornfields in Wisconsin: stop! another corn field! Let me take a photo!


And now we turn toward the coast again. So far, my wellys are comfy but unnecessary. I trample indulgently behind my intrepid guide.


The skies are overcast now and there is a breeze. That's a good thing. We're in mildly boggy terrain and I am told that the midges, horse flies and deer flies can be really wicked here in warm weather. They bother us not at all today.

And suddenly -- wow, here's a surprise! That tame coastline? Not so tame anymore! It's as if it cracks before my eyes and opens up to a deep ravine.


Becky and I share a horrible fear of precipices. We're exactly on the same page with approaching sheer drops and so she is very patient and gentle with showing me how best to view the grand waterfall.


And the crazily jutting out Soldier's Rock.


Or this: a pass over a fallen stone between two ridges, with a view toward an arch below. We navigate this slowly, so very slowly.


She spots a nest just below the ledge. Can I photograph it? Only by a small margin.


Islay has shown me her less gentle side today!

And now it's time to head back. Becky wants to do the coastal return. It's the dramatic denouement to a terrific hike through the hills of the Oa.

And it's boggy!


Oftentimes we sink into mud that would have made my hiking shoes scream in horror. There is no defined path. You make do with what the sheep have carved out for you.

Even as the flowers are so daintily lovely that they cause you to reach into your literary soul. Becky says she is reminded of the last line in Wuthering Heights when she sees these:


(I lingered round them, under that benign sky: watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells, listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass, and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.)

Yes, there is that other touching side of the last line, focusing not on who lies beneath that quiet earth or why they should be there, but on that which should now give them peace. Harebells, for example. As the moth flutters among the heath...


In the final stretch of the boggy and beautiful path -- no, sorry, there is no path, more like "terrain..."


...we come across cows. And calves. Blocking the narrow path by the cliff side. And we must push them away to gain access to the path. As Becky sweet talks the grumpy cow into moving, I am overcome with laughter.


Did you take a photo of that? -- she asks after.
Yes, but it wont be as good as the real thing!

The real thing: was it the walk? the flowers? the moments where, through back and forth stories of life's challenges you grow closer to a person, so that it's no longer just a walk? Even though it was a damn good walk?


It was to be a three hours and it grew to be nearly twice that. Becky is now in a hurry -- her daughter is playing violin in a distillery concert this evening, a performance I could not attend because of scheduled phone calls home.

Evening. I eat a salad with bits of fish at Bowmore's light menu eatery, "Taste."


And I go back to my room and make my phone call and think about what songs a little girl, a granddaughter might like to sing when she is just a wee age and the world still seems like it's full of delicate melodies and lullabies.


Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross...