Driving from Inverness, in the Highlands, back down to the central belt of Scotland felt very much like closing the trip. Winding, single-track roads were quickly replaced by busy highways. Vast areas of open space gave way to more frequent signage, exits, views of industrial buildings and suburbs. We transitioned from forested countryside to Scotland’s highest concentration of population in a single, four hour commute along the A-9. We made it to Glasgow in time for our appointment – just! Even managed to stop and have lunch as we headed south. I got in a final coffee and Victoria Sponge. (So good!!!)
Our efforts to get south were rewarded with a wonderful surprise: the beautiful colors, warm welcome, incredible knowledge base and friendly, frank conversation awaiting us at Woollenflower, a natural dye studio in Glasgow.
I love coming upon what Anne of Green Gables calls “a kindred spirit”. You know that feeling? When you meet someone who cares deeply about all the things that you value most? Well that’s how I felt about meeting Julia Billings, the owner. Jules, as she’s called, comes to natural dye work from a background in horticulture. For her, that plants produce color is a wondrous thing. That you can change, shift and play with those colors through various techniques is also wondrous. That you can share that experience with others through things you make and through teaching is also… well, wondrous! Her enthusiasm for all things fiber, color and making was infectious. I loved the airy, open feeling of her workspace. Visitors and students can’t help but feel good by simply walking in. Jules is also a consummate knitter, sewer, teacher and has been making her way in the crafting field as a business owner for the past six years. She’s a bit of a jack-of-all-trades. Or, Renaissance woman, if you prefer. But each product of her efforts is beautifully and thoughtfully made – and to her own high, exacting standards.
I also appreciated her interest in our work. She asked a lot of questions and showed a lot of compassion for the difficulties we have faced during the pandemic. She had some good ideas for us. And she completely “got” what it is we are trying to do. How delightful.
Jules, Heather and I batted around a lot of topics, drank tea, rolled our eyes, laughed, sighed. Her sun-filled studio, though in an industrial, somewhat seedy part of town, radiated peace. It seemed to say Hey! Pause here! Relax, talk, enjoy. In here, all the colors, all the textures and possibilities and love you feel for this stuff – well, this is the place you can be with it. Stay for a while. Enjoy the excitement that new conversations can bring. Let the well of creativity refill itself.
The rest of our afternoon included some not-so-peaceful moments, so it was good to have that bit of sunshine and camaraderie to carry us through.
Heather and I drove down into Glasgow’s downtown in order to meet up with her daughter’s boyfriend, who had taken the train over from Edinburgh. Great! We’ll pick you up at George Square! George Square is in the very heart of Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city. Can you see where this is going…?
Oh, I do love Glasgow. I know it’s not considered as “pretty” as Edinburgh. But it has its own grand, gritty charm. (Yes, those words can be used side by side.) I love its majestic, sandstone buildings and broad avenues. I love its motto, plastered everywhere: People Make Glasgow. I love its particularly unintelligible accent that only “Weegies” (Glaswegians) can produce. I love the many huge murals on the sides of buildings. I love that at the merest hint of a sunny afternoon, the locals fling off as much clothing as acceptable and plop down on a patch of grass to soak it up. Glasgow is rough and edgy and innovative and dirty and grand all at the same time. Wait, I guess I said that already.
I didn’t take many pictures because I was trying to guide Heather through the city. Driving in Glasgow is much like driving in New York. I suspect if you know the city and the one way streets and where you’re going it’s not much of a problem. But we blithely drove into the center of the city then found ourselves mired in traffic and one way streets. Let’s just say that Heather’s glee in driving in the UK was completely spent by the time we contacted Adam and told him we couldn’t get anywhere near to where he was and could he please walk over and meet us at the cathedral?
We found a parking area, abandoned the car and hiked at our best speed over to the Glasgow Cathedral, located a fair way up the hill. We tried to get there by 4 pm, before closing. And we did, only to find that you had to have a prior booking for specific visiting time slots due to Covid restrictions. Aurgh! My frustration abated quickly when I realized that the cleaning and restoration of the building’s exterior was incredibly fascinating to examine. I’d alway thought the building was black. Turns out that color is the accumulation of centuries of dirt, pollution, etc. Who knew the place was actually built of a light gray stone?!?!?
Next, a pint and a final fish & chips. Then I was dropped off at my Glasgow Airport hotel.
And we all know how THAT went!
So let me skip to the really great next thing that happened.
I came home.
For me, getting off the plane feeling the high desert air of Santa Fe on my skin and in my lungs… well, there’s something about it that’s so right. And my wonderful parents were there to greet me and shepherd my semi-comatose self from the baggage claim to the car. My dog ran around in crazy circles when I arrived home. I dumped my luggage in the office, no longer caring to keep track of it one bit. And oh, there was my bed. It wasn’t long before I was in it.
When I woke the next morning, the sky was so very blue. I had coffee and sat to write on the front porch. The aspen trees shimmered and danced. My living room suddenly looked wildly spacious, light, comfortable and chock full of books, art, projects, yet-to-be-had discussions. Things were blooming in the garden.
Why had I been so anxious to leave here just two weeks back?
I really couldn’t remember.
Something about a pandemic and having to stay home for months on end, and feeling shut in… but all that was lost to me. In its place, I found my home shiny and newly exciting. What a wonderful place! And I get to spend time here? Fantastic!
It may be that the greatest gift of this overseas scouting adventure was rediscovering the joy I feel in my own home. I can’t help but think of T.S.Eliot, who said it better than anyone:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
So, thanks everyone, for coming along on our journey. It had its ups and downs, certainly. It answered a lot of questions for me – and I hope some for you as well. I hope you’ve felt like you had a vicarious journey, all from the comfort and safety of your own home. May the world heal itself soon. May we come to appreciate it in its present state as best we can. May we all find a little peace.