September 2012

A narrow band of pavers shoots between farm fields toward a lone, low mound on the horizon. Tiny clovers jostle in the wind as I stalk along the path, determined to pay my respects to the mystery of Maeshowe for the second time. The skies above Orkney seem to be the playground of clouds; they roil and balloon, collide and stack in a monochromatic spectrum of titanic scale. The display makes me certain mists splay across the earth here in the pre-dawn. Our small group gathers for a moment before crab-walking through the mound’s cramped stone corridor. The interior is dark and ancient and hiding everything we wish to know.

The runic etchings of thousand-year-old Norse warriors trail across enormous, smooth lintel stones…
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Snack on the Edge of the World, Orkney Islands, Scotland

36,768. There’s bad news and good news.

That’s the current number of words, after about seven chapters, in the book I’m writing. On spec. That’s two months’ work, about 18,500 words/month. Back in August I made a rough calculation that the book would probably be in the 200,000-word ballpark at the end of the rough draft. I want to finish the rough draft by the end of the year, but at this rate I need nearly nine more months to finish. I have three.

That’s the bad news. I need to be writing three times faster. More, maybe, since the early days yielded a bounty of words. Read more...

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The high hills of Strathpeffer gird Black Isle and the south from Scotland’s dark northern reaches. The day is iron grey over emerald green and the wind, skirling from the snow-clad mountains, rips through the old Victorian spa town. For hours my dad and I have scoured this region for remnants and relics of the dark ages, from Craig Phadrig to Rosemarkie to Balintore to, finally, Strathpeffer. Here, beneath the intermittent lashing of rain showers and between requisite coffees, we climbed the muddy path to Clach an Tiompain: Sounding Stone, in Gaelic.

It is a relic of the Picts, an ancient culture that flourished in a time of such intellectual darkness that barely any memory of them remains. It is known as The Eagle Stone because the images of an eagle and a horseshoe or rainbow are graven on the face. The original name, “Sounding Stone,” is for more mysterious.
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Glenfiddich - Whisky in the Valley of the Deer

My Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival adventure began with a stop at one of the most well-known and respected distilleries in the world: Glenfiddich distillery. I couldn’t think of a more appropriate way to kick off the festival because visiting Glenfiddich represented a closing of the loop, so to speak. Glenfiddich was the first distillery I ever visited, back in late spring of 2006, and it was there that my love of Scotch whisky was officially kindled. This love didn’t stem from a love of Glenfiddich’s whisky per se (just a personal style preference of mine at the time – I remember thinking the whisky was excellent) but from being swallowed up in the passion of the people, the lore of the industry, and the magical process that is making whisky.
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Every evening waves sever the Brough of Birsay from the Orkney mainland. The moon’s black wolves swirl over tumbled stones and the seaweed-lined concrete causeway, which reminds me of a plane’s emergency floor lighting. The wise check when high tide arrives; the foolhardy make the trek based on the non-committal words of the attendant running the turquoise food van here on the edge of the world. I inch across the slippery causeway, eyes glued to the pocked cement, lest I slip into a tide pool and break upon the cold rocks. Evening approaches fast and I pray that I’m not forced to spend a freezing night alone upon the bones of long-dead civilizations.

The remains of the Picts and the Norse lay upon the Brough of Birsay, buried beneath the salt-sprayed sward…
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