September 11, 2016

"That's Scaughtland for ya!"

The United Kingdom

Up at the top of that map, basically the top half, is a tiny nation with a big footprint.  With roughly the same population as Minnesota, Scotland has a land mass the size of South Carolina, yet there are more people in the United States that have Scottish and/or Scotch-Irish ancestry than live in Scotland. My family is one of those.

In the course of growing up, I was indoctrinated to celebrate my Scottish ancestry (primarily by my grandmother but we'll talk about that later).   

So a year ago, my wife took a trip with her mother to Japan.  I looked at the pictures that she posted, and when I'd talk to her on the phone, I noticed something.  She was happy.  This is not to say she's always unhappy, but this was different.  She was having a good time, engaged in the world, curious, and happy-like no matter what the challenge.  And traveling to Japan with her mother posed some interesting challenges.

In those early mornings or late nights (Japan is 15 hours ahead of Albuquerque), I'd hang up the phone and ponder.  Your wife is happy; you're happy and don't really need to travel to be happy, but traveling, obviously, makes her happy.  And then the leap occurred and it went something like this, "If you don't travel, she's going to divorce you for someone who will..."

This is not to say that our relationship hangs by a precarious thread because it is really a great relationship, but we don't have kids, have moderately decent jobs, own a house, etc.  so we have no reason not to travel except for my general ambivalence towards traveling overseas.  I'd tell myself that there's so many beautiful parts of the southwest we have yet to see or experience and I've lived here twenty five years and still haven't seen it all.  So why go abroad?

But with the phone conversations, the answer kept coming back, because traveling abroad brings your wife happiness.  

So the next question was, "Well, if you did decide to travel, where would you go first?"  And the answer, "I'd go to Scotland."

Scotland is the top half of the island and includes the islands in the upper northwest and northeast: the Hebrides and the Orkneys

Specifically, since my grandfather had such an impact on my life, I'd go to where he came from before he landed in Montana.  That's where I'd want to go.

Mo Ainm

Missoula, Montana.
            Garden city of Montana.
“Many Rivers” converge in the valley that is the city.
My muddy past is resurrected in slides.

I, a short round faced boy, a brogach,
            tow headed and shy,
            visited the home of mo seanair.

My grandfather, this white haired, decrepit, old man grabbed me with
            hands, lamhan, made of the stone that he mined,
            hands, lamhan, like the rocky soil that he tilled,
            hands, lamhan, made of the skins of those potatoes
            he planted, watered, dug up and ate.

For years I would spend summers with him,
leaving my sisters, my mother, my father, my friends,
to be with this tired old man, smoking Camels.

This tired old Scotsman,
            he clung to me with those potato skinned hands,
                        divied out dollars because I was his blood,
                                    I carried his name, ainm.

Without consciously trying,
            he made me proud of this name.
McIver, son of Iver, ogha Iomhair.

Now I write to connect;
            his past buried in mine,
                        his blood buried in mine,
                                    his name buried in mine, mo ainm.

Missoula Montana.
Many Rivers Montana.
Many days of my winding youth converge here.

The Highlands in Scotland with some added detail.

Shortly before the first world war, my grandfather emigrated from Carloway (Carlabaugh in Gallic), Isle of Lewis, Scotland to the United States.  For the sake of this article and since I don't know how to pronounce many of the places mentioned here, I'm going to be using the English names instead of Gallic.


Language and History

Our name was changed,

And by repeating it,
It strips the generic European heritage from my history
As if I am something other than just some northern European.
No one is just some Northern European or, for that matter, even American,
My grandfather, however, wanted to be an American nothing more
And let the military change his name by mistake.
So in a stroke of a pen we went from being Scottish MacIvers to Irish McIvers.
A Mac became a Mick
And my heritage became a longer conversation than just the pronunciation of my name.

A lot of immigrants just wanted to fit in,
Become something other than what they were
Yet they came here willingly.
That is a difference,
Yet it doesn’t seem so willing when staying
May mean starvation for your family.
Potato famine, too many mouths to feed
On land that’s been farmed too long.

He let his language slip too,
And would tell my father not to pay attention
When he’d walk in on Gallic conversations.
By the time I was old enough to know what he was doing,
He’d grown accustomed to shifting from one tongue to the other,
Like jumping from one car to another through the smallest window,
An adventure film, a strange forgetting of the place of language in identity.

May 12, 2016

My grandfather and his siblings spoke Gallic, and, as typical immigrants, wanted to make sure that their kids were American so my father did not learn Gallic. English was his tongue, and Gallic was a relic from his father's homeland that was better left behind.

My grandfather left a lot of his life in Scotland behind.  As the story goes, my grandfather's older brother Malcolm and a family friend named Duncan came over and found work in the west.  When Malcolm got a job working for the Sprinkle Sheep Company running sheep in Montana, he saved up money and brought over my grandfather, Angus, and their little brother Norman; both of whom were struggling to find work, basically anything to do in Carloway.  A few years later, they brought over their step-brother also named Norman (though he's called Norrie).  This meant that all the Maciver boys were now living in the U.S. and their sister Peggy (née Margaret) stayed behind.

