Not the Scottish Dancing I Hoped To See

Written June 19, 2013 ~ two days after I arrived in Scotland:

At this time, each year, the town of Peebles holds its Beltane Festival to celebrate the arrival of summer.  Some say it’s a Pagan festival and want nothing to do with it.  The handout given to me at the information center stated, “Happily Christianity disposed of all this sort of thing.”  Today I witnessed a very civilized activity called Riding of the Marches.  Hundreds (and I really mean hundreds and hundreds) of horses and riders, all perfectly groomed to within an inch of their lives, set out in a cavalcade around the boundary of Peebles, and re-enact the ancient tradition of checking the area to make sure the town is free from invaders (like the English).  There were ceremonies to install the positions of Coronet (head of the cavalcade) in the town square, and the Warden at Neidpath Castle.  A couple in the crowd told me this year was the best weather they’ve had in years; the sun was out and it was warm with only a breath of wind.

In the evening there was to be a dance in the High Street (the Coronet’s Reel) and I thought that would be fun to watch.  Armed with my Chinese vegetable fried rice take away, I found a nice bench on the High Street and proceeded to sit there, eat my dinner, and indulge in a spot of crowd watching.

It wasn’t long before people started wandering about with bottles and glasses full of amber-colored inhibition-removing liquid.  As their alcohol levels rose my ability to understand the Scottish accent dropped; except for one word.  When the youth on the bench next to me shouted that word at two police officers on the other side of the street, he got their attention.  They crossed over to our side to check they had heard him correctly.  The lad seemed to think they hadn’t, so he repeated his sentence, at a much higher volume, right into their faces.  Whatever it was he said (with that one word), the pol-eiz, as it is pronounced in these parts, didn’t seem to like what they heard, pointed to a doorway, and ordered him to, “Shut it, and go inside!”  He didn’t seem to know what “it” he should be shutting and moved even closer towards the nice man and woman in blue.  Before he could figure out what hit him, he found himself lying face down on the footpath.  Faster than you can say “Gotcha,” the policewoman had attached a silver bracelet to each of his wrists that successfully joined both his arms together behind his back.  Within seconds he was enjoying a worms-eye view of the street, while they waited for his free ride to the police station to arrive. 

Just as they had folded his writhing form into the back of the police van, a young couple with a toddler and a baby in a pushchair walked in front of me.  The husband said something, that contained the same word the other guy used and, true to form, the officers didn’t like whatever it was that he said to them either.  They decided to ignore him as the guy’s wife yelled, “Keep quiet!”  Ignoring her sage advice, he repeated himself.  The policeman responded with, “You’ve got one chance to move out of the way.”  But he held his ground, despite his wife’s valiant physical attempts silence him and turn his face in the other direction.  In one swift maneuver, she squeezed his mouth shut and twisted his head to the side so hard I thought she might break both his jaw and his neck, but somehow he managed to keep talking.  His little son started screaming for his daddy ~ that kind of screaming just breaks my heart.  Then their tiny baby started crying.  The combined din of drunken shouting, wife screaming, children crying, and police order-giving, all only a couple of feet from my feet, was both deafening and frightening.

Four of Her Majesty’s Finest pounced on the guy.  Because it all happened so fast, and they were so close to me, I couldn’t move out of the way.  Instead I had to clutch my fried rice and lean way back on the bench, to avoid being caught up in the action.  They positioned his arms behind his back, attached the fancy bracelets to both his wrists, and shoved him in the van with the first guy.  Two arrests in less than five minutes.  It was going to be a long night for a couple of inebriated fools, an abandoned wife and two frightened children.

The poor mother ran off with her screaming children.  She returned, a few minutes later, shouting to the police that her husband had the keys to their house in his pocket.  But it was too late, he was already on his way to the station.

I took a quick look at the rest of the people standing around waiting for the Coronet’s Reel to start, and it didn’t take long for me to realize this street dance was turning in to a night of drunken revelry, something I had no desire to watch, so I packed up the remainder of my rice and did the Quickstep back to my hotel.

A Short Drive in the Bush ~ Hokitika, West Coast / South Island

I thought it was time I took you on a little drive through the unique New Zealand bush.  
My “reflections” of Lake Mahinapua were taken the day before when the light was so eerie it was really hard to walk.  I couldn’t tell where the ground, sky and water met and changed form.  At one point I was sure I was going to step off the jetty into the water…or was it into the sky!  There’s probably one of my stories in this experience…but I can’t come up with it…yet…
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Woolly Jumpers in the New Zealand High Country

May 10, 2013

On my way from Wanaka and Hawea, through the center of the South Island, to Christchurch I came across a sight worth the price of the trip…that bleating…the sound of those little feet on the road… those snow-capped Southern Alps in the background…the long straight open road ahead of me…acres and acres of flat land on either side of the road…rows of trees to break the force of the wind…

They might look like a flock of annoying, traffic-interrupting, dirty and smelly old sheep to you, but it was a sight for sore eyes, medicine for the heart, and an unexpected tiptoe through the tulips for me!
DSCN0753Note: A woollen jumper is what most, if not all, New Zealander’s call a sweater…sheep in New Zealand have also been known to jump…you get the picture…

A WEED IN THE WASTELAND ~ Taieri Gorge, April 26, 2013.

One of my goals for this journey was to take the scenic train through the Taieri Gorge.  This was a trip I’d made many times during the years between 1971 – 74 when I was a (1)“Student of Nursing” at Dunedin Hospital.

