Driving over the mountain


This shot taken by complete accident around eight o’ clock while A was driving us out of Ullapool, a village near to the bothy at Badrallach. And by near, I mean about 17 miles or so. This is mountain, field, moor and sea loch country. All that yellow you see is gorse bush, giving off its perfume of coconut to no one at all, and no bees right now. Perhaps little speck flies pollinate it, I don’t know.


I come back to the shot, and think of how it seems so much like my writing mind at times. A delicate blur of some grand scene. Right now, I’m working on a review of Reality, Reality, a collection of short stories by Jackie Kay, and thinking, because she is a Scot and mixed race, about race in Scotland, and trying not to make the review about that at all, because Jackie Kay is Jackie Kay, herself utterly, and a lovely writer.


So the review is blurry, because things need to be said to an international audience, that Scotland contains more than the image you can hold in your head of it.  Tartan and pipers and whisky and medieval men, pasty and freckly, in kilts. Or that film, Brave, which makes me put my head in my hands. That alluring, tourist-consumable image. Much more it is, and still becoming.


The landscape wooshes by, and now you are in the empty Highlands, but you might not know why exactly they are so empty – The Clearances, for one, as I like to mention here, and other socio-economic reasons I have not begun to contemplate. Woosh, and now you driving by a skiing town built up in the sixties and seventies and only less than hideously ugly when the snow is lying, as if it were designed that way. And then you are stuck in slow traffic on a bridge across a firth (an estuary), looking over at that icon of the railway, star of The Thirty-Nine Steps, and then the sun is shining and warm for once, so you go outside to a beer garden and listen to the crack of summer, a chick inside an egg beaking out and cheeping. Then you are in your house, tapping at the internet, sipping  more and more tea, trying to bring it all together.


This is the job of a writer in small countries and large. Bringing the moment together, or the whole nation, or some crumbly part of it, holding up to critique or make shimmering. And my eyes are blurry, and I need more time. And right now my mind is elsewhere, stitching at the world of grief and love in New Mexican mountains. Or it will be soon, when my head stops swinging.


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Filed under 2012, consolations of writing, Scotland

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