Off-the-Rails or On the Wrong Train?

Train Tracks.jpgMy thoughts have been troubled of late. They take turns volleying between self-abasement and self-awareness. The dizzying heights of self-knowledge are fleeting, never staying as long as I need them to in order to affect any real change. The easily derailed choo-choo that is my brain isn’t always the engine that could. Often, at least in darker times, it is the train that won’t!

As I’ve alluded to elsewhere, in January of this year, I experienced what I might call a “Spirit-induced glimpse” into the possibilities of anxiety-free living. Following an emotional breakdown, God granted a 12-day “deliverance” from a deeply embedded fear. A veil was lifted, if only for a time, just long enough for me to smell the better air above the clouds of my oft-stormy psyche.

It was a gift. One that would not last but which I eagerly received.

I saw no angels. I did not speak in tongues. The back-of-my-neck hair stayed still. And, I had no beatific visions. What I did have however was a new appreciation for the glorious mundane as it appears to an uncluttered mind at rest.

I made decisions. I cleared detritus from my schedule – a schedule unrealistically packed full of the vicissitudes of one reaching anywhere for validation.

As I am learning, adoptees suffer more than others with fear of rejection and of taking risks. Our need for deep connection, protection, and nurture runs far deeper in us than it might in others. It has led me to waltz too easily, regularly, and with little forethought across boundaries into the space of others.

I become unrealistic in my perceived need of their attention, their support; their endorsement. When it becomes too stifling and they pull away, I panic and up the ante, making things worse. I grab for ankles from under the water, threatening to pull the poor buggers down with me.

It is the price of my intensity. And, it has chased away more than one friend. It is a lonely existence. Those like me generally vacillate between the ache of loneliness and the ache of shame – an unwelcome tightrope to be sure.

Usually about now is when the psychologists offer a word or two about healthy boundaries. Very good. However, my own experience suggests that merely living within prescribed boundaries isn’t always enough. Helpful, yes. Necessary in fact. And, it can be protective of further damage to be sure. But, for me at least, it was still only symptomatic of deeper reasons that gave rise to over-extended living in the first place.

As an adult adoptee, I suffer from off-the-charts fear of abandonment. Until recently, it drove the bus of my life. It was the track upon which this train moved, with or without my conscious permission.

Biblical language would suggest the term idolatry lying at root of this harrowing ill. But I confess that even that was never deep enough to pull out any roots. I was always left treating symptoms: lack of boundaries, fear of risk, inability to delegate, fear of failure/rejection, etc., etc.

Instead, it was God who needed to reach in and pull out this lifelong fear (or, at least point it out), which lay at the root of many little idolatries. In other words, I only think, act, and live wrongly because of much deeper reasons – reasons of pain rather than peace.

Now that some real healing has begun, the blessing of a transformed consciousness has opened the door to limitless other possibilities for new life – one grounded in grace, rather than just scrambling after “idolatry-free” living. All that ever does is give rise to, and fuel, a life off-the-rails. The gardener knows to pull the root and many of the rotted branches begin to fall away. Heal the plant, and the leaves will follow.

Or, in keeping with our metaphor, we stoke the deepest fire and the core is given strength to move and guide as it should. The engine of spiritual health promises a more unified train pulling in one direction on well-laid track. This is God’s doing.

It’s not always that we’re off-the-rails. Sometimes we’re simply on the wrong train.







It’s not a party till the piper comes

This blog has been kind of a one-stop shop for all things spiritual; the stuff life throws my way and what, by God’s grace, I get to hurl back. Much of that is intimately tied to my Celtic DNA. A Canadian by birth, an American by address, a Scot by history, bloodline, and luck – I gain much from this tossed salad of personal ingredients. 

Perhaps none more so however than the joy and pride I take in being a Highland Bagpiper.

bagpiper.jpgNow, I recognize that many out there might consider it an oddity for such a thing to be a point of pride. Well, to those misdirected naysayers, I share the following excerpt from a delightful book I’ve been reading entitled A Celtic Miscellany. It is a varied, and utterly delightful collection of literary bits ‘n bobs, all masterfully translated from early Celtic literature by Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson.

From a section on humour and satire (something in which the Celts took great delight and did astonishingly well), I give you “Welsh Harper and English Bagpiper.” It describes the self-pity of a self-congratulatory Welsh harper at being upstaged by, you guessed it, a bagpiper.

Enjoy (he says, trying unsuccessfully to rub the silly grin off his face).

