That last fall in Arbroath

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.



Categories: poetry, travel

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

22 replies

  1. I remember your encounter with the poet. It had an unreal nature about it – what with his unworldliness and the deer and the fiery landscape – as if the next morning you might wake up and wonder if it had happened at all. Gorgeous photo too Bill

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s cool Lynn, I hoped loyal readers like you would remember that. Funny how the memories change over time, like the idea that a memory is a copy of itself, a memory of the last memory vs. the original (that’s hard to convey, but it’s a theory I’m interested in). We had really lucky weather driving across the Cairngorms national park to Inverness that day, as you can see in the photo…made me want to stay there and camp, stop at the distilleries to sample whiskeys…but as you can appreciate, the sun falls fast this time of year heading north like that. Bill

      Liked by 1 person

      • I know exactly what you mean about memories – they’re never ‘clean’ truths or facts, but part fact, part fiction that’s been changed over time, warped at the moment it happened through our own lens of personality and experience.
        I’ve never been that far north in Scotland and it looks so beautiful I’m wondering why not. Not sure I’d do it in the autumn and winter though, like you guys did 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • We met an English family who were staying in the same building as ours in Amsterdam and told them our plans to winter in the UK, and then kind of mocked the mother, who said of it, “it will be so dark, and there’ll be nothing TO DO,” and we wondered, was she right, and were we nuts, but it all worked out fine. She was right AND we were nuts and it was still OK, with the community swimming pools in each town, even in the Orkneys, and the sun we had was just fantastic. You should go. You are more a scholar of Maes Howe and some of those places than me, I think!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m not much of a scholar in truth but I do love the thought of those neolithic sites, how tough the folk were who lived in their homes half buried – Hobbiton like – in the ground.
        Well, they were right about the lack of stuff to do in the ‘off’ season I guess, though at least when you went there weren’t the crowds you’d get in summer and the landscape is gorgeous whenever – even if draped in fog or rain.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s right, the no-crowds-thing was really good that time of year. And killer rates on our flat outside of London, I’ll say that! Not a drop of rain in almost 10 days in London either, mid-January. Uncanny!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I know we have a reputation for being wet (and it’s true you could have a whole week here and see rain every day) but we keep being told our winters are getting drier, so it doesn’t really surprise me about the lack of rain. Now gloom … We have the market covered for gloom – grey, overcast skies, not seeing the sun for a couple of weeks at a time, the entire nation vitamin D deficient come the spring … That we can do 🙂


      • It’s good for the art. Look at Manchester! “In a river the color of lead / immerse the baby’s head / wrap her up in the news of the world / dump her on a doorstep girl”

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ah, The Smiths. Yep, proud, Bolshie, lippy sons of Salford. Used to live in Manchester for a bit. It is grey, though beautiful too 🙂 I guess the Brontes wouldn’t have existed without our brooding skies. Or Dickens


      • Yes, and I learned a while ago it’s not SALford it’s more Sufford. Like, who put the SUFFERING in Salford? I think there’s a photo of them standing in front of the Salford Lads Club or something inside the Queen is Dead. Through slow lands to these marshes / penned in like a boar between arches / her very lowness with her head in a sling (I’m truly sorry but it sounds like a wonderful thing)

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, you’re right about the pic and the club is still there, I think, a place of pilgrimage for Smiths fans 🙂 He surely had a way with words, that boy. Heard Johnny Marr interviewed on the radio yesterday – guitar god 🙂


  2. A good friend of mine has a reputation for having a rock solid memory. One time I made the mistake of saying I’d like to see the Indigo Girls play live, and he reminded me that I had, in fact, done that very thing. I politely asked him WTF was he talking about. He threw down a couple of facts and a couple of quotes that stirred some coals in my brain that it turns out weren’t totally burnt out, and I had to admit that yes, in fact, I had seen the Indigo Girls in concert, and yet that memory had been corrupted on my hard drive due to, well, due to certain indiscretions pertaining to that eventing and relating to substances inhaled and imbibed. Now, that said, I’ve also caught him not remembering a thing or two. Nothing as egregious as the above, but no one’s memory is perfect, not even that of the guy with the reputation for having the perfect memory. If you can trust my memory on this. Which of course you should.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If I’d seen the Indigo Girls I’d hope I’d forget it too. That’s the good thing about the brain, maybe why we have black outs, to help preserve us from embarrassing things we’ve done. I have friends to remind me (and a wife) and they are pretty good non-memories. I hope you had fun with the Indigo Girls at least, dancing in that drum circle and doing the white man boogie. Ha, I’ll stop there.


  3. i love your poet encounter and the pure beauty of the place. it must be lovely to look back, with some time and space between –


    • It is Beth, thanks. As I get immersed in work again (which I am totally loving), I’m also challenging myself to stay creative and use the time to look back on last year and reflect on it, which is really fun. I wonder if you feel the same about your trip to Ireland, had you been there before? Ours was really a magical time. Gets better the further you go from it, you know. Objects in mirror are closer than they appear. Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Now you’ve got me wondering what it sounded like; that Scottish poet, who spoke with each word a polished jewel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m happy. I can’t really remember, his voice was dry and deep and husk and so assertive. I love that. To really use words like that. Or maybe it was just my impression. Wine and cooking now, dangerous. I will enter philosophic terrains where I don’t have the proper credentials you know. Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  5. There was no dancing in drum circles, and no white man boogie. At least not by me. Of this you can be certain. I’m the guy off to the side, smirking, usually. Although I did have a thing for Amy Ray that forced me to do some soul searching.


  6. “each word cut like a diamond, placed on a pillow, deliberate”…love this. The photo is, just, wow. And the description of your car starting to resemble the bottom of a closet and the smiling kids and the barf bags…so relatable. Really enjoyed this one…Happy Halloween!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Happy Halloween to you too, Kristen! Happy you liked the post and the photo, thanks. That was a great drive we had up to Inverness, from the photo. A gem of a day, so to speak. Best to you and yours, Bill

      Liked by 1 person

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