Oh my goodness! It’s been a long time! I doubt if anyone is still out there, but if you are…I’ve neglected this for so long that I felt that I should stop in. I stopped blogging several years ago because I became so busy! Since my last post, I got married, traveled to Scotland and England a few times as well as Iceland, and purchased a home. I just picked up my blogging pen again, however, and can be found at A Briar and Bramble Journal, a diary of my life in our 1823 cottage on the Maine coast. Since I couldn’t go to Scotland this year, I’ve been incorporating Scottish and British influences into our home and gardens. I’d love to see you at the new site! https://briarbramblejournal.wordpress.com/2020/12/31/a-backward-view-and-a-greeting-for-the-time-ahead/
The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Long absences can signify a significant turn in a person’s life-sometimes for the better, sometimes not. It’s been quite a while since I have come to this little cyber nook of The Selkie to visit with you. I hope there are still a few of you out there reading and sharing with me…
I’ve been wanting to write for weeks- to explain where I’ve been all these months and why it’s been so quiet here. I had been looking forward to explaining what, or more accurately, who, had made this summer unlike any before. That I hadn’t been writing because I hadn’t been alone in my time or thoughts in past months. Or, simply put, I have been happily in the company of someone I had met this past winter.
I was also going to reflect on the adventure that was set to begin exactly one year ago- my extended time in Edinburgh- and that though a year has passed, my friends and memories of Scotland are never far from my mind
My thoughts turned to a world turned upside down by hate and fear, and how people across the globe are reacting. It is enough to make anyone despair- to listen to the news reports here and across the world…of loss, violence, war, intolerance, denial of comfort or freedom to those who seek it, out of fear.
So what do I write about? The Selkie is meant to be a scrapbook and diary of the simple joys that I am fortunate enough to have occur in my life, shared with those who want to be a part of it. So, with the holidays fast approaching, I have decided to come back to the Selkie by simply giving thanks. And to share images of sunny skies and smiling summer memories in the hope that others will still take joy in them too…
And so, I give thanks~
To crashing waves shattering on granite rock, and salt spray
To mountain trails and gently sloping paths
To crickets singing in candlelit gardens, and loon cries echoing across tent walls and lakehouse porches
To campfires and star strewn skies
To dragonflies dancing on sunlit wings over meadow fields
To ships raising sail and morning fog to pass beneath spruce cloaked islands
To small towns, fireworks, and fairs
To sunsets over mountain summits and empty stretches of sand
To joy, to love, to hope…to life
Moss mottled the walls. Fissures branched like forked lightning across damp masonry which the rusting iron clamps tried to hold together, and buttresses of brick shored up the perilously leaning walls…
-Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time of Gifts
(This is Part 2 in a series of posts that are a “virtual journal” of my recent month living in Edinburgh, Scotland. What was meant to be a six month working sabbatical unfortunately became a mere month’s glimpse of what life in Scotland could be for me. It did, however, leave me with weeks to wander cobblestone streets, windswept sea cliffs, crumbling ruins, and snow covered glens.)
What an odd thing it is, when you have spent almost a dozen years working full time in a stressful profession, to suddenly find yourself with weeks of freedom…no responsibilities, no schedule, no pager, no one to answer to except yourself. I needed to be mindful of my budget, but beyond that, I was free to see where bus schedules, train timetables, and my own curiosity could take me.
I had a few ideas…places left unseen from previous trips, recommendations from friends, highlighted notes from dog-eared travel guides, various Christmas related events, socializing with friends, etc. I had also decided to visit a few of the more obscure Outlander filming locations, and….I had the self imposed “Castles and Cakes” challenge.
Ah, those last two may need a bit more explanation…
To the uninitiated, (and anyone from the UK who, as of this writing, still have no access to it), Outlander is a television series based on the eight book series by author Diana Gabaldon. It is the story of Claire, a WWII nurse who “falls through time” after touching standing stones and finds herself in 1743, in the years and events leading up to Culloden. She meets a Highlander named Jamie…a man who, to be fair to the male population everywhere, could truly exist only on the written page. What follows is the story of Claire and Jamie, but also the story of Scotland in the last Jacobite uprising, and a chronicle of the daily life and landscape of the Highlands in the mid 18th century. I am a big fan of good historical fiction, and this is good historical fiction. This isn’t a paperback romance in a historical setting. This is an immersion into a meticulously researched world populated by incredibly lifelike characters whom you come to care about as if they were actual people. Screen translations of these types of novels are typically a disappointment. The order appeared appeared particularly tall in this case…to hit all the points…historical accuracy, convincing sets and costumes, regional dialects (and Scottish Gaelic dialogue!), incorporating the landscape as an actual character, and finding actors who could convincingly bring two larger than life characters to actual life…ah, good luck! Oh, and there is an absolutely rabid fan base.