“Last Sunday I came – a man whom the Lord God made – to the town of Flint, with its great double walls and rounded bastions; may I see it all aflame! An obscure English wedding was there, with but little mead – an English feast! and I meant to earn a shining solid reward for my harper’s art. So I began, with ready speed, to sing an ode to the kinsmen; but all I got was mockery, spurning of my song, and grief. It was easy for hucksters of barley and corn to dismiss all my skill, and they laughed at my artistry, my well-prepared panegyric which they did not value; John of the Long Smock began to jabber of peas, and another about dung for his land. They all called for William the Piper to come to the table, a low fellow he must be. He came forward as though claiming his usual rights, though he did not look like a privileged man, with a groaning bag, a paunch of heavy guts, at the end of a stick between chest and arm. He rasped away, making startling grimaces, a horrid noise, from the swollen belly, bulging his eyes; he twisted his body here and there, and puffed his two cheeks out, playing with his fingers on a bell of hide – unsavoury conduct, fit for the unsavoury banqueters. He hunched his shoulders, amid the rout, under his cloak, like a worthless ballad-monger; he snorted away, and bowed his head until it was on his breast, the very image of a kite with skilful zeal preening its feathers. The pigmy puffed, making an outlandish cry, blowing out the bag with a loud howl; it sang like the buzzing of a hornet, that devilish bag with the stick in its head, like a nightmare howl, fit to kill a mangy goose, like a sad bitch’s hoarse howl in its hollow kennel; a harsh paunch with monotonous cry, throat-muscles squeezing out a song, with a neck like a crane’s where he plays, like a stabbed goose screeching aloud. There are voices in that hollow bag like the ravings of a thousand cats; a monotonous, wounded, ailing, pregnant goat – no pay for its hire. After it ended its wheezing note, that cold songstress whom love would shun, Will got his fee, namely bean-soup and pennies (if they paid) and sometimes small halfpennies, not the largesse of a princely hand; while I was sent away in high vexation from the silly feast all empty-handed. I solemnly vow, I do forswear wretched Flint and all its children, and its wide, hellish furnace, and its English people and its piper! That they should be slaughtered is all my prayer, my curse in their midst and on their children; sure, if I go there again, may I never return alive!

(Welsh; authorship uncertain; fifteenth century).

Well then. I’ll just leave this here, shall I?funny_bagpipes_cards-r3e45aedba9bb4a898a576c4c32274e9e_xvuak_8byvr_512


Help me to forgive you, God

This was first posted on my other site in response to the initial wave of horrendous actions in Syria. I thought it good to post here as well, particularly as more and more pictures of broken and damaged bodies find their way to our eyes. Perhaps we can stare into the abyss together and find the pin pricks of light needed to show people the way home and bring about justice and peace where it is so desperately needed.

Rob's Lit-Bits

I recognize this is not the first of its kind. Others have also shared just such things in the wake of the recent, horrific atrocities in Syria. I feel impotent to change much of this. But I can write. And I can pray. Here, I do both. Join me…please.


Lord, they did not ask for dusty feet

sandaled and sore

to walk over the flesh and bones

of neighbors and friends,

of brothers, sisters and parents.

They didn’t ask to be brought before

someone else’s tribunal on imagined

charges of being what they should not be,

what you created them to be.

They did not seek out this desperation

that found them huddled, fearful and crying.

To see the bloated bodies of fellow pilgrims

floating down the river, under bridges,

stuck and floating on rocks jutting out

and shaking bony fists at you for justice,

is to see a God too…

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“Trip to Bountiful” – so, what now?

We’ve been back in the US from Britain a little over a month now and I don’t even know where to begin to wrap up these reflections on our sojourn. Mental-emotional exhaustion for me. Some book research and visits with relatives for Rae. A need to return home to our roots for both of us. And so, I reflect the best way I can: I write.

* * * * *

The fast-paced ennui of the many gorgeous, young, cell-phone-hooked yuppies of London.

Studying for hours, cumulatively, the labyrinthine London underground laid out like concrete intestines, carved deep in her belly.

The lazy daylight square of Parsons Green, equally home to business professionals, babies in prams, and teens with ‘tude.

Buskers. So. Many. Buskers.

Abbey Road Studios.

Dozens of progressive-meets-traditional pubs and coffee shops in which to write.

The art of the leisurely stroll.

Great coffee utterly ruined by the British obsession with milk-enhancement rather than cream as is the custom of the gods.

Those sublime secondary roads that snake their way through rural Britain just wide enough for making memories. 

Red phone boxes.

Box-y black cabs.

Old souls in older cemeteries in still older ground.

Castles, cathedrals and crypts, each more inspiring and complex than the one before.

The casual shrug with which many Britons waft in and out of their own history, thousands of years in the making.

The jarring juxtaposition of dozens of duck-like tourists in full obedience to their tour master waddling in and out of view and my grumpy expectation of thin place moments.

The incredible food (yes, you heard that right.)

The surprising ease of conversation with strangers.

The equally surprising willingness of officials and total strangers to help with directions.

Being charged to take a piss.

Outlandish entry fees for…well, everything.

Quiet rambles in Ambleside; a place for writers.

Wales…ah, Wales.

Welsh roads best described as stone hallways.

The literary orgasm that is Hay-on-Wye.