My grandfather joined the US military and was injured on a battlefield in France (Purple Heart) and came back with shrapnel in his back but not so injured that he couldn't work.  Upon mustering out, the U.S. government mistyped his name to McIver and Angus, now an American, didn't care.

The spelling of his name in the old country varied widely too....Maciver-Macivor-Macivar-MacIver-MacIvor-MacIvar. The records were never precise because a lot of time people didn't know how to write so they were dependent upon others to write for them, which varied widely. 

In Chinook, Montana, Angus met my grandmother and they homesteaded in Montana.  Like many people who tried to make a go of it in the arid west, they couldn't make the homestead work and sometime during the Great Depression they moved to Missoula, Montana where my dad graduated from Hellgate High School.

Now, through my parents complicated life, I ended up being born in Brownsville, Texas.  But basically from the time I was six until thirteen years old, when school would let out, my dad would drive up to Montana where I'd spend the whole summer with my grand-parents (with the exception of two years where our family lived in Missoula full-time) .  I don't exactly remember what I did, but I do remember spending time with my grandfather while he worked on the garden and smoked Camel cigarettes on the front porch.  It was a pretty spectacular time and as I wrote above, it made me very proud of my name.  

A Poem:

Bombing Party

My grandfather was a champion.
Though he probably mastered his technique on the Scottish Highlands before coming to the states, he had an arm.
Had it been a different time he might’ve been a baseball but this was war and a newly adopted country, so he became a soldier.

He became an infantryman when they noticed how his hands were rather large.
With just a few short practices they noticed that he threw where he was looking: accurate, landing the grenade in the zone almost every single time.
Until he was deployed he was entered into contests:  a champion grenade thrower and his platoon took every prize.

As a member of a bombing party he’d run from trench to trench and throw grenades.
After the trench was cleared they’d drink water, smoke cigarettes, rearrange their gear.
On to the next, clearing them with precision throws as they went.

When you throw a grenade, you count to three before it goes off
But sometimes it malfunctions and you count again
Yet, if you move on, it can still blow at any time.

My grandfather got shot in the war and collapsed into a trench.
For three days he bled into the fetid water; bodies stacked upon the field.
Until the battle ended and the medics pulled him free.

He’d watch me practice pitching from his porch until the evening
An ashtray full of butts would smoke in ruins, as he’d say, “You’re holding it too long.
“Just wind and throw. Look where you want the ball to go.”

He nearly died so my Dad could live a couple of different times.
Yet it didn’t keep my pops from enlisting and getting trained to land bombers on a field.
My father never talks about Korea just that he’s glad I never went to war.

My dad and I love baseball and the slow count of the throw on its way to home.
The thud of ball in leather; the crack of bat against the ball
And the crowd exploding as the ball is up and gone.


March 4, 2015

In August, Edinburgh, Scotland plays host to the largest Fringe Theater Festival in the world: the Edinburgh Fringe.  We both liked experimental theater, both performed (me a poet and her an Action Theater improviser.)  So, if I took the year off from the National Poetry Slam, I could get my live performance fix by going to Edinburgh.

The plane ride was long but relatively uneventful.  The weather was pretty clear as we crossed the lowlands, banked around the Firth of Forth, and touched down.  After going through customs, we caught the tram into the city center and got off at Princess street and looked up at Edinburgh Castle..

Edinburgh Castle

Princess Street Gardens

At two o'clock, we opted to just walk down to meet with our host.  For the first few days we were staying in a room we found through AirBnB.  Not far from the Old City, it was straight down the Leith Walk about halfway between Old City and the pier.  We were tired so we dumped our bags in the room, crashed for a few hours, and then walked towards the pier for our first meal.

Leith is a diverse, working class part of town that reminded me of Wicker Park circa 2003, which is to say it is gentrifying but not fully gentrified yet.

We had dinner and asked our server (an Italian who moved to Edinburgh to find work) for our first whisky recommendation.  We wanted something "peaty" so we drank Whisky #1:  Laphroaig Single Malt.

10 Year Old Single Malt

The Fringe and other Festivals:

How do you decide what to do when there is literally hundreds of shows to pick from every night?  As we strolled into the City Center and the very crowded Royal Mile, people would hand you flyers:

Puppet Fiction (part of the Free Fringe)-a puppet reenactment of scenes from Pulp Fiction

Hey!  We know these guys.  But we won't be here when they play :(

The only poetry related show I went to

Rob Carter (a stand up comic at the Stand up vs. Slam show) making fun of how I pronounce my name.  That's my hat btw.