And yet…what producer Ron Moore, author Diana Gabaldon, actors Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe, etc have created is something that they, fans of the series, and the people of Scotland can all be proud of. It is being lovingly and delicately adapted, and beautifully filmed in Scotland, with Scottish set locations, mostly Scottish (or Irish) actors, and with amazing attention to every last detail in speech, costume, music, set decoration,etc.
Enough said! There are a number of blogs out there about Outlander…I just wanted to explain what it is and why it will be referenced occasionally here at the Selkie. Watching the series has put me on the path of a few historical sites that had been a bit more obscure (Though I think their time to shine has arrived, thanks to Jamie and Claire!) As a self professed “history geek” and lover of the outdoors, I always make historical and natural sites priorities on my itinerary. As a result, I’ve visited many of the filming inspirations and locations on prior trips, before the series had even started…Glencoe, Clava Cairns, Culloden, Doune Castle, etc. This time, I had hoped to visit a few of the other set locations…yes, to see them as a fan, but more importantly, to experience them as the places they actually are: how they exist in the landscape, and to appreciate their role in history. (Ok, confession: I *may* have also pictured myself in costume, rubbing elbows with the wonderfully talented Heughan and Balfe, and creating a sidekick charcter for myself..oh heck, nah…I was Claire! Any female fan would want to be Claire…)
And Castles and Cakes? Well, that was just a fun little project I created for myself! I’d try to see how many castles I could easily visit from my Edinburgh base, and how many cakes/bakes I could sample along the way. I had several friends following my progress on Facebook, and I think they expected a much larger version of me to return to the States! Fortunately, I walked everywhere I could! I thought of it as a celebration of my once glorious metabolism, which, at the age of 39, is noticeably beginning to slow down…
My first weekend living in Edinburgh happened to coincide with St Andrews Day. In recognition of the holiday, Historic Scotland is generous enough to provide free tickets to any of it’s maintained sites. I decided to spend the day in the shadow of heroes and queens…
Blackness Castle is a 15th century fortress on the shores of the Firth of Forth, not far from Edinburgh. Known as “the ship that never sailed” because of its location and the resemblance of its angled walls to the bow of a ship, it served as the seaport of the burgh of Linlithgow during the medieval period. The Historic Scotland website refers to it as a “dour” presence, a “brute mass of masonry”- perhaps partly due to its history as a garrison fortress, state prison, and artillery fortification. This stark impression of strength may also be why it is such an effective stand in for the Fort William location in the Outlander series. Our heroes Jamie and Claire have some rather…unfortunate…experiences at Fort William in the series. I’ll leave it with that, so as not to ruin the story for anyone not familiar with the plot. (All that remains of the actual fort in the town of Fort William in the highlands is a series of grass capped earthenworks next to the train station and Morrisons grocery. Not a very captivating film location…)
It was exactly the “dour” appearance of Blackness Castle that I found so beautiful. It was a misty, foggy morning and I was one of the only visitors at the time. The Forth Rail Bridge was obscured by fog, the lane leading to the castle and the surrounding fields and shoreline were silent. Moss covered stone, damp courtyard, the crevices and corners themselves filled with Blackness….the whole place seemed suspended in grey. And yet, I found the place strangely beautiful…the water’s edge just beyond, the rolling fields behind, the stone walls softened and smoothed with time rising all around me…
As I left the castle grounds, I saw a narrow path leading up a small hill. It lead to stone foundations and then down to muddy flats along the shore of the Forth. Shore birds busily took advantage of the low tide, and the sun creeped out just enough to cast a glimmer on the wet silt. I wandered down the lane leading back to the tiny village of Blackness and continued down the walking path that was bordered on one side by the peaceful scene of a hedgerow and crumbling stone wall enclosing gnarled fruit trees and sheep, and the more wild seascape scene on the other side. It was lovely. It may sound odd, but if it had been a bright, sunny morning and the village and castle alive with people, I don’t know that I would have had the same experience or that the place would have had the same impact on me.
I wished that I had time to walk further along the path and see where it lead, but it was time to turn from stark to status, from fictional hero to historical queen…I was spending the afternoon at Linlithgow Palace.
The contrast between Blackness and Linlithgow was palpable as soon as I arrived. The town square was bustling….a weekend Christmas Fair was a merry welcome at the foot of the steep lane that lead to the imposing gatehouse of the Palace. A steady stream of visitors made their way slowly up the lane, gazing at the red stone edifice that rose at the top of the hill…a commanding presence despite it’s empty windows and roofless turrets. After a fire destroyed much of the ancient Linlithgow Castle, James I began construction of the Palace in 1424. What he began, the successive Stewart (or Stuart) monarchs continued, until James VI of Scotland (James I of England) moved the seat of the monarchy of the combined crowns to London. The once magnificent Palace fell into disrepair and fire eventually swept through again, leaving the ruins that stand today. Although much was done by the Stewarts to impress the visitors of past and present, today, Linlithgow is remembered primarily as the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots.