The British genius for fitting lots in a little space (every man’s dream).

The Lake District (except for the tourists).

Tourists treading on ghosts in Lindisfarne.



Scotland’s insistence on its own canvas of new green framed with old stone.

The sleepy, but deceptively hip, Dunbar.

Portobello Beach. Bright sun. White Scots. Take sunglasses.

Edinburgh – an evening of good beer and better tales: literary pub tour.

Pitlochry, in the bosom of the Highlands.

Playing bagpipes where no one is surprised at the idea. Yawn, another piper.

In a word, Skye.

Epic concerts.

The many dear souls who drew us there, would keep us here, and call us back.

All of the above with the love of my life who gets it whenever I speak of the same.

We’re now back in a home needing repairs, jobs needing our attendance, a financial picture a little less rosy than before, and people needing our presence and attention. Admittedly, I’m left with as many questions as I had weeks ago. What does my soul most need right now? How do I best heal from wounds both new and old? What is, for me, home? Should I ever find that, what do I do about it? What, if any, are the things I should be asking of myself?

It should come as no surprise, but I’m not the only person asking these questions! In fact, even many of those with whom we shared time and friendship find themselves at similar crossroads. I dare say that the old adage, “home is where the heart is” offers little respite in the complexities of a soul seeking the Sabbath-rest of home. It is far too kitschy and hallmark to provide the foundation upon which to build one’s life. It is dismissive of the not-so-hallmark realities of daily survival and the attendant responsibilities thereof.

And, it doesn’t quite reach the more exalted notion of Christ’s own exile from all he once knew to come among those longing for home. His “homelessness” brought me back home – in all places, at all times.

As I grow older and, in glacial terms, wiser, I am led ever further down a path of acceptance of whatever is. It is not the hiraeth-angst of what was and can never be again, or the wishful thinking of what could be. One’s deepest reality in which is held the greatest potential for satisfaction is in the minutiae of these moments, this breath, that one.

This was so much more than merely a trip to bountiful for me, adventure of a lifetime for Rae. Britain was like walking through our front door into a well-known living room. Plunking ourselves down in a favorite chair that perfectly knows our shape, our habits, our proclivities, our favorite beverages, and hands us a book. It was Mom calling from the kitchen that dinner is ready. It was listening to up-to-the-minute gossip at the church bake sale.

But it was still more. It exposed an ongoing work of God, leading me toward full acceptance of my own search for home in order to help others begin that same journey. Now, it is being utterly content to remain in discontent for the sake of those around me. It is to be like Christ, the exiled and abused one, whose only way back home was to suffer the pain of our homelessness.

Home is wherever I am willing to acknowledge my deepest home, the heart of God. In which case, I’ve always been home.

I just didn’t know it yet.

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Enter here, and find life…






“Trip to Bountiful” – part 12

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Chillin’ with Rae at Wembley Stadium, waiting for Coldplay

As mentioned elsewhere, part of our reason behind this trip was for my wife, Rae, to engage in book research for her novel, “Miss-Adventured.” Why tap the Internet when it’s so much better to simply go, right?!

#AdventureofaLifetime at the #headfullofdreams tour

Without premeditation, Rob and I find ourselves involved in near daily misadventures. Our trip to the Coldplay concert was no exception.

Thanks to over-vigilance at our bank who blocked a car-rental drop-off charge they marked as fraud, we couldn’t access our funds. We had zero money to take the tube home from Wembley to Parsons Green. Panic set in but was overridden with some across-the-pond creative communication on Facebook and email. Our friend, Rosemary, contacted the bank and by 4:30pm London Time, the doors opened to the stadium, and the cash machine pooped out a few hundred pounds.

For twenty-eight years, I’ve been a stage-spouse/parent tooting my horn about the artistic achievements of the three staggeringly talented musicians in my family who overshadow me. My artistic accomplishments include a group folk dance performed in a Grade 5 school assembly. I confused my lights and refts, danced in the wrong direction and toppled over the oncoming circle of dancers like dominoes.

Or, the choir teacher telling my mother what I lacked in singing talent was made up for in enthusiasm, despite strategically hiding me in the back where my voice wouldn’t force others out of tune. My youngest child once told me, “Mum, even with autotune, you’d still sound like a goat.”

His brother kicked him under the table offering mumbled advice against reverse brown-nosing. 

At this concert, as 75,000 people waved their lighty-uppy bracelets and stadium-anthemed along with me, “I, oh, I, oh, I..” to the tune of Hymn for the Weekend, I was gob-smacked by a revelation.

We were here because of me. My accomplishment. Something artistic I created. It was a first. Tears flowed.

I was overwhelmed. I thanked God.

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Cool, lighty-uppy concert bracelets

At my day job, I work with maps and computers (Geographic Information Systems or GIS). My protagonist, Brynne, works in Geographic Intelligence. Through the forty-plus versions of my first draft I wasn’t sold on my antagonist’s motive.

