”Do you have Celtic blood?” he asked.
“Yes, I have just returned from two months in Scotland and Europe.” I replied.
What is Celtic blood? Does it differ from Canadian, Croatian or African blood? I wasn’t born in the Scottish highlands but in Aberdeen the heart of the Calvinistic northeast. It is the aquamarine seas of Mull that floats into my mind’s eye.
In June, Clive and I spent a week on the island of Mull on the west coast of Scotland. On our first night in Salen, serenaded by the urgent calls of oystercatchers with not a midge in sight, I walked down by the pier on a carpet of pink thrift. I remembered the good times I, as a teenager, spent with my older sister Ruth who left this world prematurely in 1999. She taught in the two-teacher village school for a few years in the seventies. Almost fifty years ago she and I hung out the train window as wind blasted through our hair, as we sped past Loch Lubnaig, collected multicoloured shells on the deserted beaches, walked under the ancient oak trees, on the orange bladder wrack, cut peat, licked pork chop juices off her frying pan, sang Petula Clark’s hit song “down town” as we shopped in village grocery store that smelled of soap, and sang Scottish songs as we walked miles over hill and moor.
This time Clive and I cycled to Tobermory. In dazzling sunshine, red, blue, white buildings crowded the bay, yachts bobbed lazily on their anchors and Clive said the dense jade forest could be Tahiti. I was so very present, soaking in the fresh greenness, the wide seascapes, and the island air. I longed for the day to last forever.
The next day we walked along the track through the purple heather and bracken on the Island of Ulva. Again the sea vistas was scattered with close and distant islands, sun glistened off a million spring leaves, the call of the cuckoo, the antler discarded on the bog, seals and eagles captivated me.
This was followed by a well-spent day striding over Ben More’s rocky ridges, pulled upward by the call of skylarks, curlews and the unfolding views. My character was strengthened by a bike ride in the rain alongside silver beaches, over the forested pass to Pennygael.
After a long sleep we had a sunny bike ride over the moors to the south coast where we walked along a narrow track beside lapping waves, through the marsh, bog myrtle, honeysuckle, glossy silverweed, familiar smells of childhood, feral goats, a herd of deer, to the dramatic basalt columns, the Carsaig Arches, eroded by the constant motion of the sea.
The cycle to Iona wasn’t long enough. The cool western island breeze bewitched as we crossed the short straight to Iona dominated by the austere grey and pink granite walls of the Abbey. But it wasn’t the Abbey I had travelled so far to experience but the silvery sands, the turquoise water, the emerald grass of the machair studded with blue, yellow and pink flowers, and the evocative crack of the corn crake. It was the pebble beaches, the pink, green, white rock smoothed by eons of wave action that took my breath away.
As a child I was rooted in this landscape. At first in father’s Airdire garden, then summers spent on the Island of Arran, as a teen to the Island of Mull and as a university student my roots deepened in Glencoe, Skye, Kintail, Ben Alder, Ben Nevis, mountains climbed with the Edinburgh University Club. Since then they have encircled the planet.
Lingering on Mull, I connected footstep by footstep with the land of my birth and formative years. It was a homecoming, a recognition of the magic, of the tangle of the Islands. And as I felt the mystical call I responded with my full attention, took numerous photos in hope of capturing the essence of the beaches, yellow irises, and islands to carry with me as I returned to my adopted home in the Canadian Rockies.