Many of you know that I travelled to the Scottish Isle of Skye last spring to be immersed in the setting of my upcoming work. For those who may never have the priveledge, I thought I’d share a scene from Isles Of The Sea. For those who know a Scot, wonder no more at the connection he has to this place….
Frosted heather painted with an icy brush, the earth crunching softly beneath trodden boot. The sun had only been up half an hour and already they were scaling the steep incline of the northernmost slope.
“It’ll take us a further couple hours at this rate.” Graeme’s breath steamed from his mouth, cheek turned over his shoulder towards her.
“Don’t slow down on my account,” Tess replied.
“No worries.” He scrambled up a slippery embankment sending a small avalanche of pebbles down the hillside.
Tess launched her body up the slope in challenged, surpassing him by a good ten feet. Extending a hand to him she whispered, “No worries,” then jumbled on ahead, heart pounding in her ears as she fought to make way toward a narrow landing. Hoisting her body ever upward, she moved as though fleeing the boogeyman.
“Lord, Tess, if you fall–”
“Afraid I’m gonna beat you?” With that she pressed ever further, taking the next incline in five valiant strides only to be knocked to the ground by a panting Scotsman with an ax to grind.
“You best know it’s not safe to tease one of MacLeod blood.” He threw his arms about her tickling her midsection.
“Stop,” she laughed helplessly. Sending an elbow into his side.
He rolled off her sputtering for air.
“No fair using self defense techniques on a friend.”
“I thought we were mortal enemies.” She stumbled to her feet and ran across the grass plain, now thawing under the ministrations of a breakthrough sun.
Up a short rise and she came upon a squat little house the likes of which she’d seen only in photographs. Thatched roof tumbling over walls that appeared to discount the height they would require to sustain a normal sized individual, whitewash long since gone, the stone dwelling looked age old.
Tess stood, hands on hip, trying to catch her breath.
“It’s a wee crofter’s hut.” His voice was at her shoulder but she didn’t turn. “Auntie said to expect to find one taking the steep route.”
“Oh, so you admit to setting out to torture me?”
“You said you wanted to get here in good time and to actually find something.”
The mystical quality of the cottage set its spell. “Your Aunt Elsa thought this would be the place?”
“She did indeed. Seems she knew the gentleman who once occupied this dwelling. Had to have been back in the twenties as she said she was quite young at the time but distinctly remembers there being a herdsman that lived the isolate life up here.”
“And how does that pertain to finding a clue to your family’s past?” She allowed her gaze to lift now, scanning the slope. Woolen gray of cloud cover was pierced through a crack, a fanning of rays spearing downwards, the picture of God in his heaven.
“Lord this is beautiful.” All thought of their mission fleeing her conscience, she gasped.
“It is indeed.” The warmth of his body now radiated at her back. “And I never tire of it.”
“I can see why.” A chain of three sheep silhouetted against the horizon appeared as a paper cutout in motion, scurrying along the ridge beyond. Their right plump bodies sported thick fleece for the coming winter, legs a stubby curiosity looking none too sturdy under the burden.
“Do you come here often?”
“Not since I was a lad….sixteen perhaps.” His hands now at her shoulders, he turned her to face in the direction they had just climbed.
The breadth of his shoulders obscured the view for a moment. He shifted out of the way.A thousand feet below lay a carpet of green as far as the eye could see, broken only by Loch’s crystalline splendor winking in the sun. A steady breeze pressed past her, on it carried the fresh scrubbed scent of heather and loam, a pungent undertone of some distant fire burning in the hearth of a cottage unseen.
She took a few steps forward as though drawn by a magnet. If she’d dreamed of a vista in the most ardent scenario of childhood, what lay before her far surpassed. Lone far-flung square of white, topped with slate roof nestled in a blanket of greens so soft, not even a mare’s nose could compare. If she should reach out and touch it, the finest velvet would pale. The sky painted brush strokes of gray shades from charcoal to dove; the blue of their backdrop water colored with purples and pinks.
Her lungs filled with the crisp splendor of earth and sea. “How do you do it, Graeme?”
“Do what, darlin’?”
“Live in such a place without it killing you? If I looked upon the likes of that everyday I’d fear the rapture was at hand.”
He chuckled. “You sound like a Scot. We of this land never take it for granted, nor can we thrive long apart from it without it calling us back. Like an addict in need of his drug, we Scots must return to the homeland or suffer the mediocrity most poor bastards do when industrial society has separated them from their true roots.”
She slipped her hand into his. “That sounds like the mantra of a Native American.”
“We are of a kind.”
“And do you ever wish to live elsewhere?” She looked into his eyes as he gazed over the landscape before them.
“Not in this lifetime.” He lowered his eyes to connect with hers.
His eyes were filled with power, not that of men and their politics but of love of land, of being in just the right place and time as integral a part of the landscape as loch or gorse. The usual vitality of the man was amplified as though his seaside dwelling-self were a dry sponge sturdy and tough in resistance to the rigors of everyday life, but this Highlander self now filled with the visceral well each moment of such panorama provides.
They both looked out over the landscape in silence; the energy between them resonant with the hum of earth and sky and sea.