This time last year we were getting ready to leave Arbroath, Scotland for Halloween in Inverness, at the mouth of the Loch Ness, with much anxiety from the kids on what that would mean for our trick-or-treating plans.
We had to leave the Schengen because we’d been there three months and didn’t have a visa to stay longer, so Eberhard helped us buy a car in Germany and we drove it to visit our friends in France, then onward to Amsterdam, then an overnight ferry across the North Sea to Newcastle, a couple hours further to Arbroath, past the Firth of Forth and Edinburgh.
They kept apologizing when we got to Arbroath. In fact, we were well outside Arbroath, along some pretty convoluted country roads and farms and villages, on a private estate. They apologized about the rain, which was especially harsh, but we laughed it off (we’re from Seattle and don’t feel bad about it, we’ll be here three months). That was the plan, to drive around the UK and re-enter the Schengen 90 days later.
Our first night in Arbroath started a pattern we’d follow for each stop the whole time: arrive at our destination, unpack, get groceries, fix dinner, settle in. We had a plastic crate we grabbed from my mom’s vegetable co-op (the Gemüse) full of cookware, another crate with kids’ books, a guitar for Lily, probably four or five computers, cell phones.
And I would find the local chain grocery store, starting with Lidl, that looked the same as the one in my mom’s village in Germany and helped us feel connected to her and the village still, its stark fluorescence and displays, the orange fluorescent signs advertising Aktion! (or sale), the exotic cuts of game meats in time for the holidays.
I got to fiddling in the kitchen with chives and leek soup, potatoes, bacon rashers, local breads, Scotch, jams, crisps. Whatever didn’t get used traveled with us to our next stop (packets of broth, onions, garlic bulbs, coffee), and as the journey continued the back of our car started to look like the bottom of a closet.
When we got off the boat in Newcastle they waved us aside for further questioning, unsure what to make of us from the inside of the customs booth with our German plates, our smiling kids: four Americans, the man unemployed, the woman a contractor, a Le Creuset Dutch oven, kid-sized guitar, barf bags—it didn’t add up, but they gestured us to pull forward, and we entered the first roundabout just like the GPS said.
It was time to leave Arbroath and I went on my last walk in the morning, the weather finally broke though the sky looked like it could rain still, the gray brought out all the golds, and I took a muddy path through the trees across some fields, with bundles of hay drying in the distance, some wild beasts I spotted on the edge of an embankment leaping in the air, disappearing—unsure what I’d really seen.
When I got back to the estate there was a tall man in the entryway stretching, a kind of yoga pose, and we spotted each other, I waved, approached, and as he began to speak I knew him from somewhere, he was the poet on a book in the flat I’d read cover to cover; he looked the same as he did in the photo and I told him I read his book but he didn’t say anything, he just looked at me.
And I told him about the beasts I’d seen and described them and he called them roe deer, and went on to tell me a story about them, but I couldn’t hear what he was saying because I was distracted by the way he looked, his eyes burned soft like a pilot light, the stubble on his jaws, the way he spoke with such force and emphasis, each word cut like a diamond, placed on a pillow, deliberate.
He said I hope you’ll come back and he meant it, and we loaded up the car, returned the keys and waved, set the GPS for our flat in Inverness, decided to take a scenic route through the national park that would get us there late afternoon, just in time to get settled in and find a store, to inquire about Halloween in the Highlands.