March 2013

I step off the path on the backside of Calton Hill and stand in the wind as it flows among Edinburgh’s seven hills. The sun has come to Scotland, and there are people traipsing in the greens like ants upon the hill. The Palace of Holyroodhouse, the ancient seat of the kings and queens of England in Scotland, bookends the Royal Mile opposite its loftier counterpart, Edinburgh Castle. The light turns beige and gold and a rainbow of browns on the palace’s stone. Like an oil slick going pearlescent in the setting sun, it is a beautiful, ugly thing.

I only know what I don’t feel as I look down upon Holyrood Palace. I don’t feel that balloon of awe in my chest that Scotland’s scenery evoke. I don’t feel close to something buried and powerful.
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Writing a book

May 18th is going to be a special date. It is a Saturday on which Sarah and I depart for a month in Spain and Switzerland. Imagine all the jamón iberico, olives, wine, and tapas. Imagine all the Swiss chocolate and cheese, the underrated wines, the head-exploding scenery. Yes, May 18th will be a special day.

But for another reason as well.

May 18th is my zero draft deadline. This book I’m writing must be drafted before I leave for Europe. There is no more perfect deadline: I can type the final period and then disappear for a month, let my mind crawl out of the creative hole in the ground, and return with fresh eyes to tear into my first draft proper. Read more...

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Northmavine is an orchard of calcified boulders trailing to the blue-black sea surrounding Shetland like a watery iris. Barren miles pass beneath my tires as I smooth flat the map in my car. Every unmarked road, every bumpy track will guide me to new vantages and vistas. The road to Nibon sends the car bouncing in and over potholes, around deadly blind turns, and to the brink of precipices that strain beneath me. Nibon is little more than a rock garden with the ruins of a croft and an old water mill. The wind bunches up the sea here like blankets at the foot of the bed. Get up, go back, it howls.

All other souls have taken this advice, but this enforced solitude on Nibon’s hard hillside passes visions before my eyes. I wonder about the people who lived here…
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The Heart of Neolithic Orkney

Orkney can be a tough place to fit into a trip to Scotland. It lies far to north of the common visitor attractions and requires either a ferry or a flight before you can feel that sweet Orkney turf beneath your feet. For many travelers, that often leaves them one solid day to explore Orkney’s mainland – forget about Orkney’s other interesting islands, places like Westray, Rousay, and Hoy. Such a short amount of time requires a healthy dose of tactics if you want to squeeze in as much as possible. There’s no better way to spend that beautiful day on Orkney than to connect the dots of the stunning, ancient monuments on Orkney’s mainland (though if the weather doesn’t cooperate consider a day at Highland Park distillery).

What follows here is a little guide to my favorite sites on Orkney’s mainland, in order of visitation… Read more...

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Lagavulin Bay glimmers behind its namesake distillery, one of three titans along Islay’s whisky coast. I have the urge to curl up in the bushes while the waves gently slosh upon the rocks and listen to the wind speak the passing time. The rich, sherried whisky of Lagavulin tingles on my tongue and evokes leather armchairs, dusty libraries, and Cuban cigars. It is another moment when Scotland overloads my senses and recalibrates my sensibilities. There are literally castles in the sky here. What life have I been living?

The background of the world is all blue – rippling cobalt, misty periwinkle, and flat cerulean – yet everything I can touch is green. Whisky works its alchemy upon my vision as I stand looking across the bay to distant Kintyre.
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