Saying farewell to a friend

This morning, we said farewell to a friend.

Jonathan (Tadhg) Gardiner

At 10:00am this morning, with aching throats, wet cheeks, and swollen eyes, we watched the livestream of his memorial service, held at Woking Crematorium in London. Tadhg, or “tiger without the er” as he would introduce himself, was laid to rest.

And, in those brief moments, our hearts shattered in pieces.

There are a handful of people for whom I could ascribe the following, “if I could be half the person…” Tadhg was one of those. Genuine, gentle-spirited, fun-loving, unassuming, unpretentious, kind-hearted, generous, and hospitable. There are many who are good to know. He was the one you needed to know, if only for a season. I can say honestly, and without embarrassment, that, to meet Tadhg was to meet Jesus. His life exuded grace and the easy friendship one might expect from the Friend of outcasts and sinners.

His Facebook page states his passion for walking alongside others in holy fellowship:

I am an Anamcara [gaelic for ‘soul friend’]. I consider myself to be a sociable guy, a latter-day celt, a professional and spiritual guy, who would dearly like to hear from you…I am also an independent (non-judgemental, inclusive) priest…and a ceremonialist.

We shared many similar passions including Celtic spirituality, Christian mysticism, theological conversation, a love for probing and formative liturgy, connections between Western and Eastern thought, and making sense of a world in love with itself. We wrote for each other’s blogs and spoke often (usually FB Messenger or email) about things that mattered to us. His perspective was rich, original, and refreshing. He was remarkably free of judgement or hatred of any kind toward anyone. Ever.

In the months before the summer of 2016 I was suffering from a profound emotional deprivation and spiritual ennui. My wife and I decided to take a sabbatical of sorts to the UK. The church for which I worked as Music and Worship Director kindly agreed to a five-week extended “Trip to Bountiful” as I called it.

We had the time but our budget was tight. Tadhg offered, eagerly and warmly, a stay at his tiny but comfortable flat in Fulham. Moreover, he’d be there to pick us up from the airport, having never actually met either of us in person!

2016. Rae, myself, and our gracious host, Tadhg

Without expectation or guilt he allowed us to use “Hotel Tadhg” as our base of operations while we coddiwompled our way throughout Britain. He dealt with our embarrassingly North American-sized entitlements, returning them all with his beaming smile and dry humour. That journey so changed our lives that we now live in Edinburgh as global servants with our denomination’s mission wing.

God used Tadhg as a big piece of that cosmic puzzle.

When we returned to Britain in 2019 as part of our first encounter with the team of whom we are now a part, where did we stay in London? At Tadhg’s place, of course. For him, there was no question. He had stocked his fridge with all the various food and drink items he knew we liked from the last time we were there. Tadhg was the walking definition of holy hospitality.


In recent years, as Tadhg’s condition worsened, then stabilized, then ultimately took him from us, I felt a growing sense of panic. There were too many things left unsaid to my dear friend, too many conversations unopened, too many laughs unshared, so much more to learn from each other. To hear of his passing was to have one’s soul summarily torn from the body. A world full of ungrateful, spiteful, and unkind people and this is the one to be taken. God, I mean, really?

But, alas, such is the inexplicable nature of our existence. Tadhg, of all people, would chastise those like me who feel tempted to wallow in our pain. He would be the first to lift up our heads, and encourage us to look up to the running clouds, whose playful whimsy is ample reminder of God’s care over all created things.

Dear friend, I shall miss you. The world shall miss you, even if they don’t realize it. Perhaps you can put in a good word that God can help me to be more like you.

If only just a little.

A Journey, Two Years Hence – Why I Write

Oban screen shot.pngAnother Sunday opens her eyes, damp from night sweat, or the river of dreams. Sunrise, like incandescent eyelashes blinks away the previous day and lets dawn stretch her legs. The miniature Big Ben mantle clock I inherited from my Dad ticks stoically, chipping away the seconds that have become, inexplicably, piles of years; a woodpile of time-chopped memories too easily fuel for the fire. And ashes are but the monochrome of memory – something once hot, bright, robust.

