Wednesday, October 12, 2011


To the land of moorland, lochs and mountains, where the old gods ride the winds . . .

I’ve dreamt of Scotland all my life, and the seeing of it enforced my respect and admiration for those ancestors of mine---especially those GrandDams in their tiny crofts or burrows or caves, keeping their own nests in any way they could.

We’d traveled at last to the Highlands, and the mountains were beyond imagining.   They were a dullrust green---the blacky-green of heather before the flowers bloom, though in season, the lavender and purple of the hillsides is one of the wonders of the world.   Just a little purple peeped out now and again, and it seemed to be too elusive to capture with my camera.  

Think again of the GrandMothers, stretching back to Beyond, looking every day for a glimpse of promise, in their sere, drab lives.   The color was so much of a non-color, like when you were little and decided to try every crayola in your box of 16---and you scribbled and scribbled, shade after shade, all in one spot on your paper.   The blackgreenpurplenesses of those towering hills was just beyond anything I had imagined, and just exactly RIGHT.

There were swoops of stone walls ranging up and down the hills, making their own little latitudes and longitudes, marking out boundaries from who knows what time in history.   And I marveled at the energy and just plain old WORK it took to haul those things, clear from the Hadrian spot, demolishing that great tribute to Roman accomplishment with bare hands and sheer muscle.  

The walls and stone buildings seem to sprout on the slopes, but STILL---to make those even lines, those even heights, and anchor them firmly on that sloping ground---I’m still boggling.

Every so often, the ghost of a stone dwelling would appear, its parts tumbled about, and just a suggestion of the four walls or a sheepfold, a barnish building or tiny croft.   How long ago, and who, and how did they LIVE---the smell of winter-long wool and animals and humans and smoky, peevish fires for the mutton and turnips which must have comprised almost every meal.     The wooly clothing and the itch of it against bare skin, and the hands and face blistering from the cold, cracking and bleeding against the dirtywhite of the sheep as they were fed and tended and sheared.

I think often of the lives of my forebearesses in that man’s country where they were up early and late working in all weathers, scavenging food for their families, fighting beside their husbands and sons, grieving the many little ones who didn’t live out their first year.    How friend-hungry they must have been, these isolated women, whose own daughters were the only female faces they saw for years on end, and whose eyes beheld little of beauty beyond those small faces and the green and flowers on those haunting hills.

They never felt the smooth of a sheet on a mattress, or the soft of a cream on their rough-chapped skin; they never held a book or heard Mozart; they never looked out a glass-covered window.    They lived and died in an aloneness and a servitude to sorrow we can only imagine.    They must have had the hearts of lions, these Highland females, to give so much, to endure so much, and to receive only the sight of these lonely mountains and the rain and wind and fog. 

  The centuries of deprivation and hunger and cold, the waiting for the men’s return from battle, the dread of loss, of starvation, of eking out that last scatter of oats into a meager bowl for their families.   That sharp, chilling wind and the sparse landscape, with nothing between them and theirs but their own courage and work.   How they must have waited and wept, with hope fleeting as life, with only their grit and determination between them and despair.

Out of all of my family, I think deepest of those Grand-Dams of mine, those centuries-back female ancestors, whose lives were grim and sere---I could see them woad-smeared and wielding weapons beside their menfolk, as easily as I could imagine their tending their smoky fires and nursing babies too soon gone. 

I am OF that place---that unimaginably beautiful, forbidding, haunting place, and its colors color the AM of me.   I’ll still always dream of it, and of them---sometimes I dream they laughed.   I PRAY they did.


Denise :) said...

What an incredibly beautiful post. I was captivated. :)

Wsprsweetly Of Cottages said...

I agree with Denise..this was beautiful. I could feel how much you felt connected to them. You are wonderful at conveying your feelings.
The children. So few lived very long and women were often lost in childbirth.

LV said...

What a nice journey through Scotland. I really enjoyed it as I will never see it otherwise.

Marlene said...

Beautiful, as always, Rachel. Have enjoyed all your wonderful posts, but haven't been able to respond lately due to "technical difficulties." I especially loved that you have given us so much to ponder over..oooh, hot water, soft sheets, food at the ready. How did they ever manage?

Kim Shook said...

How you can write, girl! Just a wonderful post - your admiration and respect just shine through. What kind of stamina and inner strength was required for the life that these women lived. And to think that there are still folks today who live similar lives. They are the human version of those trees that you find flourishing in the cracks of rocks.

Tonja said...

I feel so sad, thinking of their plight. How hard their lives were. But, what strength and determination and 'pluck' they have contributed to those who followed.

Your affinity for them and their culture inspires me. My ancestors are from there also. I have never really thought of them...or the way they lived. They always seemed so distant. And, so much time passed, it hardly even seems right to say they were an ancestor to me. This post makes me proud. And, inspired to maybe look more into the history of that beautiful place.