Thursday, July 20, 2017

Columba's Iona

Rainbow over Mull taken on Sunday Afternoon 25 June 2017
I plan to provide at least two more posts on Iona, before I head off to other places in Scotland like Skye and Wick and Inverness. One will be on my time on the island and another will be about an afternoon trip to Straffa (a neighboring island with interesting geology and puffins (birds).

I picked this book up at the bookstore in Iona and read it while I was there and traveling.  For those of you not familiar with Iona, this provides more background to the island and the community.  In addition to  a review of the book, I've added a few personal comments and a few photos for your enjoyment.


 Rosalind K. Marshall, Columba’s Iona: A New History (Dingwall, Scotland, UK: Sandstone Press, 2014) 210 pages plus 24 color plates, 8 black and white plates, notes, bibliography, and index.



One must make a significant effort to visit Iona.  It’s a small island in the Inner Hebrides, just to the west of the Isle of Mull.  Such a trip usually involves traveling by car, bus or train from Glasgow to Oban, a ferry ride to the Isle of Mull, a long journey on a one lane road across Mull, and then a short ferry ride to Iona.  Leaving Glasgow on an 8 AM train will allow one to arrive on Iona just before dinner.  Despite the remoteness of the island, people have been coming to Iona ever since Columba, an Irish monk, supposedly landed there on Pentecost 563.
Marshall’s book, which was commissioned for the 1450th anniversary of Columba’s landing, provides a quick but well researched overview of the island’s history.  She refuses to just recite traditional accounts and is willing to call into question many of the legends that exist about the island.  Was Columba the first missionary to Scotland?  Did he really have 12 monks with him or was this suggested to link his followers with Jesus’ disciples?  Was the real reason for Columba leaving Ireland a burning desire for evangelism or were there political factors that caused him to seek a new place to build a religious community?  She also raises other questions.  Did the carving of large stone Celtic crosses begin on Iona and then spread to Ireland?  Unfortunately, there is little written history to allow us to understand all this.  What was written, such as a biography of Columba by his disciple Adomnan, included fantastic myths obviously written to enhance the saintly status of the abbot.  According to mythology, Columba even chastised the Loch Ness monster after it had eaten a man (supposedly the monster has since found new sources of food).
There are four distinct periods in Iona’s history.  We don’t know much about the early period, except that the community flourished and became a regional center between Ireland and the Islands off West Scotland.  During this era, Iona wasn’t as isolated as today.  In the 6th Century, sea travel was easier than traveling overland on non-existent roads, and Iona’s location played a role in its prominence.  Even the famed “Book of Kell’s” was produced in Iona.  In its second period, Iona’s location led to its demise as the ancestors of Hagar the Horrible (yes, the guy in the comic strip!) sailed down from Scandinavian countries looking for loot.  Churches and monasteries were favorite targets for their treasures. On several occasions, Viking raiders sacked Iona and many of the monks were killed.  Being exposed to the sea made Iona dangerous and its center of learning, along with its treasures, were moved back to Ireland.  However, a few monks continued to remain on Iona and throughout this time, pilgrims did come to the place where Saint Columba died.  The island also became a favorite burial place for Scottish and even some Scandinavian kings.  The “who’s who” of legend include kings MacBeth and Duncan, both immortalized by Shakespeare.
After the Viking threat faded, Columba’s old community was replaced with a Benedictine abbey which contained the stone edifice that still stands (although reconstructed).  Just to the south of the abbey was a Augustinian priory.  In the centuries leading up to the Reformation, these two communities, one male and the other female, existed side by side.  The ruins of the nunnery have been shored up and can be viewed today.  In 1560, the Scottish Church reformed and most priests became Protestant ministers.  The communities slowly ceased to exist and in time the roofs collapsed, leaving only ruins.  Yet, people still kept coming to Iona, including many notable ones:  Joseph Banks, a famous naturalist; Dr. Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, Sir Walter Scott and John Keats, all known in the world of English literature; and the composer Felix Mendelssohn.  Although Marshall doesn’t mention it, Robert Lewis Stevenson may have visited Iona.  In Kidnapped, the ship upon which David Balfour has been enslaved rounds Iona before it flounders on the Torran Rocks, south of Mull.  This area was known to Stevenson as his father had built a lighthouse on the rocks.  That lighthouse can be seen at night from Dun I, the high point on Iona. Throughout this period of time, between the Reformation and the end of the 19th Century, the ruins were owned by the Duke of Argyll.  He allowed a variety of religious denominations to hold worship services in the ruins on the island, but no community existed except for those who farmed or fished there.
The final period for Iona began when the 8th Duke of Argyll sought to protect and restore the ruins.  A staunch Presbyterian, he donated the ruins to the Church of Scotland (a Presbyterian Church) before his death.  The deed was transferred with the stipulation that the site had to be open to worship by all Christian denominations. Marshall does a good job navigating the reader through the political and ecclesiastical minefields as debates were held over how best to handle the properties.  The Great Depression and a series of wars (the Boer War and the two World Wars) complicated matters.  A trust was set up to manage the property and eventually a community was founded by the Rev. George MacLeod, a pacifist Christian Socialist.  The two groups (the trustees and the Iona Community) have not always had the same vision, as Marshall illustrates.  The primary concern of one was restoration.  The other wanted a community that could help build Christian communities.   MacLeod saw Iona as a place to train people to go back into the world to work for peace and for the poor.  He also desired it to be a place where new forms of worship could be tested.
I recommend this book to anyone interested in knowing more about Iona.  It was the most detailed history available at the Iona bookstore.  The book certainly fulfills the needs of the Trust for a 1450th anniversary book, but personally, I would have liked for the book to have been a little more encompassing and include some of the natural history of the island.  Perhaps such a book will be posted at the 1500th anniversary, if I’m around to read it.
Heather on Iona

