Our last morning in Arbroath, the wind and rain have stopped and everything has gone still. I walk the estate in the opposite direction from last time, spot two beasts in the distance, perhaps the same that startled Dawn the night before — and though I take my walks to get ideas to write nothing comes today, I know we’re leaving and part of me has already left.
But coming back to our flat I turn into the main living area for the estate (although a sign on a stake says Private) and proceed up the stone driveway, then see an older man in his doorway stretching, wave, and stop for a moment to regard him, as he does me.
“You’re out early,” he says in a familiar way, like we’ve already met — and as I approach I recognise he’s the poet I’ve been reading from a collection left in the apartment but can’t remember his name — Robert, he says — and it’s funny, but he looks exactly like the picture on the back of the book, even tilts his head the same, his face long like his frame, a wiry white goatee, born in ’42, “Engineer, Farmer, Grandfather, Writer” it says on the book in that order, as a true engineer would.
Like other poems I’ve read or written myself, some land, some don’t, others never get off the ground — but it’s a densely packed tin of sardines, his collection, multiple pages of titles in the table of contents, and by his name is the year 1942 in parentheses with an open dash beside it, suggesting he’s still alive.
“You’re standing in front of one of my favourite trees,” he says, and gestures behind me — but there are many trees: It’s an American Oak, it takes its time getting dressed in the spring, then turns pink all at once in the autumn and drops its leaves in a day — Like a firework, I say — and wonder if that’s truly a word, if it can be used like that in the singular.
The beasts are Roe deer he explains, he had a gamekeeper who’d go out with a lamp at night and count them. We thought they might be kangaroos by how they leapt, I laugh.
We make small talk but there are extra beats between our lines or I step on his, and he continues to half-smile as he holds me in his marbly eyes and says softly, “We hope you’ll come back and visit again” — and funny, I’d taken some notes about this poet a couple nights ago during the storm, I made him abstract, like a ghost coming out of the book when I bent the spine, but here he was all the while living right next door to us.
With 20 minutes before checkout, I take the girls by the foot path to the Walled Garden, a combination of very old brick and stone, gnarled brown vines grown up the side, and I picture the poet’s face Robert and think how after a time, we can physically change to conform to our surroundings, to resemble where we live or what we choose to do for a living.
The kids are still wet from their baths and swinging in the rain, laughing, this large garden otherwise empty but for the nearby birdsong and patter of rain on fallen leaves, tiny hands clapping in the grass and mud.
Later, driving through a forest north toward Inverness, twisting along the scenic route by the Lochs, the windswept moors and rust coloured ferns gone copper and gold, towns with names like Butterstone or Dunkeld, past tribes called the Picts we’d never heard of, the sheep on the hills like game pieces pinned to a felt mat, some of them spray-painted pink or blue, like snow cones Dawn says — we read about three bodies they discovered from 3000 BC near here, who’d had their organs removed and were preserved all that time in the peat bog. And that’s me on the left there, alongside Robert Ramsay.