It was a journey I took very little notice of in those days; the rail car was the only way for me to travel between Dunedin and Middlemarch.  This time all I wanted to see was the scenery.

I’d purchased my ticket the day before, which gave me sufficient time to recover from the cost, and focus on the reason for my trip.  But, I still can’t help wondering how many committee meetings were held and how many nods of agreement were needed before a fare of $99 was arrived at.  My first thought was:  I don’t think I spent even close to $99 dollars in total for all the times I rode the rail from Dunedin to Middlemarch and back!  But, now that I’ve done it I would have gladly paid $100!
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It was a wonderful two and a half hour ride to Middlemarch.  The other passengers headed straight to the pub or local café for food and liquid refreshments while I spent the hour we had there wandering around the town, searching for memories from my past. And many did I find…but they belong to other stories, not yet written.
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On the way to Middlemarch I had relocated myself to be nearer civilization in the center of the carriage and also to have a table to place my half cup of (least it spill and burn me) tea and overpriced “contains gluton” cheese and pineapple sandwich.
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But, on the return journey that seat was already booked by passengers from another trip.  They informed me they would have to toss me out of their seats.  I did suggest they wait until the train entered the gorge before doing so because it would make a more dramatic story in the newspaper, but they couldn’t wait, so I had to move back to my miserable little single seat, without a tray table, tucked away in the back by the door. And it was from that place that I noticed I was on my own.

For some reason, what the train guide called the lunar landscape of Central Otago, lost its appeal as I started noticing the geography inside the carriage.  There was a family with four iPad-focused daughters, a couple from the north, another couple who were content with their own company and some couples traveling with other couples.

My eyes were focused on the muddy water of the Taieri River, flowing deep in the gorge below, but my mind had began comparing my insides to the outsides of the other people in the carriage.
DSCN0320How did I get to this place I now found myself in?  No husband, no children.  Never to be the mother-of-the-bride or groom, never to be a mother-in-law.  No grandchildren, no nephews or nieces.  No career, no place that felt like home any more.  How did my highest hopes end up becoming my deepest despair?  Other people have had these dreams and succeeded why not me?  How did my worst fear end up becoming my reality.

Just as I was about to burst into tears I looked up and saw a tree, growing all alone, on the top of a rocky ridge, with not another tree in sight.

DSCN0319DSCN0317The sight of it instantly changed my questions.  How did it get there? Did someone sow a seed or plant a sapling?  Was a seed blown there by the wind?  How did it manage to grow, all these years, in that arid location, and look so healthy?

Somehow it had managed to take root in the rocky ground and thrive, yes even prosper, alone and in the most unlikely of places.

I wondered how I could be like that lovely tree, and flourish in a difficult, dry and rocky terrain that appeared to be not designed to sustain trees, or any kind of plant life for that matter?

What was the purpose of that tree?
What is the purpose of me?

I showed my photo of the tree to my friends, Craig and Elspeth, and asked if they knew what species it was.  Craig informed me it was a Pinus Radiata and that they are considered weeds in many places and are being sprayed to remove them from the landscape.  That information instantly killed off my romantic connection between that tree and myself.   I did not like the thought of myself as a weed that needed to be got rid of, and let go of my idea of writing a story about it.

But, a quote (I have no idea who wrote it) I read a long time ago would not leave me alone: A weed is just a plant that no one has found a use for yet.  A quick Internet search unearthed some other quotes written in defense of weeds, like this one from A.A. Milne: Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.

So, like weeds that are hard to get rid of, this story resisted my attempts to banish it to my compost heap of unwritten stories and refused to let me get on with other projects that were trying to germinate beneath the topsoil in my mind.

Of course I’m a weed!  One look at my family tree would confirm this for you.  Half Danish (second generation) on my mother’s side.  On my father’s side, I have discovered that I am not of pure Scots descent as I always thought, but I also have a good measure of English and Welsh fertilizer in there as well.  I was told that I have Irish sap running in my veins but I’ve yet to find written proof of it; but I shall keep tapping away at the my family tree trunk till I extract it because I won’t be happy until I do!

Of course I’m a weed!  All efforts to plant me in a row have failed.  So far, numerous attempts to eradicate me from the face of this earth have failed. Some of my branches have been hacked off but still I grow.  I’ve often felt out-of-place, but that’s never stopped me from trying to take root in a variety of different soils.  I’ve grown where others never wanted, or expected me to grow.  Not only am I a pesky pine but I’m also a resilient wild briar rose, who manged to somehow take root and grow in my barren and harsh family landscape.
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Enlarge this and see the wild Rosehips on the banks of the Clutha River,
Cromwell Gorge ~ Central Otago.

Of course I’m a weed!  My seeds have been blown far from home to many distant places and far off lands.

Of course I’m a weed!  But you’ll find I flower quite well…once you get to know me.

All of this fresh insight still didn’t answer why this weed of a woman ended up where she is today, clinging for dear life to what seems to be a steep wasteland…that was until I stumbled on this verse in Isaiah 41:19 (NIV) the other day “…I will set pines in the wasteland… so that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the LORD has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it.”

Then I knew for sure I had to write this story because I, and others like me, need to know:

We are weeds that God removed,
And transplanted into His Rock garden!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

1. “Student of Nursing”: a term from the past that remains forever engraved in my brain.  The principal of the Nursing School, Miss Gardiner, never missed an occasion to remind her little fledgling Florence Nightingale’s that, “You are not nurses, you are Students offff Nursing” and so we were!