My Heart Belongs to The Highlands (Part2)
Returning to school in mid-August brought a sadness amongst us kids. It symbolised the end. Although the summer days continued for a few more weeks, we couldn't help but long for those endless days of the holidays. School brought us back to routine and order; we were no longer the wild, carefree kids who could go for adventures whenever they wanted. Our wings were clipped and we had to obey the adults and conform to the demands of the school bell.
In the Autumn, the lush green backdrop would change to yellows, reds and browns. Only the evergreens withstood the transformation. September brought a change to the landscape; while we experienced hot weather, the breezes in the air told us that Winter was coming. Autumn seemed to be a fleeting season, lasting weeks into October when the turbulent weather would start. The hurricanes from the Americas often made their way through the Atlantic and batter our lands. While we often only got the tail end of these destructive winds, they would often cause havoc over our high lands. It was a cold and wet period, often lasting for weeks at a time. On the rare dry days, the nip of winter could be felt. Jack Frost had worked hard through the wee, small hours, leaving nothing untouched. The silvery glisten of the frost covered the world around us. There’s something magical about those crispy, cold mornings where the grass would crunch under your feet. We started wearing our house coats (night gowns) and curling up on the couch with hot porridge or Ready Break, to warm our cockles for the day ahead. The summer clothes were long gone and in their place were thick coats, hats, gloves and scarves. Boots replaced trainers and sandals. Wrapped up, I loved nothing more than going everywhere Jack had been. I wanted to leave my mark, just as he had done. I, like my own children, love finding frozen puddles to crack them with my boots. Some things never change.
By the end of November, winter would have its feet firmly under the table. Temperatures dropped significantly and there was always a threat of snow in the air. Us kids would pray that we would wake up to a blanket of snow; to find ourselves in Narnia, just like the children in the CS Lewis novel. Some years, the snow fell in November, while in others, we would have to wait until late January. Sometimes it was just a sporadic snowfall; the kind that disappeared as quickly as it came. Other times, it was thick and relentless. When the snow eventually came, the land altered and often became unrecognisable under the vast blanket of white. I often imagined the Snow Queen would ruthlessly fight to keep the land in this bitter cold transformation; where it was always winter and never Spring. I recall many harsh winters where the snow felt like it was there endlessly. The land was beautiful but felt untouchable and inhabitable; almost delicate but at the same time, wild and ferocious. Us kids loved the weather; it brought out our creativeness. Numerous snowmen, snow dogs and other shapes would line up in our neighbourhood. We even tried making igloos using my mother’s Tupperware boxes. It was like a competition between us kids, to build the biggest and the best. We had some magnificent snow dens in our gardens. Another lovely memory of those cold, winter months, was the increased family time. We’d play cards and board games; compete with each other on the computer and enjoy hot, warm drinks. The fights and arguments usually ensued when we were all cooped up for too long.
Spring is a favourite month of mine. It feels like everything had been sleeping and was now coming back to life; symbolic of a rebirth. The snows would slowly melt away, with only the hills and mountains beyond showing the remnants of the harsh winter. The daffodils, snow drops and crocuses would arrive, colouring edges of the town; bringing life back to gardens and paths. In the fields, the lambs were bleating and bouncing around, after their mothers. Trees would bud new leaves and slowly but surely, the world was fighting back. There was a freshness in the air. You couldn't help but inhale the new world forming around you. With the change in season also brought out the farmers muck spreaders and that beautiful fresh smell would be overwhelmed by a nasty odour of manure in the air. It was nauseausly smelling but this was a common part of our lives and soon our noses would get used to the pong. The Cows would be calving towards late spring; many of them in the fields with their stout bellies, chewing on the fresh grass until their babies were due. Spring brought a lot of noise. Kids seemed to get louder in springtime and it was usually around this time that some of the younger kids would join us; breaking free of their garden confinements and finally able to experience the parks and beyond.
In my younger years, I always felt the connection to the land. I felt part of the world around me. Adolescence brought a lot of change. I often felt like a disjointed outsider in those early teenage years. We had moved from the comfort of our close-knit community to one of the bungalows. It was an exciting but nervous change for my parents. Our family were caught in the midst of judgement; our new neighbours knew where we’d come from and I was reminded that we’d never be one of them. My old friends were cautious of this change; mostly sad that we’d gone, albeit just ten minutes along the road. We moved from a warm, loving community to a cold and judgemental neighbourhood. The kids were apprehensive about accepting us because their parents were judging our history. In the early days, very little changed; I went to the same school and saw the same people but I missed the freedom and warmth of my old home. Eventually, we did fit in but we were always that family. I guess you could say we were new money, while the established elite never really understood our struggles to get there. We started to bond with the kids and forge out new friendships. These kids were a bit more restrained to my other friends, where I had been an equal. They weren't as wild or into adventures like my other friends. I often found myself back at my old home, with my old friends and playing but it felt different. Some of them were cruel, saying I didn't belong there either. It was a strange time for me. I wish that my parents had moved further away, so that I didn't have to deal with two worlds judging me and not feeling settled.
In my teens, my focuses changed and I was forever battling anxiety; cripled by the toxicity around me. I couldn't help but feeling held in a choke hold, by the behaviour of adults in my life. I longed to turn 17; to finish my education and leave the fish bowl , that was my life. If I felt life was getting too much, I’d go walking for miles or jump on the back of my bike and disappear for hours at a time. I’d find solace amongst the trees and green lands. I’d lose myself amongst the landscape. I realise now it was my happy place. It was where I felt grounded and in the present; not worrying about past events or the future to come. I found myself in a peaceful, happy state. There is nothing more cathartic than running through yellow corn fields, with your arms spread out and fingertips skimming the tops of the corn or cycling down a long, winding road, feeling the wind against your face as you witness the beautiful world around you.
There is a romanticised attitude to Scotland; much of it linked with the Highlands. Outsiders fantasise of a world of kilts, bagpipes and haggis. The stereotypes of long haired, rugged men in skirts and red-headed women in green, living harmoniously amongst the heather; battling on the mountains and running wild and free. The castles and ruins; the sacred lands where many battles took place and the numerous monuments scattered far and wide; they each have their own stories to tell. The Highlands, just like any part of Scotland, has a wealth of history that is waiting for people to discover. There are so many places for people to experience and see but for me, it will always be my home. My own roots belong there and when I go back, I often find myself going for walks and visiting those old haunts. Sadly, most of them have been decimated and new neighbourhoods have been built where I used to run free. I often feel like Chris Guthrie from Sunset Song; when she gets the epiphany about the land and her ties to the world around her. I may not be a Grassic Gibbon character but I get it. I understand the connection I have with my beautiful home town; it's not the people that draw me there but the world around its residents. Those beautiful hills; the quilted fields and green tapestries of evergreens and the river reaching across miles and miles. It's nature who has my heart.