preparing

Two and a half weeks to go and we are just beginning to think about the more detailed practicalities of our trek to Santiago de Compostela. Even so, we’re not stressed. This journey has been all about “letting go”. At Christmas, we hadn’t found anyone to care for the dogs, the house, had no airplane tickets, no idea as to a route, hadn’t cleared the journey with Ella’s school, and when I started to feel stressed about it, a friend said, “this is the beginning of the pilgrimage Suzanne.” And when I decided what my friend had said was true, within a few weeks everything was in place.

The same friend is throwing a farewell party/NICU fundraiser kickoff, May 12th. Call me for an invite!

Otherwise, Ella and I will be on the local CBC radio station on Tuesday at 4:50 p.m. We will be interviewed by Jo-Ann Roberts, the local host of the evening program, All Points West. Listen online if you get a chance!

http://www.cbc.ca/allpointswest/index.html

For more info, click on the Trek to Santiago link on the right hand side of the page and it will take you to the trek page with maps etc.

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photos from uibhist a deas

the last evening on uibhist a deas, south uist, I left Tommy and Betty’s where I had shared a beautiful meal…Betty is an amazing cook…across the road, on a rise above us, four red tail stags stood and stared at us, then first one pair lowered their heads, clicked antlers, then the other pair followed suit….high on a ridge in the distance, a solitary stag stood, a red silhoutte against the soft white light of Hebridean dusk…a rare sight…I couldn’t help but wonder if it wasn’t the ancestors come to say goodbye…nothing would surprise me on uibhist a deas, nothing…

click on the following highlighted words to see a slide show from

twenty hours

of flight, a bouquet of roses, kisses, a drive through the night past an ocean, a lighthouse favoured, a forest, the smell of rain, salt and blossom and fresh, tall, fir, cedar, spruce, then finally, two black dogs their tails beating metronomes, and finally, ahhhh, my own bed………home.

last night

friends, visits, gifts, meals, and now the rain, I leave for Canada tomorrow… so much material, and now comes the hard work of writing….

thank you Scotland

saturday night

and the moon is a slice of lemon above Edinburgh castle, Venus is bright and sparkling, a diamond in the black tea of Scotland’s northern night, and the streets are filled with crazy people, who in their day-to-day existance are actually quite tame, and now are doing bizarre things…hen parties, stag parties, cougar parties, they scream and puke and fall off their high heels and wander the streets looking for who knows what…just another Saturday night in Edinburgh…and I walk the streets home safe, knowing they’ll not bother me, they probably don’t even see me, so immersed in their own little reality shows…

yesterday, I took a bus into the heart of Scotland and spent the day sitting in a leather chair, once sat in by many world famous poets, in front of a fire eating cake and apples and tea, and talking about poetry and writing, with the poet-in-residence of Brownsbank Cottage, Tom Bryan. Brownsbank Cottage, a traditional farmer’s but and ben, a tiny two room cottage that looks out on sheep fields, a small forest, the soft, Scottish hills, was home to Hugh MacDiarmid, one of Scotland’s beloved/hated poets of the 20th century. Tom was generous with time, talk and praise as I read to him from the Year/Quintet… encouraging me to continue with my work, then reading some of his own brilliant work.

An afternoon of words, then a drive across through the borders, the hills greening, the heather chocolate and inviting, filled with new life, and then a bus home to Edinburgh and a soft bed… fine, really fine… a good day.

wifi

at last, wifi in Edinburgh that doesn’t cost anything but a cup of coffee, a bowl of soup, or maybe a hunk of bread with cheese, artichoke hearts, pesto… black medicine… what a great name for a coffee bar… it’s what the first nations called coffee and the owners of the coffee bar have decorated it with slightly cheesy European ideas of what it means to be first nations… kind of fun… so this is where I’ll be eating and drinking at least once a day for the last five of my journey to Scotland.

the days pass so fast here, so filled with friends and walking about the city, remembering so much, wondering if we’ll ever return to live here again and for how long…

tomorrow I’m off to Kelso to meet with the poet Tom Bryan. He’s writer in residence at Brownsbank Cottage, the home of one of Scotland’s greatest 20th c. poets Hugh MacDiarmid. I’m going down to have a ‘blether’ about poetry with Tom and to see the cottage where the great one wrote. I’m particularly interested in Hugh MacDiarmid as I received an award in 2005 for my poetry from an organization MacDiarmid founded.

