Tuesday, August 17, 2010

For the Hills and Valleys of Home


I dreamt about Peebles last night, the place fresh in my mind after our recent sojourn through the Tweed Valley.

I’m a sucker for places, this is what I’ve come to realize.

I can’t explain why I’m easily seduced by the lay of a certain land or the look of light falling across those mountains, or tripping across that river. Land speaks to me and when I like what I hear, I fall for a place.

This is how I’m in love with the Tweed Valley in the Scottish Borders. If you’ve been there, you understand why—if not, you should plan a trip; it’s unforgettable.

I first visited Peebles when seventeen whilst coming back from the touristy Loch Ness. I swam naked in Loch Ness and what I can tell you about that experience is; don’t underestimate the midges. Despite their diminutive name and size, they do some bodily damage. The water at Loch Ness was inky black and icy, perfect for a swim. We stayed in a small bed and breakfast and what struck me then was the red of the setting sun, streaking across a midnight sky. By the time I awoke, early as usual, the sky was already bright with sun.

When we drove into the tweed valley, winding down an impossible road between green sloping hills, my chest shuddered, as if a bird struggling to take flight. The insides of me hummed; I drank in the sharp contrasts of green fields and low, rolling sky, white sheep and dark shale. From the first moment I lay eyes on this valley, I have wanted to live there.

Life is not so easy as this, allowing us to simply follow the trail of a yearning, commitment and responsibility get in the way.

I’ve gone two more times since that first glimpse and each time, my experience has been the same. Some sleeping part of me awakens; I come alive. It reminds me of the quickening in the Highlander series. I almost feel as if my hair was standing on end and lightning bolts shooting out my ears. I almost feel immortal.

Last week, we rode again through the hills dropping down into Walkerburn and Innerleithen, then on to Peebles. The weather was variable, meaning it rained, then the sun shone brightly and skimmed the wet grass with sparkling light. Then it rained. Then the sun shone brightly. Then it rained. Then the sun shone brightly. Over and over again all day long. Every time the sun broke through those fickle Scottish clouds, I took off my rain jacket and polar fleece and said, “My, what a beautiful sunny day!” Then, when the storm clouds rolled in and the rain began to pour, “I love the rain!” That day was my favorite weather ever. Not a moment to brood over a hot sun or rainy sky. Before you could grow weary of what was—it had already changed. We walked for miles in that town; to and from the pub, to and from the coffee shop, the crisp, clean air filling my lungs, allowing me to breathe. That’s another thing I love of the North; air I can actually breathe.

These days, I’m seriously considering places to live, knowing it would be best for me to leave this polleny place I have long called home. It was inevitable that Peebles should creep into my mind and tap on the inside of my skull. This time when visiting, I looked at it with a new eye, asking, “Could I live here? Would I be happy in this place, with these mountains, by this river, raising my children, cooking dinner, dancing, and dreaming my life into being, wishing for things or crying over disappointments?” It’s an impossible question to answer, based solely on the spare days I’ve spent in the valley. But, like I said, places speak to me and when I think of Peebles I hear this river and the slant of these mountains and the slope of that valley calling me home.