Monday, July 17, 2017

June 24, 2017, Journey to Iona


 After a quick breakfast of porridge with Ewan, we head off to the train station where we say goodbye.  I walk down the ramp and board the waiting 7:15 AM train for Glasgow, the first of a multiple leg journey to the Isle of Iona.  Minutes later, the train rolls through the countryside, stopping every so often at a station where an automatize voice of a woman encourages folks to “Please mind the gap when alighting this train.” As it’s a Saturday morning, the train isn’t very busy and the conductor spends time with me, telling me where the best to get coffee in the Glasgow Station (which he recommends over the coffee they serve on the train).  I ask him where I can find a bank machine (they don’t call them ATMs over here) and we talk about the West Highland Line which I’ll be taking to Oban.

I only have fifteen minutes in Glasgow.  I grab coffee and then head to the bank machine.  My card is denied.  I try again and it’s denied again.  The conductor is making a call to board the 8:21 train north.  The next train is two hours later and I don’t want to wait.  I have some cash on me, maybe 50 pounds, but know that once I get to Iona, I will need cash as I’ve been told most places won’t take plastic and there are no bank machines. Thankfully, I’ve prepaid for the week. At least I will be able to eat.

The train pulls out of Queen Street Station and soon we’re leaving the city behind as we race along the north bank of the Clyde River.  I try to reach my bank by cell phone.  This isn’t a local back, it’s a rather large regional Midwestern bank, but even their call center has “banker hours.”  Its 3 AM back in Ohio.  I hope I will have time to get things straightened out during my short layover in Oban.  I want to kick myself for not calling them before leaving the country.  I try to put the worry behind me as there is nothing I can do about it at this time.  I look out the window.  It’s rainy and gloomy.  

At Dulmuir, a group of five women get on.  They’re loud and keep jumping back and forth from seats. I offer to trade with one of their party who is sitting at a table with a couple from Glasgow, so they could all be together.  Furthermore, I can be on the side of the train with the water.  The train is now moving northwest, running alongside Gare Loch and Loch Long, both salt water lochs open out into the Firth of Clyde.  The couple tell me there’s a naval base along here for submarines.  Their son has spent his life at sea, mostly as an officer on a merchant vessel.  The woman tells me about his ship being at Newark, New Jersey on that fateful day in 2011.  As it was mid-day in Scotland, he called to talk and was on the phone when the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center.  He has since given up traveling the world and today is a captain of a buoy and lighthouse tender.  His ship is in Oban for the day, so they’re taking the train up to have lunch with him.
A view from the train

The train leaves Loch Long and passes over a short bit of land before coming into Talbert, on Lock Lomond, one of the more famous lochs in Scotland.  We run alongside the loch for ten or so miles before climbing into the hills north of the loch.  At Crianlarich, which appears to be just a train station in the woods, the train splits.  I’d been informed in Glasgow to be sure to sit in the front two coaches.  We’re bound for Oban.  The last four coaches are bound for Fort Williams and Mallaig (a line I plan to ride next Friday).   After a few minutes, we’re riding through the woods.  After Dalmally, we come alongside Loch Awe (what a wonderful name).  In the middle of the lock are the ruins of a castle.  We are heading west now, and soon pick up Loch Etive, which is open to the sea.   I’ve recently read that the furthest you can get from the sea in Britain is sixty five miles and looking how these salt water lochs reach so far inland, I understand how that’s probably the case.

After having worried about my bank card all morning, it dawns on me that I have another bank card with me, from a bank that we don’t use as often, mainly as a place to hold cash.  As this was a local bank, and I had made a deposit into this bank a few days before leaving home, when I informed the teller that I was going to be out of the country.  She said she’d make a note on my account.  I have this bank card in a belt under my pants, along with some extra cash and my passport.  I’m more than a little relieved as I’m not sure I’ll have time to contact the other bank when in Oban. 

Lighthouse/Buoy Tender at Oban
The couple's son is the captain
After Connel, the train turned south and we’re soon in Oban, an old town built around a harbor.  The couple point out their son’s ship, docked just behind the ferry terminal.  I bid them farewell and wish them a wonderful lunch and walk out of the train station looking for a bank.  It all falls in place.  There’s a Bank of Scotland with an ATM just across the street from the train station.  On the other side is the ferry terminal. I have nearly an hour before it leaves.  I withdraw 200 pounds from the bank, then walk across the street and buy lunch from a vendor (a tuna and cucumber sandwich and an apple) and then get into line to board the ferry for a fifty minute trip to Craignure on the Isle of Mull.  With spendable cash in my wallet (my American dollars aren’t much good), I’m at ease.  I find place on the upper deck, where I’m sheltered from the weather, but am able to be outside.  I sit down and enjoy my sandwich as the boat pulls away from the port and makes its way through the harbor. There are a number of sail boats moored, and another makes it way in the harbor as the ship pushes off from the pier.  It’s a stormy day and I’m wearing a rain jacket.  The entrance to the harbor is rather narrow.  The ship slows to let a small passenger ship (or a large yacht) make its way into the safety of the harbor.  As we go outside, the waters are rougher.  I can’t imagine sailing in such waters in the small boat as had just made for the harbor.  As we leave the mainland, I think about my destination.   I’ve wanted to visit Iona for a long time and now am able to achieve this goal.

