Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Diary of Dundee, Pt I

It has been quite a while since our last technological rendezvous, dear friend. I miss the regularity of having to write like a man with deadlines, but I've been enjoying the lack of an internet to suck up my life. This means that every time you read a new post, I have been loaned the use of someone else's computer. I'm glad that I live among the generous.

The real reason I'm back for a moment is to give you the chronicle of my latest trip to Scotland. I was blessed to go with five people through whom I was led to still waters. This will be in a few installments, just to keep you coming back for more, and hopefully you will. My house is still not a nexus of online information, so I am sorry if I do not answer messages as frequently as you might hope. That certainly doesn't mean I wouldn't like to sit down over tea with you. Come by The Sinclair House, and I'll pour you up the latest that I've set down with my quills and ink. And after a glass of Applewood Muscadine, perhaps I'll have the pleasure of hearing your stories as well.

Part I

The clean, glimmering light of the dawn breathed over the horizon into cold air and ricocheted off the airfoils of the 757. In my aisle seat on Continental flight 36Q, next to Eric and Mindy, I awoke to the bustle of stewardesses and the smell of toast. Our fitful sleep had been punctuated with a movie that I didn’t really watch, and I had stood in the aisle for a while between 2 and 3 o’clock, Greenwich Mean Time, having a good conversation with Todd about what we really think of the mechanics of becoming a disciple of Jesus (though I don’t suppose ‘mechanics’ is the right word). I hate sleeping on planes; those seats are shipped straight from the Tower of London, if you ask me.

We had taken off from Newark Liberty International into a cloudy ceiling full of the impersonal drone of the Manhattan skyline, but the cloudy sky we broke through into the outskirts of Edinburgh was pregnant with possibility, with meaning and openness. Except for a couple of scheduled times and a few other inklings, we had no idea what work was prepared for us in the coming week. We were herded off the aircraft like lethargic livestock into the ready arms of UK Customs officers, where I found myself stopped by both the official and her superior as well (both asking the same questions). Were I a bettin’ man, I’d say it was because of my shaved head and rather prominent beard, which has gotten me accused of (in no particular order) being a sex offender, a terrorist, and an Amish man. It doesn’t worry me anymore.

Bruce and Carolyn were there to give the six of us a lift to Dundee, and seeing the countryside between Edinburgh and Perth again was almost as good as seeing my old friends, whom I’ve known all my life, though we only met last March. The gorse-bush-dotted craigs rushed by, giving way to the wide basin of the Tay and an early morning view of Perth. Something is always in bloom in Scotland, no matter the season. Blackberries, jonquils, thistles, and thousands of blossoms I can’t name sprout from the black, rain-heavy peat as if laughing with color at the ubiquitous croaking of the ravens. We reached Bruce’s house in Dundee at about ten in the morning and strewed ourselves unceremoniously about the lounge, where I promptly acquired my long-awaited sleep while others went to Tesco for provisions. After lunch, we set out for the first stop: the cliffs at Arbroath.

It’s one of those experiences you have to be there to understand (like most, I guess), watching the muscular red sandstone reach down from dark furrowed fields into the tug of the North Sea, while gulls freewheel above the mortar-fire of the surf and pick straggling snails from the kelp-strewn rock beds at low tide. It’s one of my favorite places on Earth. Something about the sea always calls me. Perhaps that it’s bigger than me, that it holds depths I cannot reach, that its power is so beyond our scope as to be inestimable. Plus, we usually stop at Marco’s for fish and chips afterwards (with gargantuan fillets of haddock pulled straight from the sea at our backs).

Chad and I were staying at Rose’s house in Broughty Ferry (or bruach Tay in Gaelic, meaning ‘Bank of the Tay’). Her cottage is on Brook Street, two blocks over from the Firth o’ Tay itself. Upstairs, from my bedroom window, I could hear the church bell across the street tolling the hour as the har crept in off the sea, obscuring all but the brightest of lights in the evening. Sleep came easy to us, as it would all week. Give us grace for tomorrow, Lord, for the work will surely begin.


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