My co-workers Cindy and DD patiently listened as I tossed about antagonisty ideas. One day I demonstrated Brynne’s spy-bling on the office carpet – Gravity Grip shoes. I can’t blame them for being leery of book talk after I TRIED THIS AT HOME WEARING SOCKS ON HARDWOOD FLOORS. (The not-so-subliminal message: don’t try this at home, unless your romantic fantasies include six burly men showing up in your bedroom with drugs to whisk you away in an ambulance.)

DD reads several books a week. I’m leaning on my crutches as she suggests, “Since Brynne is music-obsessed why don’t you use the cities on a concert tour t-shirt for the plot.” I flipped for the idea.  

     “But what currently touring band’s music is known among the 14–65 demographic?” I asked. The three of us stared blankly at each other and returned to work. An hour later, Cindy yells over my cubicle, “COLDPLAY!” 

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Cindy and DD holding up the t-shirts I bought them once I had cash

As I fired up Spotify and listened to Coldplay’s biggest downloads, Aidan, my male lead twinkled his blue eyes at me and whispered in my ear, “’I crossed lines I shouldn’t have crossed.’ Can you picture the scene?”

“Vividly, in double-vision,” I quivered. Forwarding to the next song, Fix You, Brynne bangs it out on the piano, lamenting the aftermath of a calamitous choice.

To experience those songs live at Wembley stadium was one of the premier moments of my life. As I sang every note and clapped every beat, I thanked Brynne and Aidan for bringing me to a sold out concert to see Coldplay as I waved my bracelet in their names, experiencing all of this through their eyes.

These characters have changed my life, our lives, and I can’t wait for you to read Miss-Adventured and experience Brynne and Aidan’s #amazingday.  

An awe-inspiring night

* * * * *

When will Miss-Adventured be on the shelves you ask? It’s off to the editor at the end of September, then to the agent once I’ve screamed a lot and incorporated the suggested changes.

Learn more about Miss-Adventured here



“Trip to Bountiful” – part 11

What I learned looking at Skye

Previously, I had recounted my experience of hiking the Quirain Ridge on the isle of Skye in Scotland. Here’s the exciting (one can only hope) conclusion…

* * * * *

What I recognized of the way here only lasted about an hour before I began to experience that hollow feeling in one’s gut that one is not where one should be. I looked ahead to a sheep gate with small steps designed to carry people up and over. I had recalled such a thing on my way here. Just not this one.

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The rugged, volcanic landscape that is the Quirain Ridge
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Views borrowed from God’s photo album

Skye 57.jpgBut there was still a trail and I was happy to be on it, so onward I went. Another hour passed and anything resembling a trail had faded into a maze of boggy grass, rivulets of water flowing down from the uplands downward to one of the many smaller bodies of water lower down. Before me was the ocean in one direction, the hills from whence I’d come in the other.

Both were equally baffling.

Did I chance the eastward march through the middle of nowhere, aiming to eventually meet up with the shoreline and hopefully, the A455? Or, did I retrace my steps back upwards and seek out the original trail? The decisive guy I am, I decided to walk in circles for another hour and a half becoming increasingly frantic in so doing.

Finally, I made one last attempt back up to the rock faces that had formed my right wing on my initial route. And I saw them. A young couple who, also lost, were so evidently besotted with each other that it mattered less to them than to me, a soaking wet, sweaty, panicking fifty something.

We introduced ourselves. Then, I proceeded to recount my sob story of late middle-aged geographic retardation and we came up with the following game plan. We could try to find the eastern trail that would lead back to the motorway where was my car. Or, we would turn the other direction and hopefully find our way back to where their car was parked on the western side of the island. One would then drive the other back to their respective vehicle.

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I successfully made the case that I had already been lost for two hours and would provide little in the way of reliable directions back to anything, let alone my car. So, the decision was made to retrace our steps with the intention of finding our way west across the island. As it turned out, over two hours later it was happily clear that this had been the right decision.

Many sheep, loose stone stairways, close-cropped trails clinging tightly to precarious cliffs, and heartbeats later and a glorious sight awaited us: the parking lot. We had made our way to something recognizable from which we could then regale others with the very tale I now tell.

How metaphoric this is of the spiritual life. Broad, open vistas at one turn, sheltered inland waterways at another, all make way for more rigorous upland turns leaving one out of breath and struggling. Our better curiosity about the intricacies of the abundant life comes with a dash of danger, and much that is unknown. But it is precisely for that reason that life’s best lessons are never served up on china or crystal but in clay pots and dirty goblets better fitted to the task.

Of all the stories I tell of our trip to bountiful, this is the one that stands out most. It represents something more than the expected stops of the run-of-the-mill tourist. There is a wildness here. A particularity of incarnational wonder peppers my experience of being lost on Skye. And now, removed from the imminent danger and fear of the event, it is the most memorable. And, dare I say, formational.