Met him at the Stand Up vs. Slam Show, but didn't go

One of the poets, didn't go this either
Hands down, the best show we saw.
Don't like wrestling, applaud him for trying but kind of a "meh" show.
Wanted to go, but we couldn't make it across the center city fast enough

Walked in on this discovered it to was part of the Fringe (see flyer below).

Monument to Sir Walter Scott

Taking a break from the street we wandered into Edinburgh Castle.

Overlooking the temporary grandstand set up for the Military Tattoo and that hill is simply called, "Arthur's Seat"

One of the many buildings in the castle
Phone booths in the castle
There were street performers:  jugglers, contortionists, sword swallowers, magicians, and gymnasts (?) that roused up the crowd with the same basic schtick.  Each one probably had a handful of really good tricks, but each one would pad it by pulling a kid out of the audience and play some prank on the kid or the parent filming the kid.  

After you see two or three of the acts you know they're going to pad their show.  Many times they were padding because they wanted people to come see their show later that day.  And each time they'd make some comment about not leaving before putting money in their bucket, etc.  I got to feel sort of guilty by not giving them money, but I was blasting through money.  We still had a week and a half to go. Edinburgh during Fringe is not cheap.  

This mean that we saw a lot of free shows and took advantage of the museums.

Painting of the Isle of Skye at the Scottish National Gallery-a view we'll see but not quite this clearly.

Calton Hill:

The next day we decided to move away from the city center and angled toward Arthur's Seat.  But not the most direct route.  I like getting lost or knowing our general direction and just wondering down a street. Heading up Leith Walk we angled toward a large hill I spotted.  The hill, Calton Hill, was a tourist trap too with a monument to Edward Hume and a replica of the Acropolis that never got finished.

True Story:  

We were taking pictures from the top of the path up to Calton Hill.  We weren't the only ones:  there were tourists snapping photos, another solo tourist checking social media and looking out over the city, and a couple of locals eating their lunch.

Mindy set her phone down and walked away from the view above to this view forgetting to pick back up her phone.

When we got to the next spot, Mindy realized she forgot to pick up her phone.   

Suddenly the view from the hill took a back seat as we scrambled across the hillside looking for her phone.  It literally had to be in the grass in the one hundred yards from where we were to where we stopped the first time.  I looked, called her phone (the ringer wasn't on), Mindy covered the same ground again and again. The solo tourist got off of social media and started to look through the tall grass too.  Back and forth, looking further down the hill, double checking the backpack until we were about ready to give up.

The two locals eating their lunch on the hill seemed not to be paying attention to us at all, but finally . one of them looked up, "What are you looking for?"

Mindy stopped.  "My phone.  It's a small black case.  I must've dropped right here."

He nodded his head then rummaged through his backpack.  "Does it look like this?"

Indeed it did and indeed it was Mindy's phone.  Mindy was gracious, thanking him for finding it and giving it back.

"You might want to keep a better eye on your stuff then."

I seethed.  He'd been watching us look for the phone for a good ten minutes, go back and forth over the same territory, and he'd had it the whole time.  He was going to steal the phone, but something in Mindy's demeanor convinced him otherwise.  Yes, lucky, but also pretty clear what his motivations were and something made him pull up short.  


Arthur's Seat with Cannongate down below.

Down a very steep stairway and path, we stumbled over one of the entries into the Edinburgh Arts Festival.

This was a legal wall, yet when I asked him if I could take a picture, he still wanted to be obscured.  He said that a lot of times the authorities match up the style at the legal wall with tags that aren't on legal walls.

While here picked up some really cool poetry related postcards:

Another entry in the Edinburgh Arts Festival

Another pretty cool exhibit (more old town) that we caught from the Edinburgh Arts Festival

This is the toll booth at Cannongate.  In medieval times, if you wanted to come in to Edinburgh, you had pay the toll.

At the bottom of the Royal Mile is the Palace of Holyrood, which is evidently the Queen of England's residence in Edinburgh

Looking down at the Palace of Holyrood from the walk up Arthur's Seat

Arthur's Seat:

A popular destination and one we penciled in pretty early in our planning.  We approached it from the Palace at Holyrood and walked pretty much straight up the path.  There were lots of alternate social paths, and as we approached the first big summit a few short switchbacks, you'd stumble over people trying different ways to get down.

But the views were worth it.

Across the street from the Palace of Holyrood is the Scottice Parliament building as viewed from Arthur's Seat

After the first summit but before the real summit, there's stones that people have written their names, or designs, or random messages.
The summit looking northeast.  Have no idea who that guy is but like him in this shot.

Down a different path.

The next day and last day in Edinburgh, we head out for the day by train to walk along the Fife (the bay) from North Queensferry to, hopefully, Kircaldy along the Fife Coastal Path, where we'll catch the train back into the city.  It's a solid twenty miles.