I won’t linger now on Mary, but in future posts, I hope to write more of my impressions of the ill fated Queen. I find both Mary and her cousin, Elizabeth I of England, to be fascinating women. I think modern history tends to distill their lives and the ways in which their reigns intertwined down to a contest between brains and beauty, with brains winning out in the end. But, as with everything, the true story is so much more complicated than that…
Mary was born into a palace of stone and tapestry, roaring fireplaces and exquisite fountains. Today, the vaulted ceilings are the sky above, and the rich wood and fabrics are but ash on the wind, but I can see what it once was….in the graceful turn of the stone stair, the soft turn of the carved angel’s cheek above an entryway….I can almost hear the rustle of silk gowns skimming the floors of the passages, or hear the strains of the lute and lyre in the expanse of the Great Hall…
As I entered the Palace chapel, I thought that perhaps my musings had gotten away from me, as I distinctly heard a bagpipe. Fortunately, I hadn’t lost my grip on reality. Another woman, sitting on one of the window ledges nearby, waved me over and pointed to the church on the Palace grounds. “A wedding,” she said. Below us, a line of kilted groomsmen stood with hands clasped behind their backs and greeted guests, as the sounds of pipes echoed off the nearby loch. Though we were strangers, we found chatting in the window of the Palace chapel to be easy, and we talked for quite some time…of weddings and love found and still hoped for, of Scotland, and of travel and how you never knew where it may take you or how it may alter the course of your future.
It was a rather fitting end to the day, I thought. Over the course of the day, my thoughts had stretched from distant past to possible future. As is often the case in Scotland, the veil of time felt thin. The past is present, the future just a return to what once was. I was reminded too, that there is a beauty in decay…in the fall of autumn leaves, in the fire of sunset as the light of the day dies, in the crumbling stone of castles and palaces that try vainly to withstand the test of time. Though shadows of what they once were, we return to these places as settings for our films and imaginations, to let our thoughts run wild, and to stand beside heroes and queens…
For more information on Outlander (and thank you to Starz for use of the image):
http://www.starz.com/originals/outlander and http://www.dianagabaldon.com/books/outlander-series (That can get you started…there are so, so many sources of outlander info out there now!)
For more information about Blackness Castle and Linlithgow Palace:
This was a townscape raised in the teeth of cold winds from the east; a city of winding cobbled streets and haughty pillars; a city of dark nights and candlelight, and intellect
-Alexander McCall Smith, The Sunday Philosophy Club
This past Sunday was Burns Night, and the two month mark from my date of departure for Edinburgh. It seems unthinkable that that much time has already passed. I’ve been back in the States for a month, but it’s been a whirlwind of holidays and catching up. Sunday, then, seemed an appropriate day to toast both the beloved bard and Scotland herself, in thanks for a string of days that shone like pearls on a silken thread.
In a previous post (Of Harp Seals and Haggis), I described a bit about Burns Night…it is a celebration of the life and poetry of Rabbie (Robert) Burns, a somewhat tongue in cheek salutation to the haggis, and mostly, an excuse for a ceilidh. It was snowing here in Maine, so getting out to one of the very few “official” Burns Night Dinners was not an option. Instead, I baked some scones, and tried my hand at making a modified version of haggis and tatties…
My tribute to Burns completed (or at least attempted), I now turn to start a series of posts on my experiences of living in Edinburgh for a month.
There is a very large sign that greets anyone arriving at the Edinburgh Airport. It is a towering image of the military Tattoo at the Edinburgh Castle, flanked by three simple words: This is Home. I noticed it for the first time as I left at the end of my very first trip to Scotland. I remember my eyes welling up…even at that point, it already felt as if I were leaving home rather than returning to it. Finally, it felt, as I arrived in November, to be welcoming me to stay awhile.
I think that when we go on holiday or travel any significant distance to a place that we love, that place tends to become a Camelot…we don’t bring the mundane or the cares of our “regular” world there. It’s sacred somehow…a place where nothing can touch us, a place where “everything is right with the world”. Acadia National Park was like that for me for many years…I would often say that “it’s always summer in Acadia”. In my mind, the sun was always shining there, the blue of the ocean was somehow more blue, the green of the leaves more green…
Edinburgh started that way for me. Like the carefully decorated and preserved furniture and relics in Holyrood Palace, or the carved monuments of Calton Hill, the city was frozen in time…the Balmoral’s clock could have stopped at noon on the September afternoon that I first saw it. But now, after returning several times, it is something else.
Have I stayed as long as I would like? No. But while I don’t live there, I have lived there. Now, after multiple trips, and most recently this month experience…I have had days of sun, fog, rain, snow, and ice. I have walked the cobblestone streets alone at night and wove my way like a thread through the patchwork of humanity along Princes Street. I have made lifelong friends and been another face in a nameless crowd on a train out of Waverley Station. I have had successes and failures, laughed and cried, lost my way, and felt that I found myself. I felt the rarest of joys, and yes, heartbreak too. Edinburgh is not a static portrait or a monument of stone to me anymore…it is living, breathing, moving life.
