October 2012

March in Edinburgh is a convocation of gusts, skirls, gales, and winds carousing over Auld Reekie’s seven hills. One by one, I tick off my ascents up their slopes: Arthur’s Seat and Castle Rock, Calton and Corstorphine, Braid and Blackford and Craiglockhart. Of them all Calton Hill is the most peculiar. I wander across its crown, past unfinished memorials and strange obelisks, like an interloper amidst the wrecked memories of an amnesiac. There is romance in that these follies have been left here. Touching flaws. An empty path continues east, winding down the back of Calton Hill. I have nowhere to be; I let the wind guide me.

Back here, Edinburgh opens its heart to me.


Barrels at Glenglassaugh Distillery

Between 1986 and 2008, Glenglassaugh distillery sat mothballed along the Banffshire coast 50 miles northwest of Aberdeen. Twenty-two years of silence and harsh North Sea storms punctuated only by the periodic footsteps of the warehouse and mash men tending to the old stock and keeping the washbacks alive. The 80s were a rough decade for far too many Scottish distilleries. Production outstripped demand, which sent the price of whisky through the floor and many distilleries into silence. Or worse.

Glenglassaugh was one such casualty. Its owners deemed the distillery’s spirit inappropriate for use in its popular Cutty Sark brand, so the boilers were shut off, the barley trucks sent away, and the doors locked up. Certainly not the most unique ending to a once proud distillery. Read more...


As the north Atlantic gales descend upon the Orkney Islands, the hungry sea imbues their forms with watery caprice. A black dog bounds toward me along the lip of the grassy overhang, a clear signal that mere moments separate us from that distant, wet erasure. So I snap a portrait of the Orkney that filters into my mind on rainy days at home, where the grass flaps in the wind and the sea takes great, dragging bites from the land. Plumes of saltwater shatter against the extruded bones of the island; granule by grain, the tide feeds its appetite.

Such beautiful violence. And yet I can’t shake the image of a rottweiler killing a fawn by the river in Dunkeld, can’t help but see it, again, here in this portrait.


The Glenlivet Distillery

There’s a bit of advice I received from my dad shortly before going to college that has haunted me ever since: that the years of learning and socializing in college would be, or might be, the best years of my life. It has been almost a decade since I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and looking back, now, I can’t deny the wisdom in those words. I think there’s something precious in the passing down of knowledge, from sage to initiate, that changes the way one sees the world. It becomes more complex, more vast, more rich. Ultimately, I suppose there’s a little bit of comfort in knowing you can’t know everything. That the pursuit will never end.

But when the opportunity presents itself to learn from a master, to tackle your prey in the heather, you seize it… Read more...


Far to the north of Scotland, past bustling Edinburgh and Glasgow, past long and brooding Loch Ness, and beyond the final outpost of Inverness lies a wide swath of undulating bald hills, boggy moorland, and windblown montane. This solemn journey through Sutherland and into far Caithness is one too seldom taken, one mostly reserved for transients en route to Wick or Orkney. Myself included. But around every perilous switchback and blind hairpin turn a hair’s breadth from head-on collisions with semi trucks, epic landscapes unveil themselves. The works of men are limited in this region to subordinate roads and, all too frequently, tiny castellated stone towers on cliffsides: Cairns. Memorials.

I pull the car off the road and gaze south across the narrow valley I had just crossed…