Inchgardie Ruin from Scotsrail Train

Looking back towards the Forth Bridge from the stop at North Queensferry

The Forth Bridge from North Queensferry

From the idyllic entrance into the actual path in North Queensferry we round the bend and walk by what seems to be a big industry in Inverkeithing (a quarry and recycling).

On the outskirts of Inverkeithing along the Fife Coastal Path

The Fife Coastal Path takes your right through the middle of Inverkeithing (a town we'll inadvertantly revisit at the end of our trip).

The red car kind of felt out of place


A Poem:

The Ruins of St. Bridget's Church

Entering the ruins, the rain starts to fall:
Soft, meditative drops, we wind my way through old graves.
Of the ones that can be read they’re from the early 18th century.
Many of them are faint, shifted, headstones buried in grass and clover.
Other than the plaque at the front, there’s little by way of explanation or fact,
But St. Bridget’s was built in the 12th century.

Delgaty Bay at low tide is a mud flat with grey rocks and seagulls.
A gray seagull doesn’t spook as I sit upon a capstone.
Superstitious, I think I should find another spot
But only move under a tall tree to keep the rain from registering on this page.
I don’t think the dead mind
and wonder if these 18th century headstones and graves
are built upon even older graves,
now eroded into earth as well.

As the rain stops, I think of Wordsworth and his lines above the abbey,
Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns of Edinburgh whose couplets I mimicked yesterday.
On the horizon, a plane across the fife is landing
It’s white tail with red stripes is bathed in light

As the sailboats bob in Delgaty Bay, rain begins to fall again.


After some navigating we meandered around some cattle and an oil refinery (very hidden in the trees so no good pictures), we came upon Aberdour.  There's ruins of a castle there and a nice overlook of a boat club.

Somehow coming out of Aberdour we missed the signs for the path and ended up viewing the above for the first time from this angle instead of walking right by it.

But back on the path we came across Hawkcraig Point and Silver Sands Beach (Below)

Playground at Silver Sands Beach

From here, we'd walk down a path that was sandwiched between the highway (A921) and the train tracks.

The day was long, we'd meandered a bit and were coming up on dinner time.  For the record, Mindy can always hike longer and faster than I can.  So we'll start out with an ambitious goal that I'm pretty sure Mindy can do, and I'll call it quits way before that.

This time instead of Kircaldy, it was Burntisland (a nine mile hike if you didn't meander a bit like we did).  So I figure we probably did twelve miles (of course the Health app on my phone says we did nineteen!).

And they threw us a carnival

Fish &; Chips for dinner again.

Tomorrow we'd pick up the car and start angling towards Carloway with stops along the way.

I suppose we could've navigated around the country by combination of bus and train, but we didn't think that far ahead.  So, coming to grips with driving on the passenger side and wrong side of the road, we rented a car.

We rented a car.

Of course, we didn't realize how narrow the roads were until we got out of Edinburgh.  But as we navigated our way to the Trossachs, we came across the monument to the Battle of Bannockburn.  Of course this battle is characterized a little differently in Mel Gibson's Braveheart.

And since we're being tourists, let's be touristy:

My sad attempt at failed irony.

All kidding aside, we were one in a throng of tourists here and making their way to Sterling.

Sterling Castle

The town was ridiculously busy and almost impossible to find a parking spot, and since it was not our ultimate destination that day. I jumped out took a couple of photos and away we went.  On to the Trossachs.

The Trossachs is a National Park.  But its not really that big and the area was populated long before it became a National Park.

After some strange route finding, we found our campsite for the evening, took a hike back to Aberfoyle, and had some Scotch.


Stroll to Aberfoyle

 Glen Goyne

Beer and our Whisky:  Glengoyne

The weather was still great, but there's always tomorrow.

In the morning, we awoke to head into the park and discovered what the weather can be like a good part of the year.

It wasn't particularly cold. Wet, for sure.  And the higher we went in the park, the worse it got; it got worse as the day wore on too.

This was supposed to be a great view.

On the way down we encountered another group heading up.

As we commented on not being able to see very much, he replied, "That's Scaughtland fer you."

That became our new mantra and said that way too.

Glencoe was our stop for the night. We set up at a very wet campsite then went back into town for dinner and a Scotch; Oban Whisky. 

Oban Whisky in Glencoe

Our campsite outside Glencoe, which completely fails to convey how wet it was.

I really hadn't given myself much time to write at all, but with the rain falling on the tent, I just couldn't go to sleep (besides without a fire, there was no reason not to crawl into the tent at nightfall).  As usual, when I stop and just write, the words do come.

Two Poems:

Glencoe, Scotland

The rain has fallen most the of the day
And I in a hurry to catch a photo of the Three Sisters

On our way to Glencoe I got the camera wet.

Everything is wet:
Sleeping pad, bag, mat —wet

Tent, rainfly, tarp – wet
Raincoat, poncho, water-proof shoes – wet
Yet, I’m bundled in wool socks, hat, sweater –wool.

