Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Sunny Sunday

On Sunday in Shetland the busses don't run and the library is closed. Which means I had to think creatively if I didn't want to sit around on my bed all day. Now, to be fair, on this particular Sunday I was exhausted, had a good book and a knitting project, and a seemingly endless list of emails to send and blog posts to write. But since you'll notice how few posts I wrote in Shetland you may have already guessed that I ignored all of these reasons to stay put for the simple reason that it was sunny. Which was just surprising enough that I was determined to enjoy it.

So instead, I jumped on the ferry across to Bressay and went for a hike. I climbed up one hill and got a beautiful view across to Noss, and then left the muddy "trail" to continue across a small ridge and up to the highest point on Bressay, the hill with the radio towers that overlooks Lerwick.

Which is entirely why I wanted to climb it - I had been in town too long not to climb the highest point you could see from the harbor. And from there I continued straight down another wide ridge towards the sea cliffs. In this process, I learned why the landscape is referred to as a peat bog. And why most people go to Scotland with waterproof shoes.

But the view from those sea cliffs was worth every hour it took my shoes to dry. A couple hundred feet tall with a view south east across the ocean and too many birds to count. I lay down with my head over the edge (sorry parents) and watched the birds fly underneath me. And over me. And in my face. They would go in circles down across the ocean, the up the drafts rising up the cliff and pop over the edge right where I was sprawled.

I have always had that dream of being able to fly. I think everyone does. But watching these birds bumped "learn to hang glide" several notches up my list of goals (sorry parents).

Eventually, I rolled away from the edge and made my way down to the lighthouse. It's a funny thing to me, that I find lighthouses to be such comforting places given that they're nearly always built because shipwrecks have become too frequent. The sun warmed my shoulders and I dreamed about flying with the seabirds while I read about stormy shipwrecks and hypothermic survivors on the cliffs below.

And with a reminder that I'm lucky, I skipped down the road, fell into the ditch trying to get out of the way of a car, unsuccessfully tried to whistle a Shetland pony to the fence so I could hug it, and wound up at the town hall for Sunday tea.

A different kind of beauty awaited me inside: kindness and artistry. The displays of knitting, the plates of cookies and cakes, and the warm greetings pulled me inside to sit awhile. And at long last, I tried knitting with a knitting belt. What I've noticed here is that if you sit and knit, you'll get advice on how to knit better. I had yet to try a knitting belt, so I was quite curious to see if it would be as odd to adjust to as I expected (surprisingly, it wasn't), but I also received a crash course in "low-effort yarn flicking" which has enlightened me further to the subtle art of knitting more efficiently.

As I walked back to catch the ferry, I caught up with a woman with a heavy bag, who was grateful for my offer to carry it for her. It was a simple thing, a moment for me to the web of kindness encompassing these islands, and a chance to walk with someone. She was headed into town to go stay with her daughter and granddaughter for a bit. When I was applying for college, I remember visiting Middlebury and meeting a few students and thinking "I want to be like them someday." Talking with this woman left me with the same impression: "I want to be like her someday."

As I walked back across town that evening I looked up at the crest of the ridge running the length of Bressay. I like looking at ridges and knowing what the view is like, knowing I've walked them. Knowing that the rolling hill I could see actually consisted of miles of mud and peat and heather that catches your feet every three steps. Maybe climbing every hill in sight is how I try to make myself at home in a new place. I certainly smiled at the view for the rest of my stay in Lerwick.

700 Hats

Another delayed post -- this was started in mid-August about my visit to Barra in the Western Isles

"About 700. We only need to make a few hundred more."

That answered my query about the large numbers of hats on the table and floor. The women were knitting busily while I got put to work making bobbles for the tops. I had been invited to the ladies knitting night on Barra, and was enjoying the gossip that switched in and out of Gaelic while I finished pom-pom after pom-pom. When it finished, I walked outside and gave my backpack to my new friend on a bike, started walking, and hitched a ride back to the campground. I liked Barra.

Even though I arrived after dark, because the ferry was delayed first in Oban and then slightly more from the rough waters, and I started walking the three miles out to the campground in the rain. But I just laughed with my new friend from the ferry ride about the situation, and was surprised when the campground host met us halfway to give us a lift.

And then I awoke on the beach, looking out to the west and watching the waves hit the shore. I walked back into Castlebay and visited the community center/craft store. In addition to having working wifi (a rare and precious commodity), they were teaching a crocheting class! You can guess what I did all afternoon. I was taken in quickly by the group to help teach the younger girls how to crochet, which was surprisingly successful given that I'm left handed so all my instructions had to be reversed, and was rewarded when they finished their small bracelets and tied them into their wrists. I also learned a few new stitches from the woman in charge, and spent a happy few hours crocheting in the warm room and listening to the stories about the island. The two young girls had flown in, and were happy to share the tales of landing on the beach (only at low tide) with someone as excited as I was.

I wandered back to my tent, and I went to make tea, and was invited to tag along to the Ceilidh that evening with a few women from the campground (and a bottle of whisky). This turned out to be one of my best decisions in Scotland. We smiled and clapped through song after song with nearly every person on the island. This included an electronic bagpipe, more accordions than I had seen since leaving Minnesota for college, a young French piano player, one talented highland dancer, and a few social dances that made me wish for my favorite dance partners. And perhaps most surprising, a call for an open mic piece that was answered by a Canadian getting up to sing Barrett's Privateers. I was the only person in the room that could help him out on the chorus.

The next day I decided to go for a walk. As usual, the weather resisted this decision, and I ended up getting picked up off the side of the road in the rain by an elderly gentleman who thought I looked "a wee bit cold". And thus began my series of Scottish hitch hiking adventures. Once the rain stopped I made my way into Castlebay again, and eventually did manage to find a cup of coffee and somewhere dry to sit until it was time to meet my honorary-local-campground friend at the ladies knitting circle. And here I just relaxed, explained how I had ended up in Barra, and listened to the women discuss island life. My favorite was when they said that the two hardest things about island life were "delivery and delivery": getting anything to the island, and having children on the island. The nearest hospital is roughly three islands away, depending on how you count.

And with the good wishes of these women, a new crochet hook, the insight that one should not walk away from their tent without their rainpants and one should accept any invitation including the word "music",  a hope to return someday on an airplane bound for the beach at low tide, and an offer of a ride to the ferry from a new friend, I made my way north to the next island.