Iona has been a destination for pilgrims and the curious for nearly 1500 years.  In 563, an Irish abbot named Columba and a group of twelve disciples (sound familiar) land on Iona, where they find a religious community.  At this time, sea travel was easier than traveling overland on non-existent roads, and the small island becomes a center of faith and learning that extends throughout the British and Irish mainland and the islands that surrounded them.  The Book of Kell's was supposedly produced here, and some think the practice of carving large stone crosses which are prominent on Ireland and on some of the Scottish Islands, also began on Iona.  The community thrived until the 10th Century when Viking raiders began to pillage the islands.  Although a few monks continued to live on the island, the center of learning was moved to Ireland where it was safer from these raids.  In the 12th Century, after the Viking threat had waned, the island began a new period of importance as a Benedictine monastery was founded on the site of Columba’s monastery.  About the same time, an Augustine nunnery was also founded on the island.  These two continued until the Scottish Reformation in 1560.  Afterwards, the site slowly begin to crumble, but became a place for artists and authors to visit (a who’s who of British literature in the 18th and 19 century made journeys to Iona).   Eventually, the site became property to the Duke of Argyll, who allowed it to be used as a place of worship for all denominations (Church of Scotland/Presbyterian, Roman Catholics and the Scottish Episcopal Church).   In the late 19th Century, he turned the site over to a Trust who worked to restore the ruins.  In the 1930s, a new Iona Community emerged and continues to this day.
Passing a ferry returning from Mull
Rough seas off Fionnphort

 
Coming into Mull, at Craignure, we pass the ruins of the Durant Castle.  This country feels old.   Soon, we pull up to the pier and those who have cars below are asked to go below and prepare to disembark.  Along with maybe a hundred or so others, I disembark down the gangway to a line of buses.  I find the bus for Iona and stow my backpack in the luggage compartment and pay the 15 pounds (for a round trip as I’ll be returning this way next Friday) and take a seat in the back.  It’s nearly fifty wet miles across Mull, mostly on one lane roads (with turnouts so that vehicles can pass one another).  The bus runs across Glen More in the center of Mull, and then drops down to the Ross of Mull, where we run along Loch Scridain.  The driver is a bit of a maniac, gunning the engine where there is nothing ahead and at times stomping on the brakes in time to pull into a passing place.  It’s still raining but the countryside is beautiful, with lots of rocky hills, plenty of wildflowers, fields covered with ferns, and interesting varieties of cows and sheep.  The distant hills and mountains are shrouded with fog.  After nearly an hour, we pull into the small town of Fionnphort, where we unload.

Waiting on ferry to Iona
First View of the Abbey
Everyone on the bus is headed to Iona, with most spending a week as a part of the Iona Community.  Some.  I began to introduce myself to folks who have been on the same train and ferries going back to Glasgow.  We all stand at the ferry terminal, with our packs and suitcases beside us, watching the ferry bounce around in the water as it makes its way across.  Iona is easily seen in the distance.  This ferry is a lot smaller than the other one.  There are just two cars going across (you have to have a special permit to take a car to Iona).  Most of us are going on foot.  We board and I find a sheltered place up top, where I can watch the island approach.  

The Iona Abbey is easy to spot.  Soon, I’m on the last leg of my journey, a fifteen minute ride across the Sound of Iona, in which I gain my sea legs.  The ferry pitches and rolls and struggles to dock against a strong wind and tide.  Once we arrive, we have to time the waves in order to get off the ferry’s loading ramp to solid ground with dry feet. There are vehicles waiting to take our luggage, while it’s up to us to walk a third of a mile to the Abbey and the MacLeod Center (I’ll be staying in the later).  I find my bunk and unpack. It’s an hour before dinner, so I lay down and watch through the window the grass blow in the wet wind.  I love the sound of the wind, and soon am napping to its calming presence.    


Dinner is simple but delicious:  carrot and turnip soup, good chewy bread, raw vegetables, fruit and desert with coffee.  Afterwards, we spend a few minutes getting to know everyone, learning our duties for the week (I’ll help out at breakfast and chopping vegetables for the lunch and evening meals).  At 7:30 PM, we all walk in the rain down to the Abbey for the welcoming worship service.  The place is beautiful, as the stone walls are lighted with candles.  It’s still light after the short service, but I decide to go back and get to bed early.  It’s been a long day.  
Evening Service in the Abbey 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Edinburgh, Day 2


View of Castle from Princess Street Garde
My second day in Scotland begins early with a standard breakfast (porridge) with Ewan.  As he has some things to tend at work in the morning and both he and Hilary had a funeral for a friend in the afternoon, I’m on my own.  I take the bus downtown into Edinburgh with plans to see several things I’d missed during a previous visit (I've done the National Gallery, the Castle, St. Giles and some of the other sites).  My first stop is the Writer’s Museum.  It’s located near the castle, which meant climbing the royal mile from the bus stop.  Although early, the street are teeming with tourists and the bagpipes are out.  I stop to admire the statue to David Hume, the great Scottish philosopher I once had to read.  His bronze statue is all grey and tarnished, except that he is barefooted and his big toe is bright and shiny, as if someone has a toe fetish and his been polishing it (Or rubbing it).  I don't touch the toe and soon the bagpipes are encouraging me to make my way on up the hill.