We set up camp anyway, determined to make our gear

Earn it’s value.
We don’t try and cook

And I eat a scone with fish & chips followed by,

A couple of hours later,

Smoked salmon and tomato soup.

In August, the bar is warmed by a wood stove – as the Scotch warms my stomach.
Some bloke, a term I admit I’ve just started using,

Puts Dire Straits on the juke box – not “Money for Nothing,” but “Brothers in Arms”

And we talk at the bar as if we’re from the same generation,

Which we very well might be.
He’s older, but not by much.

It’s strange writing by battery powered light and the soft patter

Of rain in the Highlands.

 August 10, 2016


In the night, the rain was unrelenting and I slept through.
Innocent of not occupying the low-land,
I was curled in a wool blanket, wrapped in a sleeping bag, under a poncho--
as the worst storm in recent history
sent rivulets through this make-shift campsite I'd been assigned.

During the day, I was supposed to meditate on God,
yet all I could think to do was burn off energy
by throwing long boughs of downed Aspen in my own version of the Highland Games.
I didn't know the first thing about meditation or God
and chose to busy myself by being destructive.

Serves me right, I thought as I woke up the next morning--
soaking wet from the storm I slept through.
When the group reunited, they marveled at my tales of not hearing the trees snapping,
the near lightning strikes, the thunder erupting like bombs on the mountain side.

I can sleep through anything, but my camp
counselor's reactions that morning made it seem
as if my innocence was a dangerous thing;
a thing to be on the look out for.

But that night the clouds having been burned off,
the mountain was cold,
and it descended like the devil upon the mountaintop, and I froze.
The blanket was not enough and my sleeping bag had yet to dry.

That night I listened to the still swollen creek,
the random jets, and the strange other-worldly alarms from the Air Force Academy miles away.
They too were taking advantage of the remoteness by
asking their cadets to meditate through the night.
On what, I can only speculate, but it was eerie, other worldly and I couldn't shut it out.

I'd never be able to claim that innocence again--
and even now above the remote campsite above Loch Leven just outside Glencoe,
I'm imagining a creek spilled over banks,
a bridge wiped out, and a night then a day where the only dryness
is a fabric that seen most of its use in the High Desert.

Please, I whisper, don't fail this evening; please keep me warm and dry.

August 10, 2016

In the morning the weather hasn't broken and we opt to just move on to the Isle of Skye, hoping the weather will break.

One quick stop at Fort William.

On the way to Kyle of Lochalsh from Glencoe

At the pullout for the Battle of Glen Shiel
On the shore of Loch Linhe
Eilean Donan Castle
We navigated the very full parking lot at Eilean Donan Castle and learned that it was basically rebuilt in the early 20th century after being largely a ruin from the the early 18th century.  From the video at the castle, the British shelled it to basically teach the Highlanders a lesson.

 From there its a quick drive to today's destination:  the Isle of Skye.

Isle of Skye:

Just right off the road!
Talisker Whisky at Seuma's Bar
Image result for talisker whisky
Visit their website

Our very wet and windy campsite at Sligachan.

Far from improving, the weather actually got worse:  rainy and now windy, very, very windy.

In the night I wrote again.

A Poem:

Staying Dry on the Isle of Skye


Wind and rain and crashing waves batter the rock
as we climb the steps of Eilean Donan Castle in a storm.
Wearing a green kilt with blue and white stripes, a grizzled Scotsman,
says McIver regardless of spelling is probably Viking.

I am the battered off-spring of battered and bedeviled Olaf the Black
who ruled the Outer Hebrides through the hurricane of his temper
through torrential downpours and oak splitting lightning,
finally stitching a kingdom together from the Isle of Man.

Hours later, as the wind batters this plastic and fiberglass castle,
I claim the lineage of my Viking bloodline with words on page.
In imagination I raid and pillage with  fierce drive and determination,
raping my enemies wives and claiming their offspring as my own by giving them my name

The  Vikings are the scoundrels of the north Atlantic;
much more a scoundrel than the traitor, English loyalist Arnold,
whose bloodline I constantly disavow.
I am a Viking mutt, a rough hewn log of hard living.

I am guilty of falling in love with an island,
an unwelcoming coastline and weather that rolls across the north Atlantic
unwelcome disaster, cold wet nights of dread,
 again and again.


Trapped in this tent on the second full day of rain,
I hope it is strong enough,
strong enough to  keep these fragile modern bones dry.

Fool, foul wind you've blown all night
from the your mountaintop.
and we've bent but haven't broken.

Cursed wind and unrelenting rain, I want to rip the fabric off my back,
Bare my chest to the sky and howl at the wind growling down the valley to keep me from sleeping.
Fool, foul wind you’ve blown your last

This high desert plastic is built of hardy stock.
This rocky shore and waterlogged ground
has been kept at bay by modern technology.