My connection to Skye was both immediate and profound. It bled me from the start, leaching itself onto my spirit with ferocity and tenderness in equal measure. She is a wild, unkempt, treeless wonder, at once spell-binding and succulent. I was hooked.

But more so, I had touched something primal within me, the place of raw, untested faith, eager for challenge. As a man not generally given to risk-taking, it was exhilarating. It was liminal in all the best ways and will provide rich fodder of burning peat fires of faith still needed for the days to come.

And after all, that’s much of the reason I came in the first place.


“Trip to Bountiful” – part 10


What I learned looking at Skye

After a dodgy night playing at sleep, I woke up Jonesing for coffee. Something I’d not considered was the amount of light this far north at 3:00 am. Its insistence had done its work keeping me at the edges of REM. Hence, without the final plunge that gifts a person with an actual readiness for anything resembling wakefulness, I make plans for the day. They included much walking.

Ever since first learning to play Skye Boat Song on bagpipes many years ago, I’ve wanted to see what kind of place could inspire such a fetching melody. Sir Harold Boulton’s stirring lyrics:

Speed, bonny boat, like a bird on the wing,

onward the sailors cry.

Carry the lad who’s born to be king

over the sea to Skye.


Wait, they take a bit of a turn.


Loud the winds howl, loud the waves roar,

thunderclaps rend the air,

baffled, our foes stand by the shore,

follow they will not dare.


Phew. And, we’re back.

Though the waves leap, so soft shall ye sleep,

ocean’s a royal bed.

Rock’d in the deep, dear Flora will keep

watch o’er your weary head.


Spoke too soon.


Burnt are our homes, exile and death,

scattered, the loyal man.

Yet ere the sword, cool in the sheath,

Charlie will come again.


And for the win…


Speed, bonny boat, like a bird on the wing,

onward the sailors cry.

Carry the lad who’s born to be king

over the sea to Skye.

Abundantly evident in these overly nostalgic, clamoring lyrics is the kind of sentiment one finds at times of great national upheaval. The song tells how Bonnie Prince Charlie, disguised as a serving maid, escaped in a small boat after his defeat in the Jacobite uprising of 1746, with the aid of Flora MacDonald. Read here and here for more.

But, for all her beauty, Skye holds many secrets close to the vest. She can be coy, and her best ones you work for. Cars get parked. Hats, water, whistle (I of course didn’t have one), and walking canes come out of retirement. If you’re wise, a bit of stretching, and away. For me, however, it was to be further complicated by the fact that I’d be doing so with my bagpipes strapped to my back.

Piping my way through the Highlands and now Skye was always part of the plan for me. If I was to regenerate all that Scots-Canadian blood, it would be done loudly and frequently. On the way here I had already stopped at every other layby, handing my phone to some unsuspecting, wide-eyed bugger already trying to get pictures of something other than me. But they always obliged, adding their thanks for letting them take further photos of their own. Oh vanity, vanity…

I sopped up the last of my inordinately large, complicated breakfast, belched happily and donned my rental chariot for the ride cross island to Portree.

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The picturesque harbor town of Portree

A short sixteen miles later and I let Skye’s largest town play with me a bit. I happily took in the smell of old sea and sound of fat gulls together with the obligatory tourist stops. A final morning coffee was enough to convince me that, today, the north road would be mine.

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Skye, the northern route. Heading east from Edinbane on Loch Greshornish to Portree, then northward and back home again.

Skye did not disappoint. The sky on Skye was uncommitted. It opened enough to allow fingers of warmth from early summer sun, brightly cheerful. But, it was also shy, at times hovering low above the higher peaks, building a rather impressive palette of hued shadow.

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Ubiquitous travel companions

Gentle, sloping meadows donned liberally with grazing sheep, farm equipment, and B ‘n Bs reach out into endless lochs and inlets. They are surprised by the often immediate, multi-colored, volcanic cliffs busting out of the earth in random protrusions. It is a land that veritably tumbles over itself in complex shades of purple-shadowed greens.

I battled tiny roads, a gutless car, crappy Internet (Siri was forever confused or non-existent), and literally dozens of cyclists on the way to my first port o’ call, a rocky outcropping called simply, The Storr. It is on the Trotternish peninsula facing the Sound of Raasay. My particular interest was to see “The Old Man of Storr.” Impressive in itself although one of the ugliest old men vaguely pictured in rock!

The Old Man of Storr
The Storr, and it’s Old Man
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Piping by the road that heads to the Old Man of Storr

It was exhilarating as it was inspiring. Alas, in true tourist fashion, I huffed my way, bagpipes in tow, back down the mountain to the car and continued north to my next destination, Kilt Rock. Dramatic, vertical striations of rock, the clawed back of ancient volcanic activity, rise up dramatically from the sea, offering an imaginative view – God’s mesolithic kilt.

