My Heart's in the Highlands

It's a rainy, grey day here in Salem, so no yard work for me today. I've been drinking some coffee though, and thinking about how things sometimes work out over the years.

You know, Cuz, I have been a nut for things Celtic since I was a teenager. My book & music collections have always had a large vein of Celtic running through them, and once I was out of my Dad's house and living on my own, wherever I lived (I moved around a lot) I would dash off to Celtic festivals every chance I got. My family, mostly solid country western type folk, has always been baffled by this, but I never wavered. I read my King Arthur tales, my Celtic folklore from Ireland, Scotland & Wales, and I listened to Archie Fisher, Karine Polwart, The Bothy Band, Ossian, Altan, Clannad, and The Chieftains. I was a happy Celtic camper.

Seattle, back in the late 80's, was the first place I lived where I had a chance to see Highland games. Every year I'd go to the games in Enumclaw, WA at the foot of the Cascade Mountains, listen to the pipes, watch the border collies and the dancers, and munch meat pies. Heaven. With the grey, misty foothills all around and the sound of the pipes in the air, I could almost feel a connection to the Highlands. It was visceral. I loved it!


My first visit to Scotland was in 1992 I think? I was on a holiday in York, an archeological dig with a bunch of students from the University of York, and at the end of the second week there we were rained out of our site. A couple of the students suggested we take advantage of the down time to visit Edinburgh on a whim, and so a buddy & I hopped the train and away we went. I fell in love with the city. I hiked up Arthur's Seat by myself early the next morning, and I sat there on the stones for a couple of hours watching the city below wake to the new day. My only company that morning was a pair of ravens that hopped around on the rocks and sometimes floated just a few feet above riding the air, hovering out over the edge and back again to the rocks. And on the morning air, far, far away, I could hear bag pipes playing. Again, it was that same visceral experience, and it was perfect. 

The next day I dropped in at the University of Edinburgh, and did a walk in visit with Professor Gillies, the head of the Celtic Studies department, to talk about graduate school. It was Professor Gillies who told me about the Celtic Languages & Literature department at Harvard and suggested I set my sights there. Harvard? It was a crazy idea! But, a couple of years later, there I was moving across country from Seattle to Boston to start my studies in Cambridge, MA. Again my poor family was baffled, LOL! Why at the age of 33 would I walk away from a sweet computer programming job at Nintendo to go back to school? And to study Celtic literature of all things? It was a mystery to them, but to me it felt right, and so I did.  

After that, living on the east coast, I started visiting Scotland every few years. I visited Ireland too, but I soon learned that the real pull for me was Scotland, first Edinburgh, and then the Highlands, and eventually the Isle of Skye.
My first trip to Skye was in '96 or so when I went on a week long car trip through the Highlands with a friend. We ended up on Skye, and our first day there she said she would like to try driving, and on a lonely little road just north of Portree she crashed our rental car. Dang that left lane, LOL! We ended up staying in Portree for a few days, and everywhere we went in town people would say "Oh you're the Yanks that wrecked the car. You are the first of the season." We were infamous. I spent a lot of time those couple of days talking with Marie Kennedy, the owner of our little B&B. She had grown up in Portree, and she told me all about her life there and how things were changing for her kids growing up there. She said that when she was a kid, everyone grew up speaking Gaelic, and they learned their English in school. Her kids at that time were in middle school, and she said everything was now in English and the kids no longer learned their Gaelic at home, but instead learned it in school. In one generation it had all changed, and the true native Gaelic speakers would not much longer be found in Portree. I remember the look on her face as she told me.

Well, I fell in love with the place. I just felt at home there, and after that I've always enjoyed going back and just hanging out around Portree and visiting different parts of Skye. I've probably been on the Isle of Skye no more than a month or so all together over the years, but for decades now I've been telling friends & family that if I ever disappear, they should look for me on the Isle of Skye. And I was only half kidding.

So you see, Cuz, when you reached out to inform us that we were in fact Clan Fleming and truly Scottish, for me it was like winning the lottery, LOL! And all those years past finally made sense to me and to my poor, baffled family as well. I felt at home in Scotland because in a way I really was Home. I might not be a true kilt wearing, pipes playing Scotsman, but for those many years I knew my heart was in The Highlands, and because of you I now know why. Thank you! 

Maybe one of these days I'll make another trip over to Scotland, and you can show me the pile of stones in the mountains that mark the family cottage of Clan Fleming. That would be a visit indeed! Maybe I'll come with my cousin Torrie. I think you two would really hit it off. 

And if I ever do make the move to the Isle of Skye, you can come visit me in my new Home By The Sea. Wouldn't that be something? Ah, someday...  

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