In the dim evening light, I poke my head out and see tents flattened and fabric torn asunder,
Poles snapped and protruding from the refuse of a spacious yet poorly constructed shelter
Behold, I say, behold the power of plastic designed with crappy weather in mind.

Let the Germans in the site next to ours rap into the early morning,
Muddy and wet, they can stake out room in their too small car
as I write these lines into the dawn.

August 11, 2016
At dawn, we woke up and decided to push on to Uig, where hopefully we'd find a hotel and get dry.

Uig on the day we were leaving, not how it looked when we got there.

As it turns out, we get a room in a Bed & Breakfast (maybe the only room in the town).  Take a nap, eat and then a short hike.

We wanted to try and find this back way to the Fairy Glen, but don't.  But still a good hike.

Another day in Scotland, still cold, still damp, but not windy thankfully.  Evidently, I wasn't very impressed with the whisky cause I didn't take very good pictures of them and don't know what it was. 

The next day, we did a hike we teased ourselves with back at the Scottish National Gallery (scroll back, the only photo of a painting).  

But first, a stop at a ruin.  

Duntelm Castle Ruins

The Quiraing is a pretty popular hike and despite the weather we had our gear and gave it a run.

The west Trailhead

Just the view from the beginning of the hike.

We meant to do this as a loop hike, but when we got to the end, a woman in a tea cart (yes, just hanging out at the parking area) said it was probably not a very good idea since the return route was along the rock edge that we just hiked below.

So, we walked down from the east side trailhead.

There were phone booths in the middle of nowhere.

Another dry night in the B&B.  Our ferry was leaving in the afternoon, so we had time to do another popular hike:  the Fairy Glen.

Vacation Rental on the way to the Fairy Glen.
The Fairy Glen

Long view from above the Fairy Glen

Black and White on the way back to Uig from the Fairy Glen.

We'd made the arrangements and we're going to take the ferry from Uig, Isle of Skye to Tarbert, Isle of Harris.  For some reason, the Isle of Harris and the Isle of Lewis have two names leading one into thinking they are two distinct islands; they aren't.  They are one big island.  I don't know why.

The islands are significant (for this trip) for two different reasons:  1) the Isle of Harris is where Harris Tweed comes from and we've been charged with bringing back a wool sweater and tie by my older sister, and 2) the Isle of Lewis is where my grandfather emigrated from.  So, in a way, I'm coming home (in a genetic sense).

 A Poem:


Gaelic  welcome and hello,
Stenciled on the top of road signs all over Scotland,
usually bigger than the English word stenciled below.
Outside of my grandfather's hometown:
A sign, "Fáilte gu Càrlabhagh" and I wish that I could write this in gaelic,
a language my grandfather spoke in hushed whispers with my uncle

as they smoked cigarettes in a dark room.

From the Ferry pulling into Tarbert, Isle of Harris

Isle of Harris

Isle of Harris-and the weather is great.

Heading towards Carloway

Off the main road to Carloway, there's an area called the Callanish Standing Stones.  It was not very busy, so I was able to take a ton of photos.

Callanish Standing Stones, Isle of Lewis

And then we were in Carloway, the town my great grandfather lived and died in; the town my grandfather emigrated from at the very beginning of the 20th century.

Something's amiss in Carloway

On the Monday before we arrived in Scotland, an oil rig, the Transocean Winner, was being towed from the North Sea around Norway to Malta, in the mediterranean, to be de-commissioned.  During a storm (the same storm that we got caught in at the Trossachs and Isle of Skye btw) the lone line connecting it to the tug boat snapped.  The rig drifted into Dalmore Beach, a pristine white sand beach just outside of Carloway.  Suddenly we were caught in the grips of a major environmental news story.

Downtown Carloway from our campsite

This is where I sprung

 After setting up camp, we went back to the hotel to have our whisky and begin the process of trying to trace my roots more specifically.  As we talked to the bartender and she got our story, she introduced us to a bar regular, who suggested we talk to Maddie Maurieg at Garenin.

Garenin is a sort of museum where they preserved how many of the Scots lived prior to the 20th Century.

Garenin overlooking the north Atlantic

Their wasn't a lot of wood to burn, so prior to the advent of electricity and propane, many people in Scotland heated their homes with Peat

At Garenin, they had a video explaining how peat is prepared for burning.
True Story:

The next morning, we went to Garenin and paid admission.  At the gift shop, we asked about Maddie Marieg.  She said, she'd let Maddie know, and we should come back in a couple of hours after we took the self guided tour.  

But first some pictures from our tour around Garenin and the surrounding bog.

After the village, we took a well marked path along the coast

If you look really closely, you can see the top of the Transocean Winner

The Transocean Winner with Dalmore Beach in the background
A Poem:

Seventeen thousand tons;
280 tons of diesel fuel;
decommissioned oil rig;
one tug boat, bad seas, severe weather, 
and a poor community with a pristine beach
add up to….