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Kilt Rock
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Shear drop-offs make for good waterfalls onto rocky beaches

I tossed my bagpipes into the backseat, where they stayed most of the trip, and continued north. I was feeling good, even a bit feisty and adventurous. This feeling acted as preparation for or omen against what was to come. 

In full obedience to the tourist parade who, along with me, dutifully pulled their cars off the road at all the same stops. Just north of the town of Flodigarry, my eye caught a sign beckoning me into the hills. I had apparently come upon the eastern entrance to The Quiraing Ridge, from the Norse Kvi Rand meaning ’round fold.’

As part of the Trotternish ridge it has been formed by a massive landslip which has created high cliffs, hidden plateaus and pinnacles of rock. Possessing numerous features with titillating names such as The Needle, The Table, and The Prison it acts a bit like the palm of a hand or fold in which cattle could be concealed from Viking raiders. As I would soon discover it had other ‘magical’ properties. It is sly and can quickly subsume unthinking walkers into its spongy loom.

It starts unassumingly in gentle turns on well-worn dirt paths that wind their way around tiny inland lakes. I took hungrily to the task of making them my own, the snaking trail gradually pulling me upward toward the more dramatic features to come. I had started at an ambitious pace, excited to discover what lay ahead. 

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Into the Quiraing Ridge
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One of numerous, small inland lochs
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Sheer granite walls

Skye 43.jpgFor the better part of an hour I continued like this, letting the way unfold before me and the scenery embed itself in my memory. After what I could only guess was perhaps four or five miles I began to wonder, in the absence of any further signage or any other human being (or even sheep for that matter), whether or not I should continue or perhaps turn back. My buoyant mood made the decision for me and I puttered on, proud of my positive outlook, and equally glad for the perfectly cool weather.

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Finally, after another half hour or so, I began to bump into numerous other hikers. Danes, Dutch, Japanese, Somalis, Canadians, Germans, Americans, and many Aussies who, as their sheer numbers suggest, love it here apparently. Brief conversations with some of them encouraged me to continue onward to what would be some of the most jaw-dropping sights I’ve yet seen. From the highest point one can see the entire north-western shore of the island and out to the Hebrides beyond. It was spellbinding. I planted myself on a rock wall and simply let it happen.

At this point I had a decision to make. I had walked for hours to get to this place and, looking way down to my right, could barely make out a parking lot. I was almost across the island! Although there was no concern either for loss of daylight or weather since both were cooperating fully, I decided to go back the way I came and do the trek from the west side the day after. It would be a simple matter of retracing my steps.

Or so I thought…



“Trip to Bountiful” – part 9

What I learned looking at Skye

Friday, June 3. I wave goodbye to my wife as she makes her way by train south to a writer’s retreat near Bath.Waving goodbye to Rae.jpg I make a leisurely retreat back to the Edinburgh car park where awaits my trusty chariot for the journey to come. As I shut the car door it occurs to me, shit, I have to drive through the Highlands without her as my human GPS (SatNav) where Internet is as rare as the Loch Ness monster. Lord, have mercy!

Before executing the daunting task of driving the Highlands alone I spend a few days reacquainting myself with the chic, sleepy provincialism cum arts mecca cum tourist quicksand that is Edinburgh. Long walks down the Portobello promenade watching very white-skinned Scots sunning themselves on windy beaches. It adds credibility to my insistence that Scots change color quickly given ten minutes of sun. Peppering the shoreline are numerous ice cream stands, overpriced coffee-shops above health clubs, and as many accents as are people to sport them. And best of all, to grace these precious days, friends.

One particularly memorable evening I prepare myself for a most enchanting experience: a literary pub tour in downtown Edinburgh. Two actors, one playing an actor (does he get paid the same?), the other an intellectual, regale us with tales, poetry, and saucy anecdotes of the lives of Robbie Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson – all of whom would have made great rock stars, awash as they were in wine, women, song, and…wine.

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Edinburgh’s historic Beehive Inn where began our literary pub night
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Our wacky, well-informed, richly entertaining hosts
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One of the many colorful side streets housing the four pubs of our literary evening together

For lit-geeks like myself, it was orgasmic.

Sights, sounds, experiences – these are only given meaning when they can be shared with those closest to us. Edinburgh is a place of such connections. We lived here in 1989 making fools of ourselves among a motley group of trendy Baptists intent on serving one of the poorest areas in western Europe.

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Inverleith Row, looking toward downtown and Edinburgh Castle
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73 Inverleith Row, our oh so trendy address while in Edinburgh

Pastor Andy Scarcliffe and his wife Moira are two of our bedrock Scots friends. It is their home that provided our, and now, my residence these few days.

