Community and Settling In on the Scottish Frontier

No dinner on Scoraig would be complete without a bottle of something.

Right then.

That’s what is said here the way we say “Okay…” Often followed by a sigh, or getting up or whatever needs to happen next. It’s the pause before the action. The “lets get on with it”. And here’s some more Brit speak: sort. Use in place of “figure it out”. You will hear “Ah, yeah. We’ll sort it when I’m home then.” and know that some kind of arrangements and/or decisions need to be made.

Writing now from my flight from Inverness to Birmingham. Inverness airport: the most mellow airport in the entire world, with the possible exception of Santa Fe’s. I arrived an hour and a half before my flight. Could have given myself 30 minutes and it would have been fine. 

Inverness airport. There are the three other people waiting for a flight.
Walking out to our tiny plane.

Having arrived at Scoraig, I quickly was oriented to the place by my first evening’s events. Lisa’s house was full with three WWOOFers getting ready to head off the next day. Two of them were French, a couple in their late twenties/early thirties that were WWOOFing their way around the UK. The other, a young man in his twenties named Steffan, had just finished a year volunteering at a community farm outside Dumfries. (And we figured out that some of the community members had been present at the Wannop’s ceilidh just the weekend prior!) Lisa’s adult daughter was also visiting, home for a bit before she would head off to a new job in Amsterdam. There was much bustling about. But I was told “Sit. Relax. You’ve been traveling all day”. So I did. At about 8 pm, dinner was put on the table and we had a wonderful meal of fresh salad from the garden, homemade spanikopita, and roasted sweet potatoes. There was much conversation and kidding about. These folks had been working together for three weeks already. They’d built up a bond from shared experiences and tonight was their last night together. Then, at 9:30 ish, we put on wellies and trooped over to the neighbors’ place. Time for some late night jamming. The French couple brought their guitar, harmonicas and ukeleles. The hosts had guitars, fiddles and their visitor had a sax. It was challenging to find commonly known music to play, but they did it! That went on until sometime past midnight. I slept there at the neighbors’ house that night. There wasn’t an open bed yet at Lisa’s. Jill and her husband, Bev (not a typo) happily showed me a bedroom upstairs in their crofter’s cottage. 

Picked up and transported by one set of neighbors. Housed for the night by another set of neighbors. This is about to become a common theme in the settlement of Scoraig. Neighbors helping neighbors. Everyone pitches in when they hear something needs doing. Living life in a small, remote community isn’t easy. The residents help take the edge off by doing for and with each other a great deal.

The next day, I had breakfast with Jill and Bev. We spent some lovely time talking around the breakfast table. They’ve been crofting on Scoraig for forty years already. I think they are considered part of the first wave of folks that moved here when you could get a croft for free. They built their own house. They grow most of their own food. They raised three children here. They’ve traveled extensively and have hosted many, many volunteers through the Work Away program (similar to WWOOFing but many more types of work offered in exchange for room/board). Bev builds violins for a living as well. I’m not sure why I was surprised to hear Jill reference a book by Barbara Kingsolver. I think of BK as a writer from my own backyard since we both lived many years in Tucson. I’ve seen the author read/speak several times, and I’ve read most of her books. And then there I was, speaking with this woman in faraway Scotland who referenced a couple of her books during our conversation. 

It really is a small world after all.

Returning to Lisa’s, I found Steffan already gone and the French couple out for a hike. Lisa had several things to do around Scoraig. She told me to just take the day and write and be in touch with my family (I’d also received word that my grandmother had passed away). We’d review the farm and its care  the following day. By then, I had enough WWOOFing experience to know that when your host tells you to relax for the day, you DO!

But before too long, we were off to another social gathering. The occasion was a birthday. There was a great deal of good food and good music and good conversation. Also plenty of wine and beer and good Scottish whiskey.  (I tried two. Yum.) The assortment of people was interesting – young adults to middle aged, most highly educated, some brought up on Scoraig and some incomers. Again, the event went on until the wee hours of the morning. At about midnight, I realized that if I didn’t get up and walk right home then, I might not do it at all. I made my apologies, pulled on rain gear and stepped out into the night. 

Oh, did I forget to say we walked there? This is a place where you walk most everywhere. People do have four wheelers for carrying loads or for instances where speed is a necessity. Actually, scratch that. I’m not sure speed is ever a necessity in Scoraig. No one is in a hurry here. Why should they be? Nothing is SO IMPORTANT that you can’t take the time to walk to it. Life in Scoraig moves at an exceptionally reasonable pace.

Liesie, an Estonian volunteer, Jill, my nearest neighbor, and Anthea, my newest good friend and co-house sitter, down by the jetty.