Fifty tons spilled;
one hotel;
a small surfing community;
small one lane roads with pullouts
add up to…

A small fishing village;
rocky outcroppings framing the pristine Dalmore Beach;
a foot path that meanders along the seaside cliffs;
the north Atlantic blue
the geometric rig with orange pylons lilting in the waves
add up to…

A Dutch Salvage company called Smit; a semi-submersible oil rig
retired after drilling at twenty five thousand feet;
being towed from Norway to Malta;
men in orange jumpsuits loading up flatbeds and lorries
in a city on the western coast;
Carloway, Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, United Kingdom.
add up to…

Unfortunate timing; genealogy research;
Upper Carloway number two; fourth or fifth cousins; Gallic speakers;
a small community without resources;
a pair of American tourists who happen to show up in town at the same time
add up to…

We are a world that is fat; that lives off fat buried in ocean floors and dug up by machines
that float upon waves as monoliths to industry and a modern world that adds up to…

August 21, 2016

Heading back towards Garenin across the bog.

True Story (continued):

At Garenin, we met Maddie Maurieg.  She took the information that I knew down and said, simply, "Meet me at the community center at six o'clock and I'll see what I can find."  

We drove back to Tarbert to shop for more Tweed.  I didn't have any expectations, didn't know if she'd find anything at all.  

At the community center we walked in and Maddie was sitting there with another woman.  She looked up and said, "I think you two," pointing at me and the other woman, "are cousins."  Sina, Angustina MacDonald, was a granddaughter of my grandfather's first cousin.

My grandfather's first cousin
Sometime in the 1970s, my grandparents on the only time he ever returned to Carloway.  Notice the spelling of his name.

My cousin, Sina, has two sisters, one of whom we'd meet shortly.  She showed me a picture of her grandfather (above) and we talked a bit about what we knew.

Sina looking at me to see if I had any MacIver features (photo by Mindy Grossberg)

The above represents the family tree as they know it in Carloway.  It starts with my great-great-great grandfather Norman Maciver (note the spelling of the last name).  In Gallic he would've been Mac Thormold (son of Norman).

Norman had two children:  Malcolm and Norman.

Norman Jr.(?) (my great-great grandfather) was born in 1831 and married Isabella Macdonald.  They had eight children.  My great grandfather (another Norman) was born in 1861 and married Mary Mackenzie.  My grandfather was the second oldest son (after Malcolm).  Like my father confirmed they've never been able to determine exactly when.  But his little brother, Donald, died in World War I.  He's my namesake.

Angus' little sister Margaret (Peigi Og) stayed behind and had two children:  Norman and Mary Belle. Neither one of them married and they lived in the house at Upper Carloway #2 with Margaret finally passing away in 2013.  No one has lived in the house since 2013.

The house is still there and is owned by a cousin, who lives in Stornoway.

All the information was a little overwhelming.  Not only had a I met a couple of cousins, but Sina jumped up from the table and said, "Well, do you want to go see the house?"

The house (photo taken the next morning) was where my grandfather lived before he emigrated; the house was my great-great grandparent's house in Upper Carloway:  Upper Carloway #2 to be exact.

So my grandfather left.

I'm not sure if this next bit is connected, but I do know my grandfather's mother died in 1902.  He remarried and his new wife (Margaret Macphail) was pregnant with their first child (also another Norman) when Norman (my great grandfather) died.

Here's his death notice:

My great grandfather, so the story goes, went to Stornoway (20 miles) then tried to walk back and died in the bog some three miles from town.  He never met his new son.  He didn't know his three sons by his first wife would emigrate to the U.S. nor did he know his third son would die in the great war.  He died on the way back to town, hiking across the boggy land between Carloway and Stornoway when he was 43 years old.

The Story of the Rock:  

My dad tells this story that his father (my grandfather) told him.  My grandfather, Angus, was growing up in Carloway and as he got older, he'd walk up to the top of the croft and just cry because there was nothing to do.

Was he crying because he was bored?  I don't think so.  That was not the man I knew.  If anything, sitting up on the rock, I thought to myself, he is crying cause he knows he's going to have to leave. He wants a family, an honest job, a better world for him and his siblings.  And, despite how beautiful Carloway is, he's going to have to leave, like so many Scotsmen before him.

Reflecting on that I sat on the very same rock that my grandfather sat on.

In the morning light, Mindy took a picture of me sitting on the rock and we texted it to my father. Even now, some month after I visited, I'm shocked by the whole experience of visiting Carloway.

Mindy looking down at the croft (all the way down and across the road) from the rock

Looking out over to the Atlantic Ocean (photo courtesy of Mindy Grossberg)
After having breakfast with Sina, we met up with Maurieg again and went out to her place to meet her husband.  She was living in her ancestral home.  He was a Harris weaver and the post master for the area.  He weaved for hours at a time.