Moira Scarcliffe, Adam Scarcliffe (eldest son), Rae, Pastor Andy Scarcliffe and some aging, wannabe photographer

Hours of slow and windy driving through the Highlands bring me at last to Kyle of Lochalsh. It is a tidy little Scottish village at the convergence of Loch Alsh and what is called The Minch. The unimaginatively titled Skye Bridge leads me to Kyleakin on Skye’s eastern shore. Both towns are replete with customary Scottishisms – quaint pubs, fish ‘n chip shops, numerous cafés complete with dodgy wi-fi, and store owners speaking less Scottishy for us tourists to decipher.

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Into the Highlands
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Drawing closer to Kyle of Lochalsh
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The Highlands at Kyle of Lochalsh, doorway to Skye
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“Skye Bridge”

One would think it obvious that places like Skye would have their fair share of tourists. Dozens of us cram onto the tiny ribbon-like roads, hastily taking leisurely pictures at every available layby. We follow each other like newborn puppies in search of Mom.

But, apparently I still live too much in overly-romanticized pictures of it and I become bitchy about just how many of ‘them’ are here. This, despite the fact on numerous occasions I do so while taking view-enhanced selfies or while asking someone to take my picture as I pipe my way across the island – you know, the way actual residents do. *I do not possess enough appendages required to do the same.

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One of dozens of “pipe through Scotland” pictures, thanks to as many fellow pilgrims

By the time I stopped three or four times for still more precise directions I fill my cellphone to overflowing with photos even more touristy taken by at whom I whinge. I can live with that. Besides, once it became clear that I was merely part of the parade, like pinballs bouncing from one site to another, I relaxed a bit more and settled into this reality. A combination of Siri (when available) and my trusty old school map guided my way.

Cnoc Aluin, my island digs for the week would be one of the numerous well-fitted bed and breakfasts that pepper the island. But, not before getting lost on any number of identical tiny interconnecting ribbon roads, high-centering the rental car in the neighbor’s yard, and getting stuck in the driveway. I am, if nothing else, walking proof that the evolutionary process is, well, a process. Once I found the place, I knew it would be the perfect home for the days I would be here.

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My view
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It doesn’t suck here
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Looking across Loch Greshornish from the front deck

Irene, more big sister than business woman, reveals well the identifying marks of many city-born proprietors now happy to live simpler lives here. Born in Edinburgh, lived in London, she and her husband are all too happy now to help those like me find some of the magic here. During my stay, their expertly retro-fitted place also houses a Japanese family and two young grad students with whom to swap exploits. Tangentially, I bumped into the two students on almost half a dozen separate occasions at spots miles apart!

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My fellow travel buddies

Skye has two ring roads that, more or less, circumnavigate the island. A northern and a southern route. Many smaller tributaries to other sites web themselves to these primary ones allowing access to more beauty than is humanly comprehensible. It is surprisingly small by North American standards. But, for its size it boasts a long, proud, convoluted history.

I waited my entire life to see this place. The greatest gifts require commensurate patience on our part. They are revealed to us only as we are prepared for the gifts, and accompanying responsibilities, they bring. Are we prepared for all that may be asked of us? Do we even know how to see what we most need to see? When we see, will we have the courage to invoke its transforming influence in our lives? Will we submit to lessons we hadn’t anticipated?

As I sit behind the wheel of the rental car about to embark on my first sight-seeing trip of this remarkable place, do I have what it takes to humble myself before its treasures and, metaphorically, God’s?

I pull out of the driveway in the expectant hope that I do.

“Trip to Bountiful” – part 8

Our trip to bountiful has taken a decided turn the past few days. Rae and I parted company last week so she could meet a fellow writer at a writing retreat near Bath. This meant the rental car is all mine, as were the Highlands and best of all, the Isle of Skye. This brings a couple very real dilemmas. First, I have the monumental task of reproducing in tiny, insufficient words, the vast and haunting beauty that is the Scottish Highlands and Skye. Second, and rather crucially, I will not have my human GPS (SatNav as they call it here) to help guide me on my way.

This portion of my journey began with a visit to Pitlochry where live two of our best friends. They moved there from Edinburgh over ten years ago, believing it to be the most central route for their high travel jobs.

I do not know whether this is an “official” title but I could easily call Pitlochry the gateway to the Highlands. In that regard, it is not unlike Calgary, who foists herself on the Rockies by means of the foothills. Similarly, Pitlochry is nestled in the ever-growing hills, poised in stately fashion beneath Ben Vrackie.


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Ben Vrackie as seen from the front yard of our friends’ home in Pitlochry

From here I ventured north to Dalwhinnie through the swelling hillsides of scruffy reforestation in the Grampian Mountains. It lies on the western edge of the starkly beautiful Cairngorms. Then, on to Invergarry, a stone’s throw from the southern tip of Loch Ness, through lonely miles on tiny roads we in North America might call glorified driveways.

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Into the Highlands


At Invergarry one has options. To head northeast is to travel along the western shores of Loch Ness toward Inverness or, as I did, head northwest past Eilean Donan castle, the Five Sisters of Kintail, and Glen Shiel to cross the Skye Bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh.

