Arran

Somewhere along the belly of Arran I am kicking across sandy turf where boats are beached and a handful of world-weary buildings face the sea. The music in my headphones tethers me to a life in stasis. Cold winds dent my jacket, claw my hair. A mown ramp leads to a bench, a rocky crevice, and perspective. In the sea beyond Arran, Ailsa Craig rises, suspended on the horizon, like some abandoned, ley pyramid. I pluck headphones from my ears and let this scene rest in my sight like a butterfly in the hand. I’m waiting for it to disappear in the sea mist, for a blink to send it into memory. Moments of clarity are just those.

Fairy rock, refuge of Catholics, bastion against the spectre of invading Spanish, land for sale – Ailsa Craig has been all these things, still is those things.
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I am back on the empty road encircling Scotland’s Isle of Arran, all the undulating fields, like the wrinkled palm of a cupped hand, surrounded by cloud-capped hills. The wind is not gentle – it sleds off the snowy uplands, screams through the forests, and whooshes over the untamed grasses – nor is it unwelcome. A massive stone slab thrusts from the valley floor. It is a collection of smooth expanses, sharp angles, and purposeful striations. It is the fragment of a dream disappearing in our first moments of wakefulness. It stands alone, opposite me.

I have traveled alone in fits and spurts these past few years, seeking something, I think, just beyond my perception. I have marveled at the mystery of monuments like this one, casting my wonder upon the stone.
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There is sound before there is sight, and then, visions. The sea makes small noises on the beach, spitting out round stones at the tide line like cherry pits sucked clean and dribbled between lips. The hollow clack-crunch of footsteps among the stones presages bodies moving toward the water. A child’s exclamations, a mother’s soft remonstrations. The damp air collapses upon noise like a fire blanket cast upon an errant flame. I am waiting for the ferry to take me across the Kilbrannan Sound, from the Isle of Arran to the Kintyre Peninsula and then on to Islay. I look, finally, to see if my ears have lied to my eyes.

A mother leads her tiny, pink daughter to the tide. They stare across the gray expanse to hills with scarves of mist. Time slows. The child is quiet…
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The year molts its summer skin and readies its autumn burial. White light flickers over peaks piercing the heavens above Glen Rosa. A great square of indigo and ember flowers mark the entrance to Brodick, the gateway to the Isle of Arran. The interplay of light and shadow and color dazzles my jet-lagged eyes. Every footfall hammers the earth with a debt of sleep as I shuffle along Brodick Bay like some forlorn spirit. Cool air dissolves the heat of the small, white sun. There was a man sitting alone at the picnic table. Everywhere the fizzing smell of green life thrums behind the visible world. I have arrived to the holy hill of the apple trees. Eamain Abhlach.

Avalon.
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A gale swirled through Glen Chalmadale toward its impending dissipation at Lochranza Bay. The flat tidal bay at the horn of Arran cups sailboats and the ruin of a Norseman – the twin to Skipness Castle across the water on Kintyre. The buzz from my visit to Arran’s distillery expands amidst the light pinging off water and hill and the constant thrush of fresh air. The gravel beach crackles under foot. Boats leashed to neon bobs wait patiently to ply the seas. Lochranza town is little more than white houses scattered like a child’s forgotten jacks. There are people and dogs full of silence and long looks.

I can almost see the longboats with their bestial figureheads sliding into the bay, the white sails stuffed with wind and a deck bristling with hide- and mail-clad warriors.
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