I’ll close with the shots from the first days…Calton Hill and Holyrood Park…both near the neighborhood I was living in…
All that live must die, passing through nature to eternity
I have so many posts about Scotland rolling around in my head, but in light of recent events, the focus of this post will be life and death in the sea.
Allied Whale, the marine mammal group I volunteer with, had a call on Christmas Day from one of the local islanders. A dead whale had washed ashore. In the next few days, a few of the experienced members of the Allied Whale team went out to gather data on the young adult Humpback. The Gulf of Maine had lost one of her sons.
Not a terribly common, and yet a not uncommon event, the finding of a carcass of a whale along Maine’s rocky coastline always leaves me awash in a sea swell of emotion. As a scientist, I find it a macabre, yet interesting, and almost exciting event. How did this whale live? How did it die? What can we learn from the gross appearance of the carcass and tissue samples? Will it help further our understanding of live whale strandings and disease? Where had this whale been and what could its travels have told us about migratory patterns and environmental conditions?
As a veterinarian, I am curious and concerned. What was the medical cause of death? Disease? Injury? Age? Human interaction? Will we even be able to determine? Now that the carcass is on the beach, what health risks does it pose from predation by wild animals? Are pets running on the beach safe? What about curious onlookers and people living nearby? Who is going to dispose of the carcass and how will they do it? Or does the sea take it back?
As a community member, I am saddened and frustrated. I live on the coast because I am passionate about the conservation of the marine habitat. We are just slowly beginning to realize, as a global community, that the ocean is our life’s blood. It flows through everything. So many of us are drawn to sands and sea stacks, coasts and coral reefs. It is where we go for honeymoons and happy memories. We keep pictures of family days by the sea on our office desks and dream of spending our twilight days in “a little place on the water”. Seeing a seal, dolphin, or whale is a magical moment. On whale watch boats, some may even have seen this Humpback- his fluke breaking the waves as their lives intersected for just a fleeting moment. And yet, we continue to exploit, abuse, and poison the sea and the life within it. Ah, Mankind, why does it seem to be in our nature to hurt that which we love most? What is out of sight is out of mind…poisonous chemical run off, plastics discarded and ingested by marine life, human activity leading to acidification of the water, deep sea oil drilling, sonar and acoustic noise, overfishing, ghost gear, and trap lines causing entanglements. So we cannot help but ask ourselves, when a marine mammal washes ashore…is this the natural cycle of life and death, or as stewards of these lives, did we fail?
As a student of history, I am reflective. Is the mantle of stewardship something we have shouldered more recently…a responsibility that comes with impact? Generations ago, we simply didn’t have the technology or means to alter the environment to the extent that we do now. Human interaction as a cause of a whale’s unexplained death (ie setting aside the whaling industry) was just not as likely 200, 500, or 1000 years ago. What then, would people of other times think to see this massive body on the shore? Does simple curiosity and awe transcend time? Would it seem like a gift from the sea? Oil (in some species), blubber, bone, and baleen have all been harvested from whales and used for various purposes throughout history. Or would it be viewed as a warning or omen? A reminder of mortality? From Jonah to Moby Dick, across time, culture, and religion, the whale has played a role as “leviathan”…a monster of the deep. Only recently (in terms of human history) has he been viewed as a wise, sentient, and gentle creature.
Finally, as a romantic, I am in mourning. I have chosen to live by the sea because my soul is drawn to it. There is something that draws me to the shore, something in me that searches the horizon for the chance of being there when the whale’s fluke rises above the waves or the porpoise’s dorsal fin cuts the water’s surface. There’s a knowing when I meet the seal’s gaze or feel the wind direction change across my cheek. It is a loss then, to see that form on the sand and stone…to watch the sea give up one of her own.
The team at Allied Whale gathered basic data on he size, gross appearance, and general condition of the dead Humpback. Careful observation and analysis revealed that the body was that of Triomphe, a 7 yr old male who had been previously followed by scientists and entered into the North Atlantic catalog (which is maintained by Allied Whale). He was a 2008 calf of another Humpback known to researchers, named Spar. Lesions on the body strongly suggest signs of entanglement, but this may not be confirmed unequivocally as the cause of death.
Triomphe was impacted by, and had an impact on human lives in both his life and death…in so many ways. And yet his is but one chapter in the complex story of man, beast, and the sea. I am reminded of an old Scottish Gaelic song about the Selkies this blog is named for, and the life they lead- sometimes human, sometimes seal…both forms affecting the other, and always yearning for the sea. We are all Selkies…we are a part of the sea and the sea is a part of us.