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Lilting heights grace lazy lochs

The multi-shadowed, green-velvet Highlands rise to dizzying heights as one approaches closer to Skye. As if it were possible to find any other choices of green, they offer more than their fair share of the same. Countless tufts of yellow Gorse, also called Broom, grace these sloping giants. That, and a sense that the light playing upon the mountains is really the presence of sinister ghosts from Scotland’s bloody past.


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Near Kyle of Lochalsh

Skye is one of the more sizable islands off the west coast of Scotland with many secrets and much scenery one might not see anywhere else. It was one of a number of hiding places for Bonny Prince Charlie when fleeing the English, bent on his demise. Because my experiences on the island are many and complex, another post or two will be necessary to unpack them.

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My tourist map of Skye

Suffice it so say, I have felt the spiritual topography of my soul humming the well-sung songs of Scotland as I enter the realm of fairies, goblins, and fiercely protective highlanders wielding overly large swords.

These days of exploration offer more than their fair share of soulish considerations. We have in mind what we most want to see in ourselves. Road leads to hill leads to loch leads to yet other roads. And, all the while, we journey without fully knowing what comes around each new turn.

What I can safely say however is it is all good. It is all very, very good.

“Trip to Bountiful” – part 7

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Downtown Edinburgh, from whence I wrote this piece

Block after block of grey, stoic flats flit past to converge with still others in a parade past my train window. An aging reflection gazes back reminding me I need a haircut. The broom-covered, volcanic hills stand guard against a broadening horizon of uncommonly blue Edinburgh sky, and I am pensive.

My wife, as I have described her at least, is a tempest in a teacup. Actually, human hurricane was the term as I recall.

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My wife and fellow partner in words, curiously quiet

She is the poster child for extraverts, an off-the-charts go getter with a zest for life and love for adventure. It’s fun but rather exhausting! I accompany her downtown from Brunstane to Waverly Station where she caught the morning train to a writer’s retreat near Bath.

After seeing her off, I indulge in another quick jaunt up Princes Street. I trip into a trendy Edinburgh café (there are gazillions) for a third, perhaps fourth, coffee and obligatory Facebook check-in. James Blunt sings to me through café speakers, “how I wish I could walk through the doors of my mind; hold memory close at hand, help me understand the years.”

We’re well past halfway in our 2016 “Trip to Bountiful.” A journal and a full heart loudly pester me for a few reflections. At a reunion party last evening, my wife and I were reminded how central relationships are in our lives. Many photo albums and now an iCloud full of photos give evidence of a full life, lived fully.

But, although places and experiences fill much of our memory hard drive, it is the faces of those whose voices still sing loudly in us that best help us to “hold memory close at hand.” It is they who can most capably help us “understand the years.” 

In another post, I share some thoughts from the tale end of our time spent among the good people at Granton Baptist Church, Edinburgh.Granton Baptist.jpg

Pastor Andy, Moira, and Adam Scarcliffe
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Grant Cunningham
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Fiona Aitken
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Joan Cunningham

There is much I could say about the few months spent among these dear souls. To do so would require some fierce self-editing. First, because our memories are many and detailed. But, secondly, because we weren’t always the best influence despite our lily-white, suburban-Canadian, preppie exteriors.

Life is handed to us often in haphazard basketfuls of beauty and complexity and chaos. The best bits are those we live by accident, the unplanned moments of grace which splash upon us, baptizing us in their freshness. We can no more execute them than plan for them. They simply show up and we do the best we can with what we’ve got.

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Stephen Scarcliffe and his girlfriend, Angela Murray (oh, and Nookie!)

Like the time my boys’ group talked me out of Sunday School in favor of a football game (soccer to North Americans) at the park. It was an effort requiring a lad or two to be stuffed unceremoniously in the boot (trunk) of the car for the journey.

Perhaps the time my wife and her coworker decided a girls’ sleepover the perfect time to discuss procreational geometry to middle school girls with the aid of balloon phallic symbols? Perhaps the seaside games night in which my wife and I, so exasperated with each other, shouted “fuck you” in the presence of innocent, Baptist kids? The rest had long before given up and were shoving each other into the sea. Perhaps the time we danced at a church-wide ceilidh (party) and a young boy affixed himself to my leg all evening and wee Calum became the namesake for our eldest son, now 25.

Yes, all these and many more besides provide the yellowing pages of our memories. These folks have shaped our lives, glutted our hearts, and colored our memories. And so we find ourselves back here in Edinburgh at a café get together arranged for the purpose.

We may have been the ones to uproot and replant for a time at 73 Inverleith Row in the land of bagpipes, blood pudding, and pasty skin, but it is they who have walked us through the doors of our mind, holding memories close at hand.

And, yes Mr. Blunt, most definitely have they helped us understand our years. More than they will ever know.