Neighborly. Over-educated. Reasonable pace of life. Somewhat remote. It’s beginning to sound a lot like Bisbee… 

For those of you unfamiliar with my history, I spent several years living in a small town in Arizona called Bisbee. A former mining town, it had almost emptied in the early 1970s because it was remote and there were few employment opportunities. Shortly thereafter, hippies, artists, and alternative-like folks started moving down there. You could buy land a house in the quaint little town for next to nothing. Newcomers wanted the more laid back, community-oriented spirit of the place and the quiet in which to pursue their own creative endeavors. Over time, Bisbee again flourished. It grew, developed an economic base in the arts and tourism, gained a measure of notoriety and was a great hangout for those willing to step away from mainstream American culture. I loved it. I moved there in the mid 1990s to run a bed and breakfast for a friend. He eventually sold the place. I stayed. I got married. I camped out for three years (without a bathroom!!!) while building a house. I worked in restaurants, the library, the food coop — anywhere I could earn a living. I spent thousands of hours with my hands in clay/ceramics. Made tons of beautiful stuff. I spent time with some of the most wonderful people in the world. I was part of a village that laughed and cried together, danced at celebrations, helped each other build houses and start businesses, shared creative work and raise children. I would never have left the place but for a painful divorce and the as-yet-unshaken belief that I was supposed to somehow accomplish something out in the world. My years in Bisbee remain some of the most fruitful and fulfilled years of my life. I’ve often wished I could move the entire town to northern New Mexico.

Walking home from the birthday part was a revelation. It was dark. It was drizzling. It was windy. I had more than a mile to walk. Lisa’s two border collies were sent with me to insure I could find my way to the house. After the first few uncertain steps, I realized I’d see better with my hood off.

Remember those moments of exultation I mentioned in an earlier post? This was to be another. I raised my head and looked around me. Despite the clouds, the sky was light. I could see the road ahead of me and the land, rising to the spine of the peninsula on my right. On my left, the land fell away from me down toward the sea below. The water broke itself on the rocky shore, over and over and again. I could smell the rain and the sea and all the plants I didn’t yet know. I heard the rushing, gurgling water of the peninsula springs as they welled and flowed, gathering together to run in the steam on one side of the road. An the rain drop-drop-dropped on me, so very softly that I barely felt wet. The dogs wagged their tails and ran ahead. “Come on!” they said in their dog way of saying things.

And I did. I went along. Didn’t feel my tired body or the whiskey I’d drunk. Nothing on my mind: no worries, no pain, no planning. All alone. (Because of course the dogs figured out their person wasn’t with us , so buggered off back to the party. I found my way back without them.) Just pure senses — taking everything in. 

At that moment, I realized that what seems like it will be hard to us is often the opportunity for our most profound satisfaction. Walking home at midnight, in the rain? With the wind bending the trees away from me all along the way? Alone, headed to someplace I was not sure I’d find? Oh no, no, no, no. Or in other words “I don’t wanna!” Aurgh. Must. Overcome. The. Inertia. And. Just. Do. The. Thing.

And then… You get up. You make yourself go forward despite the resistance and Bam! something wonderful happens.

The next day, a Sunday, I had to make a decision about the timing and starting point for my journey home. It was a lot to figure out, not the least of which was getting back off of Scoraig and down to Inverness or the nearby town of Ullapool when Lisa wouldn’t be there with her ear to the Scoraig ground. I was also many, many miles away from my return flight departing point (Birmingham) and had to add another week to my stay in order to cover the full length of the house sitting needed. Another marathon internet session then… Train schedules, flight information, change fees. It was starting to add up quickly. AND look like a complicated muddle. 

Turned out that Lisa could have her friend and neighbor, Anthea, cover the last few days. Much easier and cheaper just to keep my original ticket! I discovered the concept of flying from Inverness to Birmingham, saving loads of time and the confusion of getting from train station to airport. Ahhhhh. Finally wrapped it up. When Anthea came over for the review of the farm for house-sitting and she offered to take me into Inverness, the arrangements were all in place. Whew! Now I could relax and pay attention to the farm, catch up with my blog posts, and spend time relaxing over the next week and a half. 

Taking care of the farm meant care and feeding of the dogs, two cats, the hens, the quails (and collecting all eggs), watering plants inside, watering the polytunnel full of growing things, gathering ripening strawberries and freezing them (no small task, that!), gathering salad greens/hers/flowers for twice weekly home and restaurant orders, moving the hen tractor onto fresh grass each week, laying weed cloth over newly prepared planting beds, raking the hay field into rows for turning and drying, and seeding oriental greens and herbs into new beds. Over the next week I got everything done but the very last task — mostly because the weather turned and stayed gray, cloudy and rainy for a solid week.

Most folks here have their own power sources , a combination of wind turbines and solar panels. They keep thei power usage low, but still have refrigerators, toasters and computers.
Jack waits for me to throw the stick while Fingal goes for some petting. My constant companions!
A new house under construction just down the road.
The deck at Lisa’s house. My favorite spot was that swinging bench. See how sunny it is? I took the pictures on my first Sunday there. I wouldnt see the sun again for more than a week.

One comment

  1. Oh, community. Isn’t it wonderful? It is the way we should all be able to live.
    You are making me want to go to these foreign places and help on a farm but this body is slowing down and I a not sure I am up to it. Maybe with someone, but not sure I would tackle all that on my own.


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