Overlooking Loch Garry, Scotland | July 2, 2009
The sky pulled a patchwork quilt of clouds from the sea as if to tuck in the silent form of Loch Garry far below. Greens and grays and blues danced over the lush terrain ahead of a storm. An aged piper in full regalia stood straight and turned his breath into a heart-pricking drone. His kilt and tassles flapped vigorously, like a white flag. Our van sat silent behind us, its doors flung open on their tracks. Each of us stood alone, exposed to the storm’s wild forewinds, and stared into the west.
A rain was coming from the sea. That island-slashed water had given its breath to the sky, now a roiling mass, a vaporous airship inching over Glengarry. The stoic piper pressed on, lost in his dirge. A woman, maybe his wife or mother, sat next to him with black eyes on the traffic of the A87, never sharing a backward glance with the glen. They seemed doomed to sell meager reproductions of this moment.
The five of us struggled separately to translate it.
Beneath the oncoming clouds, a dark band and a curtain of rain draped the thirsty hills. Shafts of light arced through the cloud bank and sparkled like fish scales on the treetops. My shirt and pants snapped in the wind; my breath sat high in my throat. Off in the tall grasses my sister stood still as a sentry stone, waiting. The piper’s song refused to waver, to slow, to take on the ragged edge of alarm. This unassuming gravel shoulder was spellbound, unreal in its movie-set perfection.
Whether from wind or wonder or wail, the hairs on my arms and neck stood on end like antennae. Gusts roared in my ears and knifed through the hill grasses in sibilant whispers. Only much later would I realize that memories of strife between the MacDonnells and the MacKenzies were locked in the glen. The hills and the trees and the loch remembered. Nearby Invergarry Castle was little more than a heap of rubble. Some treasured things had been lost here. Yet the piper still piped.
Iron filled my nostrils and the turbulent sky became a mirror. Loch Garry zigzagged off into rain-shrouded darkness as the first drops pattered into the gravel, our spells suddenly broken at its cold touch. We hustled back to the van and threw shut our doors as the piper’s lament struggled with the rainstorm he’d called.
Rain pelted the hollow van, and, through our wet windows, the piper and the woman could still be seen. A rain had come.
Listening to: Breabach – The Waterhorse’s Lament