Hume's toes

View from a window at the Writer's Museum

After wandering around, I finally ask for guidance and find the the narrow street that leads to the Writer’s Museum.  It’s small, mostly dedicated to Sir Walter Scott, Robert Lewis Stevenson and Robert Burns.  Although the home in which houses the museum had no relationship to the authors, its architecture is interesting and there’s a collection of artifacts for each of the big three.  There are also a few other authors who get recognized including J. K. Rowling who completed her Harry Potter stories in Edinburgh.   While there, I discovered the answer for the Ayn Rand nuts who have the bumper stickers asking, “Who is John Galt?” He was a Scottish novelist in the early 19th Century, long before he became one of Rand’s characters.  I come away with even more admiration for Stevenson.  He once said, “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.”  I agree.

Trains approaching Waverly Street Station
After the writing museum, I walk down the bottom of the castle as it begins to rain.  I find myself in New College’s Seminary, where I looked around a bit but nothing much is happening as everyone is on summer break.  I then duck into a coffee shop to avoid the rain.  When the rain subsides, I walk further down the hill and through the upper part of the Princess Street Gardens, which at this level was mostly forested.  I stop at the walking bridge over the tracks to photograph trains approaching and leaving the Waverly Street Station. 


Rev. Dickson--19th Century rival of Jesus?


Then I head on to St. Cuthbert’s Church, which a friend recommended me to check out.  Sadly, the church is closed but I’m able to loiter a bit in the graveyard.  At the church’s front, there is a statue of a 19th Century pastor whose piety, according to the words on the monument, must have rivaled Jesus.   This “accomplished scholar and theologian,” served the church for 40 years.  He was “sound in doctrine, earnest in exhortation, in labor unwavering, accuse in argument, expert in business, affectionate, generous, affable and accessible to all.”






Photobombed by a pigeon


Leaving St. Cuthberts, I walk through the lower level of the Princess Street Gardens, which was filled with flowers, pigeons, war monuments and the distant sound of bagpipes.  There was even a monument for the Scots in America who signed up in 1914 to fight in the Great War.  There was another of a Polish soldier and his “pet bear.”  This guy had made his way into Persia after the fall of Poland (and adopted the bear along the way) and then fought with the Scots in World War II.  Gunfire didn’t scare the bear as he would haul ammo to the front lines.   At the far end of the garden, there is a clock done in flowers.
American Scot Volunteers of 1914
Wojac the bear
Princess Street Gardens

Photo from top of Scott Monument
After walking through the park, I come to the Scott Monument (not Scot, but Scott as in Sir Walter) and decided to pay the 5 pounds to climb it.  Supposedly, this is the largest statue to a writer in the world.  It is certainly unique.  Charles Dickens, upon observing the completed monument in 1858 said, “I am very sorry to report the Scott Monument is a failure.  It is like the spire of a Gothic Church broken off and stuck in the ground.”  To ascend the statue, one has to climb through four series of tight circular stairwells.  The first set, with 90 steps, is the only one large enough for two people to pass.  The other three sets of steps have 60 steps and if someone is coming down, one has to back up and let them descend. By the last set, it’s so tight that I have to take off my small backpack and turn sideways.  Once on the top, I’m treated to gale force winds and some serious contemplation as to what might happen if my heart decides to stop ticking at this point.  On a good note, I might have dropped another five pounds from my waist just by climbing the monument.  Seriously, the view of Edinburgh is wonderful and with the wind, I was spared from the sound of bagpipes. 

I duck into the Waverly Street station to get a quick bite for lunch, as it was already 2 PM and I’m famished after climbing the monument.  Then, as I make my way back over to High Street, I pass a number of Indian restaurants and am bummed.  The best meals I’ve enjoyed in the UK have always been Indian, instead I had a salad from a fast food restaurant.

John Knox's So-called House
My next stop is what is referred to as John Knox’s House.  I quickly learn that Knox may never step foot in.  The house was built by a royal goldsmith and whose son was one of Queen Mary’s men who tried to restore her to the Scottish throne.  While he and his fellow conspirators were held up in the Edinburgh Castle, Knox made his final return to Edinburgh (where he died). If Knox did end up in this house, it would have been where he died.  Knox died not knowing if the Reformation of Scotland was going to succeed, but after the fall of the castle, when most of those supporting the queen were hanged for treason, the Reformation was secured.  This house was purchased by the Church of Scotland in the 19th Century because of a possible connection to Knox, and has been a museum since.  It is also one of the few homes remaining in the old part of Edinburgh that would have been there during Knox’s life.  One of the upstairs bedroom has a fairly risque painting on the ceiling.  I chuckled at the thought of John Knox, on his death bed, having to look up at it.

Knox Window
I'm sure he's rolling in his grave!