I suppose writing is to throw another log on the fire. The words crackle and spit themselves out as the heat rises. Those are the welcome fires of tin-foil wrapped delicacies, roasted and rich, softer by the second.

Now, this day, here in my writing chair, I can serve up a few morsels, ready to taste. Two. Years. Two full years since an adventure got tucked away, folded inward to await the fires of remembrance. And, in that time, the process, not of decay, but of marination has occurred. Like a good chili, always better the next day. 

And I’m starving!

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Facebook memory pop-ups are a blessing and a curse. They can bring a happy smile of recognition; reminders of good times past with good people. A “curse” inasmuch as those reminders pinch the inner optic nerve with the liminal colour of what is no longer now, but then – sweet, savoury, overpowering.

Never is “a picture is worth a thousand words” truer than when reviewing pictures of magical moments, inaccessible by the senses; only through memory. The existential replaces the experiential and a tear is born.

Two years.

Just seeing those words side by side is unnerving. This time, two years ago, Rae and I had just returned from galavanting around the U.K., filling our boots with shenanigans of every sort. It was our fourth such journey. 1989. 1991. 2004.

Then, a 2016 whirlwind whack-a-mole through salad-bowl Welsh valleys, pulsating London streets, book-studded villages, swarthy Scottish Highlands, tidy bed ‘n breakfast cottages, seaside adventures, writing (always lots of writing); family and friends both old and new. I think my legs still hurt from trudging downtown London and rural Skye, lost much of the time (of course).

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Only time will tell.

Just give it time.

It’s about time.


All in good time.

Running out of time.

We had a great time.

Time gets a lot of press, both good and bad. Likely because of its annoying persistence, an impatient ubiquity. It tick-tocks us into corners or shows up as an ally, all in the same day. We even honour it with a face and hands, and then entrust to it lists about which it cares little. And, just when we think we’ve earned its respect, it barfs in our lap the other side of the page we didn’t see coming. 

To attend to these memories respective to our journey to the UK is to approach the unapproachable. I don’t believe rose-coloured glasses are involved here. Nor do I think it a distance-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder kind of thing. It’s much more than that.

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I think the greatest impact of our time there wasn’t the allure of tourist traps or the necessary bling that accompanies them. It was, on one level, a homecoming. For Rae it was genuinely geographic. She was born there after all. Wales to be exact. For me? Existential.

As I’ve recently discovered, my very DNA hearkens from Scotland/Ireland. Ancestry and companies like it parade around biological allurements to family origin hungry types like me. I fell prey. In doing so, I discovered my patrimony, a host of living relatives, and the certainty of my own personal ancestry rooted deep in Celtic soil. 

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Given all that I’ve written, spoken, and warily discerned on the subject – a holy hunch, if you will – I was more surprised than I should have been. Apparently, it is one thing to guess at one’s place in the world. It is quite another to actually discover as much. Like the dog who catches the cat. So, what now?

More on that ride soon.

Reminiscing can take more than one form. Time is friend to one, foe to another. When we’re younger it’s common for us to remember everything in vivid detail and easily recount as much. Time is our friend.

But, as I grow older (along with everyone else), time grows restless. Not yet foe, but starting to act a little shifty – less trustworthy. And, like hair, teeth, balance and bladder control, memories disappear. They thin. Those garnishing details, enhancements, indispensable at the time, begin to drop away.

Screen Shot 2018-06-18 at 6.05.41 AM.pngOnce it begins, the connections between head and heart grow more tenuous. Colours fade to pastels, then to black and white, finally to retreat into a palette of grey ooze. Faces slip further back from the front of pictures until they disappear altogether and, soon, they become just another “somebody that I used to know” (thank you, Gotye).

Llanthony Priory, Wales

That is why I write. It is especially why I memoir. When memory ceases to recall details, setting, faces, connections, passions, tears, laughter, even rationale, there will be on paper at least one thread of a life lived. That life had adventure and discovery, not just existence. Proof of significance, a justifiable place in the world. A reminder not just to me, but to everyone that I was here. I had something to say. I had people I loved, who loved me back.