the best thing about Edinburgh is its acceptance, promotion of and valueing of writers and poets. It’s not uncommon to see poetry on billboards, whisky labels, on buses, ferries, in bars, pubs… To say I’m a poet here, is not an embarrassing thing and is never, ever followed up with the question, “what do you really do?”… it’s just a fact of life that the Scots love language of all kinds and value conversation, humour, ideas…this is what I missed most when back in Canada, and which makes the writing life so lonely…

and speaking of lonely, I went out and bought a Paco de Luca cd, put it on when I got home and all sense of being far away vanished…

Edinburgh, again

Seventeen hours of ferry, foot, train and cab, and I’m back at A.’s flat on Candlemaker Row in the medieval part of Edinburgh.  Last night as I climbed the stairs with approximately 60 lbs. of gear on my back, all I could do was think, “bed, bed, bed,” and so after a bath, some toast and peanut butter, a glass of milk, I folded into A’s & E’s delicious bed and fell asleep for a few hours.  From habit, I was awake before six and wondering how my fat babies are.

To say that I miss South Uist is an understatement.  South Uist really is a state of mind, which I know is a cliche, but true.  I remember sitting in a friend’s front room and chatting and thinking to myself, oh yes, I remember now what it is to have time to chat and not have a billion things on one’s mind.  There is a rythmn of life on Uist and if one lets oneself give in to it, it’s a really fine thing. 

Perhaps the most emblematic signal of Uist life, is the single lane highway that runs the length of the island.  With the exception of some of the villages, the road is narrow and single lane with pull offs.  Uist etiquette requires drivers to give way, to use a code of flashing the car’s lights, hand signals and nods in order to determine who goes first.  It’s easy to detect a ‘foreigner’, by their lack of courtesy or excessive speed.   I noticed the increasing number of off islanders since we were last on Uist in 2005.  Sadly, as with so many other places in the world, Uist is being infected with the dreaded ‘holiday home’   syndrome – one which pushes house prices out of reach of younger folk (who incidently are the island’s workforce), and which sees villages emptied on weekdays, or worse if the ‘holidayers’ come from England let’s say, then houses and villages are empty for all but a few weeks of the year. 

On the train from Oban, I met a man who owns a two hundred year old hunting lodge on Mull.  He was born on Skye and is rapidly becoming a fierce nationalist as he sees 60% of Mull empty out from September to April.  I’m afraid the same might happen to Uist unless the people there band together, as people have in the North Yorkshire Moors, and legislated manditory residency as a prerequisite to purchasing land.  The man from Mull, John, has written a number of articles for the Herald about the subject and draws a parallel between what’s happening now with the local population and the clearances.  While that may seem extreme, there is some truth in what he says.

I think the most appealing aspect of my sojourn in South Uist was that I spent most of my time walking or riding a bicycle, read three day old papers, didn’t hear a television, a cd, and had so many interesting conversations with so many different kinds of people.  By far my favourite roomies were the hardy Scots who arrived on foot or bike at the hostel.  They share a deep love of their land and appreciated the uncomplicated hours that a place like South Uist can offer.  I only hope that South Uist can retain some of this in the years to come. 

two more days

Unbelievably, there are only two more days on Uibhist a Deas and then I’m out of here. The lambing has slowed down considerably and I’ve only three “orphans” to feed. The experience has been much better than I had hoped for. The crofter is a fine man with a good sense of humour, good to his animals, and a pleasure to spend time with.

The weather has been incredible, today it’s 16.5 C! I expected to be working in the pouring rain and cold and instead have been in shirtsleeves. Yesterday I hiked through the heather to the top of a hill and lay in the sun for a couple of hours. The views out to Ben Mor, the deep blue Atlantic, and the soft heather hills, the machair (duneland) and fields was spectacular.

The hostel has been more or less been mine alone for the past few days. This morning the electricity was off, so after checking the lambs at 6:30 am, I came home and built a coal fire, had breakfast and wrote letters by hand. It felt positively 19th century.