An Ron (The Seal)
translated from Scottish Gaelic and sang by Julie Fowles
“I am daughter of the King-under-Sea
Royal blood flows in my veins –
Though you see me as a seal
I am noble in my own land.
“Land-below-waves my prison home,
Hereditary domain of the seal;
I will sleep on a salt sea slab,
Myself and my white-furred pup.”
O Princess of the western ocean
Do you have a tale to weave?
Will you tell us how it was
Before you came to live at sea?
“Spells were laid upon us
During our human lives by foes –
Though we now swim the straits
Human nature is our heritage.
“At the dead of feast-day night
We cast our sealskins on the sand,
Playing there as gentle maids
Shaking our blonde tresses.
“But tonight I am a seal
On a rock beside the sea;
It is my nature to give love,
And mankind I hold dear.”
For more information on Allied Whale, marine mammal strandings, and whales in the Gulf of Maine, go to http://www.coa.edu/alliedwhale.htm
Additional photo credits: Rosemary Seton, Stranding Coordinator, Allied Whale, College of the Atlantic
<a title=”Esaias van de Velde [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons” href=”http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AThe-whale-beached-1617.jpg”><img width=”512″ alt=”The-whale-beached-1617″ src=”//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/f2/The-whale-beached-1617.jpg/512px-The-whale-beached-1617.jpg”/></a>
You cannot change the direction of the wind, but you can always adjust your sails to reach your destination
This quote was in a note left at my house by a friend a couple of months ago…apropos words as a bitter wind had just blown my plans entirely off course.
I have neglected things here at the Selkie…posting was just one of the activities sacrificed in favor of all of the paperwork and planning that was going on. I had, however, been looking forward to making the big announcement: that I would be writing from Edinburgh this winter, not the coast of Maine. I was going to have the opportunity to temporarily live and work in the city while covering a friend’s maternity leave. It was to be a once in a lifetime, grab-the-brass-ring kind of moment…a six month trial to taste another life.
What followed was 5 months of learning, planning, communicating, dreaming and scheming. I educated myself in what I needed to do to be able to practice veterinary medicine in the UK, visa requirements, passage for my dog, finding a flat, opening a bank account, etc, etc, etc. It was a little bit overwhelming at times, but always exciting. And there was soul searching too…it was an opportunity to look at who I was, where I was, and where I wanted to be. By September, I left for Scotland on a holiday that had been planned months before the winter locum was even considered. I came back thinking that I’d be making the return trip in mere weeks. Everything was moving forward, pieces fell into place…it was meant to be.
And then it all crashed to a halt. The visa sponsors had made mistakes on their paperwork. Delays ensued, my proposed start date passed, and commitments were not honored. The reality was that I wasn’t going to be able to go for a six month period. The best that I could hope for was a one month extended holiday. To say that it was a disappointing turn of events would be…a huge understatement. It was more than a career opportunity lost. It was to be a chance to live another version of my life…a version I may want to make permanent in the future, but can’t quite manifest now. I had viewed the opportunity as unique…how often does a “overthinker/planner” get the chance to take a plunge without a commitment? Regardless, the situation was now either make the most of one month, or spend it moping over what could not be changed. I chose to spend four shining weeks in Edinburgh.
There are so many thoughts and emotions swirling in my head in the past two weeks since I have returned…and so many words at my fingertips…stories, musings, travel tips… there’s much to share. So…with the holidays ended and the cold long winter stretching ahead, this Selkie will be riding the currents once more…sliding between these two shores of Maine and Scotland….thank you to all who joined me last year, and if you have just stopped by, won’t you join me? Let’s see where the tide takes us!
I’ll leave you for now with some parting holiday photos of the village of Culross, Fife and Edinburgh at Christmas- the Old Town, the German Christmas Market, and the grand tree in Jenners (Edinburgh’s original “department store”)
Peeking down through fields of green, on the summer side of life…
Summer days in Maine come in shades of green and blue and granite. Early morning fog over the Bay lifts to reveal pine cloaked hills crowned in stone, harbors dotted with moored boats, wings of sails gliding across the bay-mirroring the gulls, terns, and osprey overhead.
Still wreathed in morning mist, the sounds of the lake are muffled- fish break the surface silently, loons cry mournfully from one fir edged shore to the other. Dragonflies touch the surface of the water in one step of their dance before taking wing again.
In the wood, shafts of midday sun warm the balsam and fir; the scent of their needles rising like sap. Trunks like cathedral pillars line rock strewn paths and echo the choirs of wood thrush and chickadee.
In Maine, summer’s time is marked on a clockface of petals…fields of lupine in June are overtaken by hedges and fence rows of beach rose in July. These give way to blueberries and hydrangea, hollyhock and Queen Anne’s lace in August.
Time is measured by sand…hours sliding lazily between fingers and toes. And minutes tumble over one another, rolling as melted ice cream down a spoon or chin.