Cousin Maurieg MacDonald(?) and her husband in Tolstachaolais

The view from Tolstchaolais

By this time we were on the clock.  We had to make it to Stornoway to catch the ferry to Ullapool.  I'd been back, saw the house my grandfather grew up in, met some cousins, got a sense of what life was like here, felt grounded.  I felt grounded like I suddenly had a place where I came from.

We had a bit of time so we stopped at Dun Carloway and two other, smaller, standing stones areas around Callanish, and then over to Stornoway.

Dun Carloway was built to warn invaders and protect the inhabitants of the island

Another view from Dun Carloway

Dun Carloway

And we were off.

We made it to Stornoway with time to spare.

Stornoway Castle

Church in Stornoway
Growing up, for the most part, we attended Presbyterian Churches.  For a very short time, I even attended a Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque.  Not because I believe in the story of Christianity, because I don't, but before throwing myself headlong into poetry, church fulfilled a need for a community that I found lacking. Community is important.

Of course, a good deal of Scotland, including my grandfather is Presbyterian, so there were churches everywhere.

Ferry to Ullapool

The ferry ride was fun, largely uneventful, and I just took pictures through the front window.  Unlike the ferry to Tarbert, the outer deck faced where we'd been not where we were going.  And after noticing it on the way to Tarbert, Mindy and I took advantage of the public shower (it'd been 3 days).

Our destination was Rosemarkie Beach, where there was a campground on the other side of the Moray Firth from Inverness.  It was beautiful and featured a lighthouse that I just couldn't take enough pictures of as we stayed on the beach through sunset.

Moonrise on the Moray Firth

Sailboats & Lighthouses (you can tell we don't see too many of these in New Mexico).

In the morning, we were going to go into Inverness.

In Inverness along the River Ness

We couldn't figure out how to get out of the parking garage and didn't read the fine print, so the guy let us go without paying!
Then added a quick trip to Findhorn (seriously we were really bummed we couldn't stay here longer, like a whole day, but we had to keep moving) and then we headed to our first, and only, distillery tour:  Tomatin Distillery.

"They say, "Tow-MA-tin, you say "Tom-A-tin," until they correct you on the tour.

I was the designated driver, so I didn't get to try anything until we got to our campsite.

The Last Night in Scotland Story:

The map had been good so far, so we just figured we'd go to any one of the campgrounds that were marked on the map around Perth (about 45 miles from the airport), then drive to the airport in the morning and drop off the car, catch our flight, and we're done.

So, after the distillery tour we started heading south.

At Dunkfeld, there was supposed to be a campground:



Beautiful downtown Dunkeld

We drove through town, down a couple of side streets, around back under the A9, through Spittalfield, Murthly, Stanley, Bankfoot, Waterloo, and back into Dunkeld and no campground.

We move on.  We have to head to the airport, so the map says their's a campground outside Scone.

At the campground, we discover it closed about an hour earlier and the hotel next to it is full.  We go back into Perth, wind through construction traffic.  I haven't eaten; we need a wee bit of petrol; and there is a lot of construction in downtown Perth.  Suddenly its our own version of Brigadoon and I keep taking wrong turns and end up in downtown Perth again and again.

I'm tired is my guess.  And I'm stubborn.  At this point, I'm like why don't we just get as far as Inverkeithing.  From there the airport is only twenty minutes away, and we know the town from the Fife Coastal Path.

So we drive on, and car camp (literally camp in our car) on the outskirts of Inverkeithing.

In the morning, this is what it looked like where we stayed:

We wake up ridiculously early because cars keep coming into our cul-de-sac.  There's nothing here, but yet they come in, sweep around and disappear.  We change clothes, pack our bags for the flight, which is not an easy task as we have way more than we started with.  On driving out of the cul-de-sac we notice that the road that we are on is a parking area for people catching the train.  Not an official area, but a side street where people don't have to pay for parking.

We wonder a bit in downtown Inverkeithing until the one cafe opens.  In our walks, we discover this:

Finally the cafe opens; I eat my last bit of Blood Pudding and the bacon that looks more like ham. We use their bathroom (if you see me ask me about the toilets in Scotland cause I'm not sure if we ever really figured them out) and drink coffee.  The owner of the cafe was very chatty, and whipped up a scone for Mindy from scratch.

And then we were off to the airport, turning in our very muddy (and stinky) car, sitting at the gate and chatting.  I had over a 1000 pictures to sort through, several rough drafts of poems, and my backpack weighed exactly fifty pounds.  Technically we'd be in Chicago in 3 hours (because we were picking up time zones along the way).

In Chicago we got delayed on the tarmac causing us to miss our connection to ABQ in Denver.  They put us up in a hotel and we ate and went to bed.

The next day we made it home, and Zoe, our dog, knew who were but was a little hesistant.  We'd been gone for two weeks.

And I am still tired.

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