Confessions of a drinker student abroad

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Easter Holidays

This shall be a Chronicle of our doings far and wide this past two weeks. I apologize for not writing sooner, but having had no means of internet access, I feel justified, it was not through laziness. I did take many photographs, and many of them have stories of their own that I will write in due time. But until then we must try to sort through the tales in a fashion that will do them justice, whether this be chronologically, or simply as they return to me we shall see.

Over mountains capped with snow
Across the lochs where cold winds blow
From the cold north sea where oil dwells
I've come with many tales to tell.

Right now in my room it is morning, and my own belief is that morning is not a time for gaiety and the whirling confusion of pub nights and ceilidhs. It is a calm morning, the skies are blue and the trees are green, and to any observer this is a time for joyous breaking of the nightly fast before a beautiful day. However, the mood that sits on me is a reflective one, like a raincloud before my eyes, with thousands of memories reflected from behind me in the shimmering droplets. With this in mind I shall embark upon a tale that is not a joyous one, and pray your forgiveness when the song is done. But before we begin there will be a word of truth, this story did not transpire exactly the way it is set down here. In fact there is some doubt as to whether it happened at all. I feel that while my own two eyes may not have seen the events as told, my spirit felt them, inspired by some small thing observed, reach out from the past.

An additional word: my sincerest apologies to the lovely young woman in the foreground of the picture, it was not my intention to record you, but only the ocean walk, it was not until later that I realized my mistake and had not time to return.

The Widows' Walk

My travels brought me at last to Aberdeen, where the Highlands run down to meet the North Sea, it is there, nestled in between the Cairngorn hills and the gray vastness of the ocean that I spent my few remaining days on the journey. After a shower and night's rest to refresh myself from the train I set out upon the streets. Aberdeen is a small city, it's position never lent itself to travelers, passersby, wanderers or traders. For hundreds of years it was an island, adrift in the mists of the north, cloaked in shadow and fog, where the creak of the foremast and crack of a set sail were commonplace.

Yet the town has changed in recent years. Now there is a university, and the recent discovery of a hidden treasure under its harbor waters led to an influx of outsiders. Hundreds and thousands came seeking the black gold, looking to draw from the ground and the ocean the sustaining lifeblood for the machines that brought them. The buildings grew taller and the streets more crooked, leading often to darkened alleys and houses of worse name. There the evil that always followed a city boom could shelter and hide away during the days that seemed to always get brighter, as if the Sun herself had become interested in the goings on at Aberdeen and refused to be kept out of the secret.

It was on a bright and clear morning in the spring that I set out to discover this city. My feet bore me down towards the harbor, sensing that this was the direction in which the most bustling markets could be found. When I reached the high street where the buildings gleamed and people crowded, listening to street performers and staring through shop windows, my eyes drifted down a narrow stair and saw the harbor itself. Something about that stair drew me inward, the ships in the harbor, tall, stately, weatherbeaten monsters, called to me. I had not seen a harbor such as this on my journey, and it must have been curiosity that spurred me onward. Down along the quay the ships rocked and heaved on the waves, giddily tugging at ropes and bumping into the docks, for they had a day of rest in the sunshine, while their partners and fellows had gone out to work, searching for newer and better places to drill. As I walked along I saw more and more ships, all bearing the name of some large company, all sent here seeking the wealth of the North Sea.

Far out along the quay, where the harbor mouth opens into the gray vastness of the sea there is nestled a small village. I doubt very much I could find it again if I were searching for it, but on that day I simply turned a corner and stumbled into its midst.
There the brightly painted houses and shacks drove away the noise of the harbor and the shadow of the giant ships over the quay. Here Aberdeen had chosen to hide part of its old self away from the prying eyes of tourists and visitors. As I strolled along its gardens I was called again by a small opening in the wall of houses. Behind the houses lay the beach and sea wall. I peeked around the corner and looked down the path that lay above the wall. Along the path ran an iron rail, struggling mightily to be the last defense of the land from the sea, but alas, the only success it made was in keeping the land and those upon it from the sea. Far off to the north the sea wall gave way to a sloping beach that ran down to the water, crowned with arcades and small shops that crowd along every water front with the hope of snaring summer holiday travelers. It was only after a moment of gazing off to the horizon where shops turned to grassy dunes and bent far away out of sight, that my eyes returned to myself and saw what was happening closer to hand. Along the rail were several women, clad chiefly in black. Each one carried a flower or some small token. The eldest was advanced in years, a mother, and a mother of mothers, with her youngest heirs standing somberly by her side gazing out at the water. Other such groups were spread out along the rail, each one far enough away to be respecfully removed, but close enough to lend a shaky support to those on either side. Either end was occupied by the women who appeared most advanced in years, the cornerstones of this structure. Towards the far end there was an open space. Suddenly a newcomer came out from the village, a young girl, not more than twenty walked out along the path. In her gait there was something amiss, the strides were a bit too long, and the pace was a touch too quick, as if in an attempt to appear carefree. As she neared the open space in the row her pace slowed, each step more labored and filled with dread than the last. When she drew even she stopped, but remained facing down the path. With a start she turned and drew her arm back, preparing to cast something into the cold water, an offering, or perhaps a bribe, but her hand failed her, it could not release its precious burden. As her arm returned to her side something broke inside of her. She turned and fled along the path away from the village, but her feet were not able to carry her from the sea, after a stones throw they gave way, and she stumbled forward against the rail, clinging to the cold iron. The oldest woman there, on the far end of the row walked out to her and knelt by her side. She smoothed her hair back and whispered calmly in her ear. The older woman gently opened the young ones hand, and removed a small object that shone in the sun. She slipped the tiny thing onto the hand untouched by Time's withering kiss, and then turned it so that the glimmer disappeared. She helped the young girl to her feet, and led her back to the right place at the rail, not leaving her side, for the first summer is always the hardest, and it is only as the years pass that the spacing of the line grows. On a smooth white hand there glowed a golden band, the light that had once sparkled on the outside was now turned inward, a source of pain, a source of memory, there to remain in the tradition of the village.

The cold wind whipped along the pathway, stinging my eyes as I watched, blurring my vision. This was the way along the quay of Aberdeen. The powers to the south desired something of the Sea, the men of the north wrested it from the Sea, but the gray vastness that stretches beyond the horizon demanded something in return, an unspoken covenant, an unholy lottery. Year by year the vine along the path grows longer, the old protecting the young, as rosebuds turn into thorns.

1 comment:

  1. Glad to see you posted. Nice pictures. Can't wait to read it thoroughly. We're in Munising. Love always.