These are but fleeting days, these high tides of summer, and the minutes will pull away from shore once again…
I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and sky. And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by…
I need the sea because it teaches me…
Several months ago, when we were all still in scarves and snowboots, hiding in coffeehouses for warmth and comfort, I agreed that I’d go sailing in June. I got a message from friends that they had finally fulfilled their lifelong dream of owning a windjammer. It was like coming home for them…having served as First Mate for many years on this particular boat, the Captain knows this schooner like the back of his hand. He and his wife have kept all of the things that past passengers have known and loved about the Windjammer Angelique…the wonderful food, the scenic routes, the first class treatment of the guests, and the cruise schedule. This schedule includes sails for the Road Scholar program (what used to be known as Elderhostel). Road Scholar cruises have a historian and a naturalist on board, and I was asked if I’d like to the naturalist for one of the cruises.
Although I give a couple of yearly informal lectures about seal stranding assessment, and enjoy talking about marine mammals to anyone who would listen, I am not a trained naturalist. I’m a veterinarian. So I was slightly worried when I walked out of the coffeehouse that afternoon, bundled in my scarf and boots, and wondered whether I’d regret agreeing to this, come June. But I love to be out on the water, and it was a nice way to reconnect a bit with friends. And of course, I love to talk about seals and whales!
So, here I was in early June, with backpack, binoculars, and marine mammal guides in tow, boarding the Windjammer Angelique for 6 days. 24 passengers were joining us from all over the country. For most of them, this was the first time they had been to the Maine Coast. A few had never been on a tall ship. One passenger was in his late 80s. (He was an inspiration over the entire trip…he moved about the ship as well as anyone, joined in every activity, called out cadence whenever we rowed the dinghies to shore, and was my dance partner at the deck party!)
Over the next week, we (along with the fantastic crew) talked about seals and sailing, porpoises and ports, whales and wars. The historian and I gave small lectures and talked to the passengers on deck while the Captain and crew taught the basics of sailing. We enjoyed some gorgeous sailing days…with the boat taking on a comfortable heel on several afternoons. An evening lobster bake on one of the Bay’s many tiny uninhabited islands was a quintessential taste of a Maine summer tradition. Trips to Castine and Stonington allowed for some leg stretching and wandering. Castine in particular, is known for it’s turbulent history…having been under English, French, Dutch, and American occupation in it’s early days. It was also site of a British fort during the American Revolution and was at the center of the ill-fated Penobscot Expedition (for an informative, well researched, and easy read about this moment in American history, read Bernard Cornwell’s The Fort).
The first night was a unique experience for all of us. As it was one of the first sails of the season, the ships of the Maine Windjammer Association all dropped anchor in peaceful Gilkey Harbor, Islesboro, and tied together for a gam. A gam is essentially a deck party. Passengers and crews boarded each of the ships to mingle, music was played, grog was imbibed…all beneath a sunset soft as a butterfly’s wing.
Seeing all the masts stand beside one another made me wonder what harbors of old looked like. Accounts recall “forests of masts”…I can only imagine. We are so fortunate to have these tall ships in this area of Maine. To see them in harbor or under full sail against a backdrop of granite and pine coastline makes you question whether it is 2014 or 1814.
Mid May to mid June is harbor seal pupping season. Pups are only dependent on mom for the first month, but we were still expecting to see pups with the adults. The Penobscot Bay has a very healthy harbor seal population, so I knew that seal sightings were assured. We were not disappointed! In fact, we saw so many seals that a few of the passengers were bored by them by the end of the cruise. Each time we sailed past a rocky ledge, there they would be, hauled out…sausages in the sun!
Harbor porpoises, however, they never grew tired of. Small, quick, and relatively shy of boats, porpoises will silently appear…dorsal fins cutting through quiet waters….and then disappear just as quickly.
Standing on the gently rolling deck one evening, watching the sun set off the port side and the moon rise off the starboard, smelling the sea and evergreens, hands wrapped around a mug of coffee…I couldn’t help but feel blessed. Watching the passengers discover this place that I call home for the first time allowed me to see it through refreshed eyes. Sometimes, a journey’s destination is just a return to home.
For more information on the Windjammer Angelique, schooner cruises in Maine, Camden, etc:
…white shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise..
