Friday, July 10, 2009
One Thing A Day
“Oh, no thank you, Honey. I can only do one thing a day and I already have something for that day.” Those were the words that the elderly lady used to decline my offer of tickets to a concert. Twenty years later, I have reason to recall her saying that.
Just back from the picture-postcard-perfect Isle of Skye where you can look in any direction and see natural beauty. Both grand and small, it compels you to do the tourist thing: grab your camera and take a photo just as the thousands who have stood in that spot before you have done. Like those people who open a restaurant or a bar in the same site where such an endeavor previously has failed, you are convinced that you have composed your shot more brilliantly than any who has gone before, so you are perfectly justified in capturing the four millionth photo of that particular sheep. That aside, the Sleat Peninsula on Skye is not for the person needing lots of non-natural stimuli.
“Attractions,” as they call them in the guidebooks, are not abundant and are of the quieter variety: gardens, castle ruins, the excitement of driving on the wrong side of the road if you are lucky enough to be going somewhere where there actually is a two-lane, rather than a single-track, road. And although not far—nothing is far by wide-open-spaces American standards—things are far. Just because it looks close on the map, does not mean that it is easy to get to. Your four-mile destination is likely to be at the end of a single-track road that winds round and round, goes up and down, and probably is blocked by cows or sheep that will move along according to their agenda, not yours. (Not to annoy the animal rights people, but the guidebook forewarnings are correct: the sheep especially are amazingly lazy and stupid.) Everything takes longer than you thought it would, so planning to do only one thing a day quickly seems like the good-sense option.
Like comedy, timing is everything: although pacing might be a better word in this case. If you think, “Today, I’ll hike down to the bay and look at the ruins of the Dunscaith Castle, the “Fort of Gloom,” (Great name, eh?) near Torkavaig, you would be wise to have that as your “one thing” for the day. It will take you longer than you thought because of the terrain and because you’ll be sidetracked several times by the beauty of a stream, or a clump of wild iris, or bog cotton, or jumping aside to let cars pass, or pausing in astonishment at the existence, beauty, and color of a tiny wildflower growing out of the side of a rock or a wall of rhododendron along the side of the road. Then, when you finally arrive at the ruin, which naturally for fortification purposes, was built at the edge of a bay that is incredibly beautiful, there are climbs along rock to get the best angles for your way-too-many photos. After that, you have to find a fine spot with a view and a breeze where you can eat the locally produced bread, cheese, and fruit that you have carried along for early afternoon sustenance. Finally, it’s back up the road—yes, those lovely downhill bits have now become uphill drudges—to your bed and breakfast to get cleaned up (Amazing how sweaty you can get in a cool, breezy climate!) and have a bit of rest before venturing forth for the evening’s eating and drinking adventure. (Those Scots certainly have a lot of distilleries and breweries.)
I used to wonder at Thomas Jefferson, a mover and shaker and great thinker, taking the time to note minutiae at Monticello such as weather conditions and the amount of food and wine consumed as a part of his journal entries. Now I understand. Relative isolation makes small things very large: things that you and I ordinarily might pass without noticing in our congested, regular lives become very significant under less-frenzied conditions. Is the sea flat or choppy (wind); are there clouds on the horizon or hanging over the hills (rain); are the midges swarming (indoor activity a must)?
On Skye, I quickly discovered, “one thing a day” as an excellent rule for the day: maybe for the rest of life.