State of the Savage: November/December 2017

by Keith Savage · 2 comments

Blurry autumn night in Kirkwall, Orkney Islands, Scotland

Listen while you read: Chanter’s Tune by Shelley Phillips and Friends

Scotland is a place, for me, that provides avenues to self-reflection and contemplation. It’s an escape from the grasping, trivial, and ever-consuming distractions of modernity, tendrils I can’t seem to escape ensconced in my routines back home. There’s much to be said about the displacing effect of travel on our loosely woven understanding of the world, but of all the places I’ve traveled only Scotland has yielded corridors of insight that compel me to stay, and, barring that, return. And return.

Humanity has always been afflicted with an addiction to perception. Reading those words struck me like a hammer upon the rod. Focused outward on the beauty, the scent, the sound, the flavor, the feeling, we leave dark our interior. I keep wondering how Scotland, as beautiful and variegated as it is, facilitates this awakening, but whatever keeps me enthralled in this bardo, I’m thankful for it.

I used to think Scotland was the fortunate home of various thin spaces, a pre-Celtic concept, places where I could access this feeling. As I traveled more around the country, though, I perceived all of Scotland as one. And as I’ve gotten older and spent an unusual amount of time alone, I’ve come to see place as guide. The “thinness” is something we bring with ourselves, too often left hidden and undisturbed beneath the distraction of perception. And I’m the worst of us, so easily distracted. I need the guide’s gentle coaxing.

So what lies in this space?

A blacksmith can just as easily forge a river as I can articulate an answer. I’ve stood before ancient stones beneath swirling skies, atop cliffs crumbling into the surging sea, at the boat’s prow as the waves rose and fell around me. I’ve watched the sunrise turn mist in the glen golden, the gloaming overtake night on the mountains of the north, and a fey bridge arc over rushing highland waters. I’ve closed my eyes to the dissipation of these moments and the coalescing of the next.

Impermanent, singular, liminal, now. Just like us. A thought to make many gnash their teeth, but an experience to illuminate the catacombs of the soul.

So I continue to plan my visits to Scotland, reach for the guide, let its hand brush away the dust of meaninglessness. This coming April/May is shaping up to be a lengthy jaunt to Glasgow, Angus, Aberdeenshire, and Speyside. Along the way I’m working with local tourism organizations like Visit Angus, Visit Aberdeenshire, and the new-christened North East 250 to glean each area’s highlights and intersperse them with my own wanderings and inquests.

Another trip to Scotland might crop up sooner, perhaps in the February/March period, to an undisclosed destination in the Cairngorms National Park. I don’t wish to be coy, and as more information is forthcoming I promise to spread the word far and wide here and on social media.

As 2017 slides into the dark I wonder if 2018 will guide me beyond the sea. I accept whatever change may come and wish the same for you.

Joanie MurrayNo Gravatar December 11, 2017 at 8:35 AM

Hi Keith,

Congratulations on your upcoming trips. They sound amazing!

I’m wondering if you’ve ever spent Christmas or Hogmanay in Scotland, and, if so, what are your thoughts on traveling there at this time of year? We are thinking of a Christmas trip in the next few years.


Keith SavageNo Gravatar December 11, 2017 at 8:59 AM

Hi Joanie. That’s a time period I’ve not been over, and it has been on my mind the last few years. I’m thinking of doing a Hogmanay to Up Helly Aa trip through the darkest time of year. That’s really your biggest issue with visiting Scotland in December/January. Daylight is scarce — as little as 7 hours — and with often overcast skies it feels even darker. Some places reopen for the Christmas season but many sights will be closed until the tourism season starts back up in late April/early May.

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