Lord Craig (right) and Clarinda's grave
I continue down the road, stopping next at the Canonsgate’s Church.  According to the agreement tying Scotland and England together is the stipulation that when in England, the royal family will worship with the Church of England and when in Scotland, they will worship with the Church of Scotland (Presbyterians).  Canonsgate is the church just up the road from their Hollyrod Castle and their place of worship when in Edinburgh.  The graveyard around the church houses the remains of a number of notable deceased from Edinburgh, including Adam Smith, the economist.  Even more interesting, to me, was the grave of Clarinda, the wife of the Honorable Lord Craig.  Although Craig has a nicer monument and a title, Clarinda is better known due to having had a relationship with the poet Robert Burns.  Nobody comes to see Craig’s grave anymore, but Clarinda is remembered in Burn’s poems and continues to have flowers brought to her grave.  I’m pretty sure Canonsgate isn’t the only church in Scotland that holds the remains of a lover of Bobbie Burns.  According to legend he got around.
Next stop is the Dunbar's Chase Gardens, just a few doors down from Canongate Church.  At the bottom of the hill (and just before you'd begin climbing Arthur's Throne, is the new Scottish Parliament building which stands in contrast to the older buildings in this section of town.  I walk around a few minutes before heading back to where I can catch a bus back to Ewan’s home.





Scottish Parliament 
It was the last day of school before the summer break.  I arrive in time to go with Ewan and Hilary to their daughter’s “Improv Show” for the end of the semester.  The youth, mostly late elementary school age, were given situations and had to act them out on stage or to guess what another was acting out.  There were lots of jokes about Theresa May and a demon (aren’t they the same thing, one student asked) and even an improv with Donald Trump as the butt of the joke.  My favorite line of the night came from Ewan’s daughter.  She was to sit on a park bench next to another person and “drive them away.”  She started her spiel by seductively asking “Did it hurt when you fell from heaven?”  The boy was soon running for his life.
Hilary has an engagement that evening, so after the play Ewan and I head to the Barrel House for dinner.  It’s a local establishment, within walking distance of their house.  Ewan and Hilary’s son works there when he’s home from college.  The evening turns out to be an international experience.  The proprietor is from Australian, but loves New Orleans cooking so they have Jambalaya, Gumbo and Southern Fried Chicken on the menu, along with a lot of American beers and bourbons.  I stick with Haddock, Chips and Peas and a bottle of a local IPA called “Loaf of Life.”  While eating, a very good Scottish country-rock band takes the stage.  Among the songs they played were Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher” along with the blues tune, “Train, Train.”  At least I’m not having to suffer more bagpipes!

Afterwards, I hit the sack early, humming “Train, Train.”  In the morning, I’m catching the train for Glasgow and then on to Oban, as I head to Iona for a week.



Monday, July 10, 2017

Heading to Scotland

I got back on Friday evening after spending sixteen days in Scotland.  I'll milk this trip for half dozen or so posts.  This is my first one.  Things will continue to be busy this week as I learned a few days before leaving that I was being called for Jury Duty, starting today!  Depending on whether or not I am seated on a jury will probably depend on how quickly I get around to check on everyone.  Take care!

Arthur's Seat, Edinburg

I boarded the plane in Boston at 5:30 PM, flying to Dublin and then on to Glasgow.  I’d slept maybe an hour on the flight from Savannah.  The airline agent said that dinner would be served 50 minutes from take-off, so I decided not to eat, figuring I’d have dinner and then sleep the rest of the way to Dublin.  So much for plans.  They didn’t feed us for nearly two hours, partly because of turbulence.  Trying to entertain myself, I read a bit then watched a stupid Irish comedy, “The Young Offenders.” It was about two guys on stolen bicycles looking for lost cocaine, in the hopes of making millions, while being hounded by the police.  The movie was over when my dinner arrived.  I ate.  When they finally picked up my tray, I tried to sleep the remaining three hours.  I wasn’t successful.  There were several more patches of turbulence which required instructions given at such a decibel that my earplugs only partly muffled it.  Each time, I woke, went back to sleep.  

Thanks to a nice tailwind, we landed in Dublin half an hour early.  It was 4:30 AM and the sun was rising.  I walked through the terminal, checked through immigration as flights from Ireland to Britain are no different than from one state to the next.  The terminal was nice and looked new—or at least they’d updated the lighting for everything was bright. Too bright.   They’d be no sleeping while waiting  After two hours, I boarded a prop plane for Glasgow and sat next to a delightfully talkative principal from Texas who was meeting her son and daughter-in-law in Scotland.  It was 8 AM when we arrived in Glasgow and in no time I had taken the bus to the train station in the city centre and was on a train for Edinburgh.  I was met at the station by Ewan.  We threw my bags in his car, dropped them off at his house.

View from Arthur's Seat
By 10:30 AM, we were off climbing Arthur’s Seat, a volcanic outcropping in Edinburgh.  It was cool and the wind was blowing and soon we were huffing and puffing as we climbed toward the rocky crest.  It was also humid, but the wind and cool temperature made it very comfortable.  Ewan pointed out the sights of the city.  Although I’d been in Edinburgh, this was the first time to climb this hill.  After climbing down, it was time for a late lunch, which we took at a seaside restaurant in Portobello, eating outside while looking out into the Firth of Leith.  