Le deagh durachdain a Uibhist a Deas

Greetings from South Uist, on the Outer Hebrides! Day five of my work here with the crofter, L, and I’ve been told that I’m bringing him good luck this lambing season…we haven’t lost a single lamb since I arrived. We’ve had a number of tiny babies, weak babies, but they are all seeming to be doing well, at least as I write.

A typical day, I rise at 5:45, dress in five or six layers of warm clothes and raingear, jump on my bicycle and ride the 1/2 mile to L’s croft, first passing the free grazing flock of another crofter, and a pair of domestic geese that act as traffic cops down by the stone bridge. I stare down the gander as he hisses and tries to nip me and warn him off, telling him he’ll make a good dinner if he’s not careful. This seems to do the trick and he lets me pass.

The first thing I do at the croft is walk the hills to see if anyone has lambed in the night. The other day I spotted a ewe in difficulty and when L. arrived, we herded her into the shed and L. pulled the fat lamb from her. Later that day we had triplets, something very rare here and most unwanted because the grazing can only sustain a ewe nursing a single or twins at most. Because of this, we take a triplet and subsequently have “orphans” to feed… currently we have five bottle babies. It’s my job to make up their formula and feed them…a true joy sliding open the metal door of the shed and hearing the chorus of babies all wanting me… or at least the bottle I make them! After the babies and the girls, the ewes who are in the shed because of problems, are fed, I cycle home for breakfast and return at 11, 1, 4 and 6 pm. L. does the night shift because he knows where the sheep lamb.

And so my day goes. I write when I can, take a short rest, and visit with B. who runs the hostel. Today I had a ride down to Dalibrog to interview the priest who says mass in Gaelic. This will appear in a Catholic paper called the Prairie Messenger. Tomorrow B. and I are going to Nanton Steadings, a former byre which is now a tea shop, and then to Balivanich on the isle of Benbecula.

The hostel is a revolving door of fascinating faces, the most interesting by far being a rather large man in a rather large camper van who arrived with four women and a boy…. originally a local, this character has proved most entertaining as the locals fill me in on his past… and an intrigueing past it is… wait for the book or the movie to come out.

The weather has been good for the most part, beautiful sun to begin with and grey and cool but still no rain, still I’m glad I packed all my rain gear. Well that’s all for now from Uibhist a Deas… send me a message/write me/send me a text!

sms

Edinburgh

A long flight then the purgatory, or hell rather, of Heathrow and a four hour layover, I rode the bumpy skies of the UK convinced I’d never make the trip again.  I looked out of the window at the Pennines and as we crossed over into Scotland saw the first heather, gorse hills, a lonely stone croft, a bridge, a snaking river and my heart softened.  Once landed, all it took was the warm blanket of the Scottish accent on the Tannoy (loudspeaker) and I was well and truly rebitten. 

I had forgotten the warmth of the Scots, and how that’s possible I don’t know.  Exhausted, missing a connection with a friend who had driven to the airport to meet me but had left before the delayed plane got in, I fell into the hands of a great bus driver who drove me to Edinburgh and dropped me right outside the 17th c. Candlemaker Row flat being lent to me.

 Unpacked, tea with good friends, then ambled up the Royal Mile in the late sunshine.  It really felt like home to me as I walked past all the familiar sights-the Tron, John Knox house, Caidenhead Whiskey shop… how many thousands of times have I walked up and down that cobblestone road (setts they’re called),  as I marched a girl and her dog to and from George Heriot’s in all weather.   I ate at a favourite cafe and met one of the members of Shooglenifty, a Celtic fusion band that is much loved by our family… Edinburgh’s welcome!  Then off to the Bow, our local, for a half pint, a chat with Ian the ex-bartender who now props up the other side of the bar, then home to the cosy flat that overlooks Grey Friars Kirkyard and Candlemaker Row, right in the heart of medieval Edinburgh. 

The sun shines again today, I’m sleeveless, well rested, and heading by train and a six hour ferry ride for the Western Isles tomorrow morning.  A good start.  A very good start.

Later, on my way home from good music, good food, good friends, I pass the Tass and find 15 musicians with all their instruments, playing the night away.  It’s a warm night, everyone in Edinburgh is smiling.  I don’t want to go to bed…. Edinburgh is working really hard to win my heart back…