A journey, two years hence. I remember. One day I may not. That is why I write – to remember not to forget that one day I won’t remember.




“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 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.



“Trip to Bountiful”- part 6

Dunbar Harbour. A tiny nook of land nestled tightly against the North Sea. The horizon shoulders in equal measure a ghostly, white mist and the slowness of morning sea. Waves of amber grey taste the red rocks of Scotland’s southeast shoreline. And the timid shores trade their sins for the secrets of the deep, betrothed in waves of forgiveness. Pink-cheeked seamen toss buckets of fish as bate into lobster traps readying for the day’s catch. There’s a sharpness to this low tide air, the sea’s pungent reminder of her abiding presence.

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Fishermen in Dunbar Harbour prepare the lobster traps

A lit-geek to the core, I doffed my book-bag complete with eyeglass cleaner, multiple writing implements, not one but two journals, half a dozen books and of course, my laptop. One always hopes the effort of lugging around an extra twenty-five pounds of geekery will pay off on some seaside park bench. Thereupon will I compose the next great American novel or T.S. Eliot’s long awaited Fifth Quartet, or even just the sequel to 50 Shades of Grey.

Instead, it became a large security blanket that added beats per minute to my heartrate and a rather sore neck. That said, my own journey this morning included a leisurely stroll beside these kelp-lined shores. I saw an interesting strand of beach to my right, southward down the coast and began walking in its direction.

A few steps in however and I glanced back. My view was given much better capital in the other direction. So, I redirected myself and walked northward through the ample streets lining the shore. It was to provide some rather rewarding eye candy and even more soul food.

If God is my father, the sea is my mother, and Scotland her teat upon which I gratefully suckle. In all my yearning for a sense of harbour – a deeper certainty of my soul’s DNA – these moments come closest.

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A rocky beach

So much of life is lived in a sea of perceptions. A few of those are based on reality. Some are not. Like this morning, they come upon me by way of hint, innuendo, suggestion. They leave the potential of other things yet to come. It is the gentle, sideways life that doesn’t leave me breathless, but simply curious.

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Walking along Dunbar Harbour walkway

At other times, without warning, I find myself stranded on a tiny isthmus that is no guarantee that I won’t be swept away in the insistent, foaming anger of my changing tide. Either way, it is how we must all live.

Our perceptions of the world are, for us, what really is, in spite of what may actually be true. This sneaky truth is the reason why we must always be in pursuit of whatever is true, or good, or noble as St. Paul suggests in his letter to the church at Philippi.

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The North Sea as seen from Dunbar Harbour

I’ve been to these shores often enough to recognize the layers of what I see. There is the Scotland of history, the one with sharp wounds cut deep in her skin of stone. There is the Scotland of my imagination, the mythology of Celtic knowing and bardic mysticism.

But there is the Scotland that just is. It is traffic horns and coffeeshops and Tandoori restaurants and cell phones. It is a collection of wiry old sea dogs, self-absorbed businessmen and dark-haired, haggard looking moms. It is a clash of class, struggle, and culture like anywhere else.

Mostly, like everywhere else, it is a place where people simply live.

And, it is this discovery that has blessed me on this trip more than any other. Any of my previous fanciful notions of the place have been chipped away. What remains is an unadorned appreciation for what my senses perceive. And, in fact, as I am further removed from any need to either sanctify or romanticize it, I receive the deeper gifts available from just keeping my eyes open.

Well, either that, or I’m finally adulting (at 52!).

These moments help escort me away from the rocky shoals of misperception that are so damaging. And, even as the healing presence of Scotland’s broad sea, green vest, and briny aftershave grace my steps this afternoon, I can internalize all this to take with me when we return.

Street leading to the sea

The deftness of wind, strength of stone, and the broad belly of sea will speak their secrets in my lesser moments. I can share what I’ve heard of God’s voice with the dear souls to whom I return.

And, when the unforgiving summer sun in Yakima valley steals the breath from my lungs, I can put in its place what I have today experienced. Perceptions can, for a moment at least, be what is true.

And in that moment, the truth will set me free.