-JRR Tolkein, The Return of the King
Clear cut blue and green days scented with beach rose and lupine, sand between the toes and ice cream dripping off the spoon…days such as these give good topic for writing, but the time seems to slip away faster than the tide. I realized the other day that I hadn’t even sat down yet to describe the trip to Scotland last month! So many potential posts there too, but today, I think I’ll just say a few words and then let the photos speak for themselves…
Nothing ever compares to the first time that you meet a place. The magic of the discovery lies in the discovery. But, like any relationship, if the connection lasts after the first blush of love, then perhaps it’s a relationship meant to last. The overwhelming feeling that I had on this trip was one of acceptance. Everything felt natural and comfortable. Sometimes, as I tourist, I almost feel like I am not completely a part of my environment. The places, the experiences, the routine while away from home are so far outside the “normal” that I feel like I am walking in a painted landscape; playing a part in someone else’s play. (Maybe other people experience this too, and that’s why a lot of the tourists here in Maine seem like they are in a fog?!) This time in Scotland, though, I felt I was just living within an extension of home. And yet, it was still an opportunity to step off the beaten track. I returned to Edinburgh, but this time, I was able to see a whole new layer of detail that only comes with familiarity. Instead of the highlands and the islands, on this trip, I was able to discover the quiet beauty of Crieff, in Perthshire and the Scottish Borders. The weather was shining, the spring green of the hills sharp and alive, and the yellow of the blooming fields almost blinding. Memories of Crieff: birdsong, horses, bluebells, ancient, twisted trees, rolling hills, a hint of the Highlands on the horizon…The Borders: crumbling ruins, the feeling of the ghost of a monkshood lingering behind every stone, rippling fields and slowly curling rivers, cobblestone streets, peony, rose, and seas of rapeseed…
Work is what you do for others, Liebchen. Art is what you do for yourself…
“They” always say that one should write from experience, or “write what you know”…it’s more authentic, or more accurate. And indeed, this is true. But rather than just striving for accuracy, I think that you draw from experience if you are willing to let others see the light through the crack in your door. How intense that beam is, and how wide the pass is up to you. For some it’s a shocking bolt of soul baring strobe, while for others, it’s a narrow, soft brush of summer haze speckled with stars of dust. For isn’t that what we are all doing here in the blogging world? Recording our experiences, our thoughts, our opinions to allow others to have a peek through our personal doors? Some of us, myself included, start these blogs as an outlet for ourselves, and then shyly open them to others…the sharing of a diary, a family photo album, a collection of random thoughts. We are the glimmers of summer haze…hoping that others may see tiny stars in our light, and not just particles of dust.
How lovely, then, it is to find that someone has taken the time to read your words, or follow your blog journey. How lovely to read that someone felt connected to something you said, or had their own happy memories of a place you photographed. And how even lovlier still, that bloggers and readers reach out to each other to share each others sites and build a community.
I am fortunate to be included in this community of “up and coming” bloggers and to pay it forward with the awarding of the Liebster Award by the very thoughtful MsRawMojo. Her blog http://sevenintentions.wordpress.com celebrates life, asks provoking questions about who we are and how we are connected, and ponders how we are reflections of the past. I’d like to thank her for reading the Selkie, and for this nomination. The Liebster Award is bloggers recognizing bloggers. it’s a means of widening the community and a way to say “hey, take a look at this…you may enjoy it too”. There are a few acceptance “rules”:
- Post the award on your blog
- Thank the blogger who presented the award to you and link back to their blog (This seems intuitive to me…of course you’d thank the person!)
- Share 11 things about yourself
- Answer the 11 questions given to you by the person who nominated you
- Nominate 11 bloggers who have less than 200 followers (I may have to adjust this a bit)
- Create 11 questions for your nominees to answer
- Notify your nominees by posting your nomination on their blog
The group of nominees that included me has been asked to provide “11 random things about you, your blog, your life, your dreams, your philosophies, and your passions” I’m looking forward to this, as it allows me to share some other sides of me…
- The Selkie was the direct result of Maine winter doldrums and the suggestion of a friend. I was restless, needed a constructive hobby that did not involve attempting to balance on snow or travel on snow with any speed, and wanted a creative outlet. The next issue was trying to find a focus and a voice. I was having a hard time deciding on a focus…that’s why I try to find ways to integrate Maine, Scotland, marine mammals, and the sea. Sometimes it works better than others. I’m still finding my voice.
- I have a rather quirky, sometimes sarcastic sense of humor which doesn’t really come out at all on the Selkie. My more academic, philosophical (if you can call it that!) side seems to dominate on here. Sometimes, I think about using my more conversational tone on here, but I don’t know if people would appreciate that? And that would take away some of the challenge of trying to be an expressive writer
- I am a geek. I am also of an age where I am comfortable with that and proud to admit it to the world. While I like to occasionally destroy some brain cells by watching things like The Bachelor or the many Housewives shows, I am a 38 yr old woman who thinks that mead is better than any beer, sits awake at night wondering how Game of Thrones will end, and can discuss the Battle of Gettysburg, the colonization of America, and the life of Mary, Queen of Scots in great depth. I don’t remember who was in last year’s Super Bowl, I’ve never watched American Idol, and the one time I tried snowboarding, I fell. On flat ground.
