My friend Jayne posted a meme on her blog the other day that I will apply to my own world shortly. In coming up with the responses to this meme challenge I got to thinking about what would represent my deep love for Scotland. One thing that came to mind was a framed work of batik that I used to own. It showed layers of hills/mountains that ran down to the sea, with a sky of gray and blue clouds and a gentle land mass in the foreground. I encountered this work at a craft fair the summer after my semester in Scotland and immediately recalled the rugged peacefulness of the western highlands and islands. It hung on my walls for years and finally grew dingy from years of accumulated dirt. It was made of silk stretched in a bare wooden frame.
I parted with it at some point not long ago. Other art had come into my life and competed for space on the walls, and though the batik continued to carry my spirit back to Scotland whenever I looked at it, I knew I could bid it farewell. I knew this because I carried in my heart the joy of that place, the colors and changeable moods of the landscapes according to sun or clouds, shadows or light. This part of Scotland is more than in my heart, it is deep within my soul.
In 1987 I ventured back there for the first time since I had been there while in college. The occasion was the wedding of a friend, and I decided to fly over and surprise her. It was the first time I ever took a trip alone, and many things are memorable about it. Apart from the wedding I had two priorities for my travels: Edinburgh to see again the family with whom I lived during that amazing semester (and to see the city, which I love), and Iona and the Isle of Mull. The latter are deeply spiritual places for me, and Mull, in particular, draws me like a magnet. At the wedding of my friend several days after my return to Mull I remember talking to the priest about the experience of my return. "As long as I can remember, when I sit down to draw and a blank sheet of paper is in front of me I draw mountains. Sometimes there is water in the foreground and sometimes not, but my first inclination is always to draw mountains. While crossing to Mull on the ferry," I told him, "I looked over to Mull with the mountains rising from her shores and realized that all of my life I have been drawing the mountains of Mull."
It was a startling revelation to me, but it explained to me the immediacy of my affinity for the place, and my sense of feeling at home there. All of Scotland works on me that way, but Mull, in particular, claims the core of my soul. It also explained why I could part with my batik. I don't need to see the colors dyed in silk to recall the place or remember its impact. I carry it within me. I can close my eyes and picture the landscape, feel the breeze and hear the gulls that keep vigil at the shoreline. I can smell the damp, dense earth and the salt of the sea. I can imagine my hands shoved into my pockets for warmth and the moist fog that clings to my skin. I can feel the dried heather yield to my steps on the mountains, and the sheep that dot the hillsides share the terrain without much of a blink. It is home, and I hold it in my being at the cellular level.
It is the richest blessing in the world.