At lunch, I asked about the local beers and ordered one.  Surprisingly, Ewan ordered cranberry juice.  Then I learned that Ewan wasn’t drinking this year.  He’d decided to go dry every fourth year as a way to bring awareness to Scotland’s alcohol abuse problems.  I was a little dumbfounded, for in my luggage I’d brought him a bottle of Savannah bourbon.  He graciously accepted the gift and promised that on his birthday (the day he stops his fast) he’ll enjoy a drink and think of me.  

With Ewan, On Arthur's Seat

After a rather late lunch, we walked along the Portobello Beach, a community that Ewan represented when he was on the Edinburgh Council.   Later, we went up on Calton Hill, where he had more good views of Edinburgh and we continue to talk and catch up with each other.  He then too me to a park in Leith, a part of Edinburgh along the water, which in its day had warehouses holding casts of whisky.  There, Ewan showed me Leith Links, where golf was played on a seven hole course years before St. Andrews (or at least that’s what those in Edinburgh claim).  After photos, we drove back to Ewan’s home.  He had a formal engagement that evening (he was wearing his formal kilt).  I had dinner with Hilary, his wife, and as I had only a few hours of sleep the night before, was asleep soon after laying down.

 Tomorrow is Friday. I'll spend the day exploring Edinburgh on my own, catching sights I missed when I was here in 2011. On Saturday, I'll be on my way to Iona.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Kayak photos while I'm away

I am going to be away from the internet for the next ten, with little access, in a place that will look as different from the photos below as you can imagine.  They'll be salt water there, but craggy rocky islands.  I'll be in Scotland.  Until I return, I'll share some photos I took on Friday, June 16, when a friend and I paddled from Skidaway Island to Ossabaw Island and back, with stops at Raccoon Key and Green Island.  Enjoy the photos:

Bird segeration


Old Civil War embankments on Green Island


My kayak on Raccoon Key, looking at Hell's Gate
The Intracoastal Waterway runs through here and there are terrible shoals

Looking out on the Sound

My paddling partner for the day

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

God's Children

Archibald Rutledge, God’s Children, 1947  (I read the Kindle edition of this book). 

            I have a love and hate relationship with this book.   Archibald Rutledge had an ability to see beauty and complexity everywhere.  A lover of nature and the beauty of his family’s South Carolina’s plantation, he was able to convey the awe he experienced in nature into words that delight the reader.  Yet, as he was writing in the early 20th Century, there is a strong sense of paternalism in how he relates to the African American sharecroppers who worked the land.  He claims to love them and credits them for helping him experience the fullness of nature, yet he’s a man of his time.  It doesn’t seem to bother him that he lives in the big house and they live in shacks. 
            However, Rutledge saw himself responsible responsible for the welfare of those who live around his plantation. “The whole business of government, especially the unpleasant details of taxes, is to a plantation Negro a dark and mysterious affair,” he writes.  Then he tells the story about Jim, an African American man who was delinquent on his poll tax and about to lose his land.  Rutledge spoke to the Sheriff who said Jim had to pay the sum or he would have to claim title.  Rutledge paid it, and expected Jim to work his debt off.  But the Sheriff later asked if Jim was over 60 years old, saying if so, he’d be exempt from the poll tax.  Talking with the Jim, Rutledge realized that he had no idea of when he was born.  He asked about things he could remember in order to determine his age.  He remembered being of “good sense” (which would have meant around 6-7 years old) when there was the Great Shake (the earthquake that damaged Charleston in 1886).  This put him over 60 years of age.  Archibald received a refund.  Reading this, I was amazed Jim would have to play a poll tax because I am sure he wasn’t able to vote South Carolina at that time.  Although it was noble of Rutledge to champion Jim’s cause, he followed it up with a joke about how now plantation owners are the slaves, as he noted how they are responsible for the descendants of slaves. I’m sure if Rutledge was writing today and not in 1947, such views would not be published or at least not received well by the general public.
            Yet, there is much wisdom and beauty in his writings.  “[L]ife is enlivened by its uncertainty, as it is made dearer by its insecurity and its brevity.  As the long look of the setting sun lights up the fading landscape (especially an autumnal one) with more tenderness than the morning mysterious glamours…”  This portion of a sentence (Rutledge was no Hemingway as I quoted only half the sentence) captures the wisdom and beauty of his words.  Life everywhere is made up of roses and razor blades, arsenic and azaleas,” displays the paradox Rutledge saw in life.  Writing about the African American cemetery, he says:  “There the mighty pines towered tallest; there the live oaks stood druidlike; there the jasmines rioted freely over hollies and sweet myrtles, tossing their saffron showers high in air.  As children, Prince and I dreaded this place.” His sentence structure is often complex and his words ring of poetry.
            In this book, Rutledge tells of hunting and fishing with his African American friends around the plantation.  Some of the stories are from his youth, such as when he and Prince caught a poisonous water moccasin while fishing and used it to scare the plantation’s cook (I thought of my own experience of almost catching such a snake).  Some of the stories seem a bit fanciable such as Mobile, the huntsman, hunting next to the rice paddies where workers were busy.  His wife was working in the paddy and their infant child was left to sleep on a dike.  When an eagle swooped down and grabbed the child, Mobile took aim and, from a long distance, shot the bird and saved the child.  Another story involved a traveling man with a monkey.  The monkey grabbed a child and took it up on the roof of the house, requiring another heroic and comic rescue.  
            Rutledge shares the plantation folk stories such as the one about the “Walk Off People.”  When Adam and Eve were first created, all wasn’t well in paradise. Adam liked to hunt and fish so much that Eve was bored and threatened to leave him.   So God created more people so Eve would have company, but it was late in the day.  God said he’d come back and put brains in these newly created people, but some of them “walked off” and never got their brains.  This story not only explains those without “good sense” but perhaps also those who move in on a married woman that has played second fiddle to her husband’s interests.
            Rutledge spends most of the fifth chapter writing about the religion of his African American neighbors.  The only place he gives insight into his own beliefs is where he addresses the fundamentalists need to understand how “the worship of nature and God go hand in hand, and that he who worships the God of the universe is usually ready to accept Christ as the Son of that God.”  Earlier in the book, he remarked how the folk saying, “Prayers never gets grass out of de field” illustrated the truth about faith without works! 
            I highly recommend this book, which is available on Amazon Kindle for a minimal cost (I think I paid 99 cents).  But I remember this book with a warning. This was written sixty years ago and recalls stories that are over a hundred years old.  Today, paternalistic views are criticized.  Yet, the reader who understands the world in which Rutledge was writing will appreciate his attempt at honoring those who lived on the plantation as well as the magic of the land. The author grew up on this plantation, then moved north for college and to teach in Pennsylvania.  In the mid-1930s, he moved back to the plantation, to help restore it and lived there until his death in 1973.  He also served for 40 years at the poet laureate of South Carolina and published over 50 books and numerous articles, many about the outdoor life.  Today, the plantation is a state historic site. 
 “There is, I think, no lovelier land than the old plantation regions of the Carolinas—a land of hyacinth days and camellia nights.  Nature there triumphs in giant trees, in great rivers, in lustrous fragrant fields, in an exotic profusion of wild flowers.”   