- I love history, gardening, travel, books, coffee, tea, bacon (I had to throw that in!), kayaking on a quiet summer afternoon, sitting on the coast and watching the water, sailing on a calm bay, curling up with the dog who is the love of my life, listening to peepers in spring, crickets in summer, silence in winter
- I believe in fate (a little), science, and the golden rule…and I think that there is beauty and magic in what we can’t explain. I also think that if we were all a little more open minded and less self motivated, the world would be a better place.
- I have come to believe that one of the greatest gifts that you can receive or give yourself is the opportunity to travel. Ideally, to experience an entirely different culture and locale. But, if that’s not available to you, go *anywhere* outside your daily radius and be open to where it can take you.
- My dreams have always been relatively simple. I’ve never wanted to be famous, the corporate ladder doesn’t interest me, and I’ll never be much of an athlete. But that’s OK. I just want to be happy and content in who I am and how I live my life. Like one of my favorite characters, George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life, I’d like to know that I make a difference in someone’s life- no matter how small. I’d like to appreciated for all my little quirks and respected as a person. I want to love and be loved in a way that is not dependent or desperate, but is a mutual state of gentle delight and discovery. And in my end, I dream of growing old in comfortable reflection.
- But…if I were asked to craft a dream future, it would be to divide my time between the Maine coast and Scotland. An antique style Cape Cod house in Maine that has an old barn and a field that tumbles down to the sea with a small dock for my kayak and maybe a small sailboat. (Since this is my dream future, I’d be a more skilled sailor). Andirondack chairs and a small fire pit to sit beside on summer evenings with a steaming cup of coffee. And in Scotland, I’d have an old crumbling stone croft in the Outer Hebrides. There would be a cottage garden of controlled floral chaos, several sheep, and a horse. Inside, a fireplace with a heavy wooden mantle, and the comfort of a mug of tea, my dog curled up on a soft chair. Outside, the wild, desolate rock, sea, and machair. (These are probably overly romanticized scenes, but isn’t a dream anything you want it to be?)
- I used to be a reenactor and a living historian. I spent my teenage years joining my family at battlefields, historic sites, and parks, dressed in hoop skirts, hats with feathers, and multiple layers of undergarments. I truly experienced “primitive camping”. When I was attending vet school, I volunteered at a museum village and played the part of an 1830s dairy maid.
- Although I have always loved and felt connected to water, I couldn’t swim until the age of 30. I took swimming lessons at the local Y so that I cold finally explore this lure of the sea that I have always felt. Since then, I have been able to learn to sail (not well!), discover kayaking, volunteer for marine mammal work, swim in the nearby lakes, take up boogieboarding, and go whitewater rafting (scary!)
- I hope to live in Scotland someday, but there are also other places I’d like to see in the world…Pompeii and Herculaenum, Macchu Piccu, Patagonia, South Africa, the Galapagos, Easter Island, the Greek Isles, and more of Europe.
I’d like my nominees to feel free to express themselves however they choose, so I’ll also ask that they just give 11 random facts about themselves. This may include your goals, what motivates you to blog, who your heroes are, what your favorites things are, or where you’ve been or want to go.
And the nominees are:
- A Pict in PA (http://www.pictinpa.wordpress.com)-an honest and heartfelt look at what it’s like to leave a home you love (Scotland) and bring your young family to foreign location (USA).
- Harvesting Hectate (http://www.harvestinghectate.wordpress.com)-beautifully written blog about writing, life, and the beauty all around us
- Dancing Beastie (http://www.dancingbeastie.wordpress.com)-Beastie must have a lot more than 200 followers, but this is one of my absolute favorite blogs, so I have to include it here. Seasonal life in s Scottish castle…and thoughtful reflections on life. It’s brilliant
- My Wild Life (http://www.yukonfrost.wordpress.com)-this blogger is living my dream…working with wildlife and marine mammals in the Hebrides of Scotland
- Stories from Home (http://www.storiesfromhome.wordpress.com)-gorgeous photography of this beautiful Maine coast that I call home too. And many posts about a super cute Golden Retriever!
- Partridge, Pine, and Peavey- (http://www.partridgepineandpeavey.wordpress.com)lovely naturalist journal
- My Heart is Sair for Scotland (http://www.sairforscotland.wordpress.com)-I’m enjoying following the experiences of this young New Yorker who moved recently to Edinburgh
- Am Bothan (the bothy) (http://www.uiseag.com)-life on a Scottish island
- West Past North (http://www.westpastnorth.wordpress.com)-beautifully written personal journal
- Delish World (http://www.delishworldblog.wordpress.com)-food and travel…what’s not to love?
- Ever the Wayfarer (http://www.everthewayfarer.com) -Wayfarer also has a ton of followers, but it’s another of my favorites, so I want to recognize it
Thank you, to all these blogs, for your wonderful words and photos!
And thank you to *you*, Reader, for reading this long post! I have so many things that I want to share…the recent trip to Scotland, the beginning of summer here in Maine, the sailing trip that I will be on this week…but…I’m out gathering the experiences to write about!