Scotland smells different, sweeter than where I come from. This is always the first thing I notice – Breathing in her sanguine floral wake, floating through my brain like my Grandma’s just opened peonies, subtle and indelible.
I woke up to the rain, the stream just outside my window in Lochwinnoch continuing to swell and rise, that soft rushing that sounds like the wind rustling through tall trees. It is 4:30 in the morning. Leading up to the Summer Solstice, the days are long now. I had stayed up late again, visiting with my friend Mary, unaware that it was in fact 22:00 (10:00 p.m.) when we gathered together in the warm kitchen for a cup of tea. We kept talking until after dark, which is around 23:00 this week. She had found herself also travelling quite a bit recently, so we were both exhausted, both happy to be together again in Renfrewshire, this county of rolling hills and small townships that make their way west from Glasgow towards North Ayrshire with its larger port town of Ardrossan and slightly further north to the seaside town of Largs. There are ruins of once famous castles, all gone, and in Largs, battles fought long ago to hold back the Norse invaders are reenacted (folks like to dress up in armor, what can I say). What remains in Largs to commemorate the battle is a rather oversized statue of the Norse King Magnus (he was defeated, so one has to wonder why he is represented at all), and a fish and chip establishment smelling of stale grease that also boasts a dwarf Viking statue at the door.
The destination towns of Ardrossan and Largs are just that, points to visit, stock up on groceries, get in the queue for an iced cream cone or a coffee, have your hair done or catch a ferry to somewhere else. It is the journey there that is the thing I find worth the going, and I would be happy to drive back and forth without ever entering either town. Hilly winding back roads, overgrown and spilling out flowers round the narrow corners fill up the air with their heady scent. Foxglove, yellow gorse, wild orchids, daisies, mounds of heather, roses and a myriad of wild flowers carelessly grow along the edge of pavement. I want to be everywhere here, stretched out as far as I can see, gathering up this side track meadow. Halfway to the shoreline, as I descend the close hill there is a stretch of open water – the Loch in Lochwinnoch. The ducks fly up at my approach, and the sheep bleat and bob their heads – they look like they are all in agreement. Just exactly what they have agreed to I am not sure of. The entire pace of life in these rounded hills move to the rhythm of a ewe and her nodding head, these narrow roads always lead to somewhere I need to go, still full and unchanged.
Mary’s garden also pours out flowers in every direction – an Elder tree bows its pink blossoms and deep purple leaves against my window. Weighted by the downpour it fingers the glass, greeting me as I open my eyes to the early light. Lovely day. I am remembering a cold morning the last time I visited. I was in the warmer upstairs bedroom, farther away from the brook, up in the larger tree canopy. This time I am down inside the thick wooded curtain that surrounds her house. Mary’s is always a welcome sight and good place to start a journey. Surrounded by a deep green and floral wall of hedge, plants and trees, climbing and merging together into one solid continuum, her house is likewise, often filled with visitors, the kettle and her readiness for life always on. She makes the best Elderflower cordial, which has become my favorite drink of late, her homebrewed elixir always offered, never refused.
I see things differently here in Scotland: Slowed to capture in more detail but somehow unimpeded by my normal daily routine, also moving at a faster continuous clip until time runs together and I have no idea what day it actually is. Viewing events in stop motion and streaming together all at once, I feel all life in connection, the road weaving a pulse of its own: Round that bend the view drops down to the sea, then the islands begin, to the north, the Trossachs rise up just past Loch Lommond. Mary’s garden holds sway midway up the road from the village, just before the small stone bridge to the left, covered in vine and moss, old and solid still, the buzzing and landing of bees, the sounds of their drone and cars bumping across, all the trees and vines so lush that you cannot properly see the brook until midway over the short crossing.
Plans – what are my plans? I have none - just go, just head down a road I don’t know yet, see what is there, who is there, and then again. Scotland, road by road, her people as I come to them and as they allow.