Ah, the highlands of Scotland! The place where time stands still. The place where there are more sheep than people, and after while, so the joke goes, it shows.
Life is slow here, and so it should be. What has the human race achieved by its wealth and its mile-a-minute lifestyle but high rates of suicide and a general sense of malaise? This is happiness: nothing to do. As the Buddhist sage said, "If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, then you have learned how to live."
But there were no boats out to the island of St. Kilda this week. The wind was strong and the swell too high. St Kilda will have to wait. I'll be back in sunnier weather.
In the meantime there is Harris, where the boat would have sailed from.
Lovely, Gaelic-speaking Harris where sheep fall asleep on the main road and you have to go very slow. Your brain has to hit a different rythym altogether. Go to the north of this floating land mass and you come to Callanish, a spectacular set of standing stones, second only to Stonehenge, where the ancestors danced and cavorted to the moon. Another short jaunt, and you're at the beach where in the eighteenth century a farmer chasing his cow fell into a stone cavern filed with three-inch high twelfth century chessmen. There were eighty-two of them, and now they reside where they absolutely shouldn't be, in the British Museum London.
I went out there because a fire was in my head. It was raining; close dark clouds were sweeping over the sands. Here as everywhere on the islands, seagulls, guillemots, oyster catchers, and gannets fill the air with the beat of their wings.
Here they live in their hundreds of thousands, silent witnesses to it all since the dawn of time: the coming and going of species, the paltry dance of human kind. Long after the final fall of the last stone on the last human dwelling, the birds will take flight as usual over the seething sea, skimming their bellies on the surface of the water, and then spotting a fish, climb high above the waves and like a thunderbolt fall.