                                                     -Archibald Hamilton Rutledge. 1883-1973

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Last Friday on the Water


Chicks peaking out of their nest

The osprey chicks, in nest built on top of the two navigation markers leading out of Delegal Creek, are maturing.  As I leave the marina and paddle out of the creek with the falling tide, the parents do their usual dance.  As I get closer, they begin to cry out and then stand tall on their nest and spread their wings before flying.  At first they approach me in a threatening manner, then head to a tree in the marsh where they continued their cry as I paddle past.  This happens every time there are eggs or chicks in the nest, only this time the young chicks are large enough to bop their heads up to see what’s happening.  It won’t be long before they fledge and take off on their own. 

Approaching nest at mouth of Delegal Creek
Last Friday, I took the late morning outgoing tide to Wassaw Beach.  It’s a warm day, but not too hot and with enough of a sea breeze to keep me cool as I paddle. With the tide in my favor, I make the five mile paddle in just over an hour, pulling my boat up on the beach and enjoying lunch.  Just up the beach from me are two families who’d made the trip in two powerboats.  The two men have rods out in the water, which are sticking in the back of their boats while they sip on beer in the shade of beach umbrellas.  They catch a few small sharks (thankfully they release them) but the sight of the sharks is enough to keep the children out of the water and for their wives to caution them about getting too close to the sharks’ mouth, warning they might bite off a finger. 
Approaching south end of Wassaw
 
Osawbaw is in the distance, to the left is open ocean
After lunch, I pull my boat up higher on the beach and take my hammock, a book and journal, and head off for some privacy.  I walked around the south end of the island.  The high water mark is a graveyard of dead (and stinking) horseshoe crabs.  At the southern tip of the island, and just far enough inland to avoid the stench, but not so far as to block the sea breeze, I find two pines where I can string my hammock.  The site affords me a nice view of the water and Ossabaw Sound to the south. I plop myself in the hammock, enjoying the constant breeze, for some reading and an afternoon nap.  The tide is turning around 3 PM, but I’m not in a hurry.  After waking from a nap, I watch a pod of bottle-nosed dolphins play and fish in the water just feet from the shore.  I’m sure the sharks, who tend to avoid dolphins and porpoises, have cleared out.  Many times I have been fishing and, like the guys I’d seen earlier in the afternoon, and have been catching lots of what we called sand sharks, only to have dolphins show up and the sharks to clear out.  I also notice that the humidity has dropped for Ossabaw Island, which is at least three miles away, appears a lot closer than when I fell asleep.

Dead horseshoe crabs at high water mark

relaxing!
 At 5:30 PM, I pack up, stow everything in my kayak, and paddle back home.  The breeze has picked up and waves are on the water, which makes for a more interesting paddle (and an easier one as I am often able to ride the waves).  I make good time heading back.  As I enter Delegal Creek, the Osprey again greet me with their usual dance as I pass the navigation markers.
 As I am loading up my kayak on top of the car, a number of kayakers began arriving, planning for an evening paddle while watching the nearly full moon rise.  I am tempted to join them.

Adult osprey approaching nest





Tuesday, June 06, 2017

John Knox (and dreams of Scotland)

I'm heading to Scotland in a few weeks, so it was a good time to read a recent biography of the Scottish Reformer, John Knox.  Here's my review:



Jane Dawson, John Knox, (New Haven: Yale, 2015), 373 pages, index and notes and 8 pages of illustrations.


John Knox, the Protestant Reformer of Scotland, is often portrayed as a dour masochistic preacher and an opponent of Mary, Queen of Scots. In this new biography of the Scottish Reformer Jane Dawson paints a different view of the man. She begins with a description of Knox having his first child baptized in Geneva, while he was exiled.  It was a happy time of life for a man who was often depressed.  But then, Knox had a rough life.  George Wishart, who led Knox into the Protestant fold, was burned at the stake in St. Andrews, Scotland, only six weeks after Knox’s conversion.  After the first attempt to bring reform failed in Scotland, with Mary Guise reclaiming Catholic control of Scotland, Knox found himself chained to an ore in the galley of a ship.  This was a time of physical suffering from which Knox never fully recovered.  After being freed, Knox went to England where he served as a pastor, but as the Catholics began to roll back some of the early reforms in England, he fled to Europe, where he met with John Calvin in Geneva and Henry Bullinger in Zurich.

Knox was always a bit ornery.  He fought against the prayer book of the Anglican Church, a conflict that would continue to haunt him on the continent especially during his tenure with the English congregation in Frankfurt. While in Geneva, he helped produce the Geneva Bible (an English Bible that was considered so anti-royalty that it encouraged King James to call for another translation), the Psalter, and a book on church discipline.  Knox and Calvin had different views of the church.  Calvin felt the true church needed two “marks”: the preaching of the Word and the sacraments.  Knox added a third mark: discipline.  Knox concern for church discipline and the “cleansing of the church,” reflects his black and white views, but also made him less willing to compromise.  Knox could get overly zealous.  When he first arrived on the continent, both Calvin and Bullinger encouraged him to cool down.  His zealous attitude certainly contributed to the willingness for the church to continue to separate and splinter, an attitude that pervades Protestantism. 

Knox later returned to Scotland, having been invited by royalty who were devoted to the Protestant cause.  He would serve as a chaplain for the Lords of the Congregation during their fight against the Catholic forces in Scotland.  This was a troubling time.  Scotland was involved in a civil war.  There was always a chance that France would come to the aid of Catholics in Scotland.  Knox, having spent time in England, had a vision of a united Protestant island (this would come about long after his death).   It was also an interesting time, as religion was not the only dividing issue. There were even Protestants who support Mary, Queen of Scots. Knox had his own battles with the English reformation (especially on the Prayer Book and vestments).  The author points out how Knox’s stubbornness kept the Scottish and English Reformations separate.

Another example of Knox stubbornness was his first book, a tract written against female leadership.  John Calvin warned against publishing this tract, suggesting he might come to regret it.  The tract was primarily directed at the Catholic Marys (there were three and Mary Guise appears to have been more problematic than the better known Mary Queen of Scots).  His harsh language against women leadership was so strong Queen Elizabeth (a Protestant) also detested Knox for it.  It is this tract that normally leads people to consider Knox to be masochistic, but as Dawson points out, Knox actually got along well with women. There were several women whom he regularly solicited advice.  He also loved both of his wives and was in deep grief following his first wife’s death.  (His courtship and marriage of his first wife is interesting, as she came with her mother and her father wrote her out of his will.)

Bouts of depression often haunted Knox.  He was constantly in fear of losing the Reformation in Scotland, a fear that was based on the political reality more than a theological trust in God.   In an era where most sermons were from the New Testament, Knox often preached from the Old Testament.  He saw himself as a modern day Ezekiel.  His favorite book (his anchor) was the Gospel of John and at his death he asked to have the 17th Chapter of John’s Gospel.  Although Knox’s preaching was strong, criticism of sermons bothered him and he took such comments personally.   Later in his life, his voice was so weak that he struggled to preach (often preaching in the chapel instead of the main sanctuary).   

 In addition to the tons of material available on Knox’s life, Dawson drew upon the papers of Christopher Goodman that have only recently been made available.  Goodman and Knox worked together when they were both exiled on the Continent (working with English speaking congregations in Frankfurt and Geneva) and later in Scotland.  Although Goodman left Scotland for Ireland (Knox even considered joining him there in an evangelical mission), the two remained close the rest of their lives through correspondence.


This book is a great introduction to the life of John Knox and the world in which he lived.  Knox is a complicated man.  There were much to admire in him, as well as stuff to detest.  His view of a "united kingdom," that would eventually come about, was prophetic, but his strict view of the church brought a harshness into Presbyterianism that has been hard to shake. 

Friday, June 02, 2017

A few sailing photos

The past two weeks I've been battling a cold.  I am sure my daughter gave it to me on our drive back from Princeton, NJ.  Thankfully, I'm on the downhill run, but I haven't had a lot of energy.  I haven't been to the gym since getting back nor have I sailed or kayak.  I did go out for a bike ride one afternoon, but after about 4 miles, found myself hacking and coughing and rode home at a slower pace.  Last Saturday it was my turn on the committee boat to run our weekend regatta.  I took these photos then (I don't often take photos when racing, only when going out for pleasure sails or on the committee boat).  Enjoy the photos.  It was a warm day, highs in the low 90s with a nice steady wind of 10-12 miles an hour.


Downwind spinnaker run 

Way out front (other boats are rounding the leeward mark)

Crossing the line
Weather holding, I'll be sailing tomorrow.  My daughter's boyfriend is coming in for the weekend and he wants to try sailing, so this will be a new experience for me.  So far, I like him so I won't be tempted to knock him out of the boat with the boom on an "accidental" jibe.