23 September 2012


One of the best things about the Croft is the neighbors, Bella and Uisdean (pronounced, vaguely, "Hoostian").  Bella has lived up there, I believe, her whole life.  She had six kids (including twins).  Her husband, Willy John, who passed away about 15 years ago, was born on island Roan and she lives in a little whitewashed house with Uisdean, her son and a farm of cows, sheep, and chickens.

Bella is tiny, but she is tough and has a wicked sense of humor. She has no patience for fools or laziness.  Every time we go to her house she stuffs us with biscuits, tea, and whiskey, even at 10am.  It took me at least 5 years of going up there before I could understand a full sentence from her deep Scottish brogue.  She is, really, my idol.  She is the gold standard of the kind of woman I hope to be in my life; warm and welcoming, but no bullshit, always honest, and always with a sharp wit.

Uisdean is a prince.  He is generally the guy who helps everyone and you don't even realize he's doing it.  He looks after the Croft and he will light a fire to warm up the house before we even get there.  This year, mysteriously, he showed up with a huge fresh salmon for us that had been caught that day and said "don't ask where I got it".  He's a great storyteller, although again he's speaking something entirely other than English so it takes some getting used to.  He has an impeccable memory for everyone who visits and he takes it on himself to make sure everyone feels welcome and taken care of.

Sheep and lambs at Bella and Uisdeans


Uisdean with Roan and Tide

The animals are always a big part of visiting them.  They have a new herding dog called Tide who Bella picked out herself.  The last one was sweet but Uisdean had to throw stones for it to chase to get him to run and move the sheep.  Tide took his job very seriously and herded everything and everyone, including us.

Another addition was Princess Neptune.  One of Bella's daughters, Ellen, had adopted a lamb and fallen madly in love.  She washed and walked and hand-fed Princess Neptune, but eventually had to bring her to Bella's farm after Neptune had trashed all of her furniture and eaten all the flowers in her yard.

I am always amazed at these sorts of bonds that I've found on the farms over there.  Mostly the livestock are treated well but impersonally, as food with feet,  but occasionally some little creature will tug at the heart strings of even the most practical of farmers and, boom, there's a lamb under the kitchen table or a piglet being cuddled like a baby.  The cows are routinely named after visitors (there's a Caitlin after my sister, and a Cecelia).  Apparently Bella is always incredibly sad when they have to send one of the cows to be slaughtered and she's been a farmer for, like, 70 years. 

Tide and Princess Neptune

Feeding a lamb

Roan got to feed Princess Neptune,  which I think he would have preferred for himself.

Tide couldn't understand why Princess Neptune was separated from the rest of the flock.  And, probably, why she smelled like shampoo.

Wheelbarrow rides with Uisdean

We were lucky enough to be there for the sheep shearing. Somehow in all my years of going to Scotland I have never seen one.  I was like an overeager tourist at the zoo, snapping away with my camera, but no one seemed to care.

It's quite an operation.  You have to get them all lined up in these pens and then they are sort of wrestled to the ground and sheared as they are rotated like a rotisserie chicken. Most of them seem to just zen out and resign themselves to the process. 

The red mark is paint to help the farmers identify their flocks when they roam in the open fields

Bella was SO not impressed with these guys.  She thought they were too slow and disorganized. 

By the way, there is am AMAZING documentary about sheep herding in Montana called
Sweet Grass.  It is so fascinating and you will probably never complain about your job again once you've seen it.

Bella, having none of it

This one managed to escape shearing

Roan helped out.  A little.

In this photo Roan is seconds away from being taken out by a tup, an unneutered adolescent lamb.  Sam lept in and grabbed him just before he was boxed across the field. That would have been a serious reality check for a Brooklyn boy.

Sam, Bella and Roan with Lorcan and Tide

Everyone gets a rest and a cup of tea

More than anything I was so glad that Roan was able to meet Bella and Uisdean and everyone else up there. We named Roan for this place in no small part because of the reverence we have for our neighbors up there. They don't just visit up north for a couple of weeks in the high sun of the summer.  They are there walking the hills in a gale in the dark of winter.  They keep the fires warm for all of us.

12 September 2012


We took some of Lula with us to Scotland.

 When we knew Lula was going to die we were faced with all these horribly practical decisions, and one of them was where she should be buried. It was too momentous a choice, one that seemed to require foresight and logic that neither of us, in a delirium of grief and sleep deprivation, possessed.  She had never been more than a few feet from one of us for nearly her entire life, so it seemed best to have her cremated so we could keep her at home with us.

The beauty of cremation is that she can be in as many places as we want and still be with us. Her lovely face and fragile body were reduced to a box full of ashes. But for the fragments of bone, a tiny piece of femur, a shard of something else, that took my breath away to see - what is more intimate than to see your baby's very structure that you created?- the ashes are indistinguishable from any other charred remains. In separating her body into an infinity of grey particles she was emancipated her from all the pain and illness that tethered her to our house or a hospital for her entire life. Now she could go anywhere and everywhere all at once. So, we have begun to assemble a pilgrimage of places we want her to be and people we want her to be with.

Lula's ashes. I made the bag from leftover material from her baby quilt.

First and foremost was Island Neave, Lula's middle name and closest neighbor to Island Roan. Sam arranged for Billy, a local fisherman, to take us there with Will, Jam, Lorcan and Maeve on a Friday morning. The weather had been gloomy and temperamental all week.  Friday morning, as it happened, was perfect.

Billy took us the long way around Neave. It's a tiny, uninhabited island with sculptural outcroppings of rock that grow to meet luminous green hills. 

There is no mooring or harbor or even a slip. Billy grabbed the side of the rocks and held on as we scrambled up with the kids. We walked over to the beach and scampered around for a while.

                                I don't know what these are but they were growing on the rocks right on the beach.                                        Amazing that something so delicate can live there.

We spent a while on the beach and then hiked up to the top of the island.  As there are no sheep to gnaw away at the heather or otherwise erode the scenery the land is pristine.  It is covered in tiny wildflowers and springy grass and yellow lichen.  The view of the sea is endless. 

We stood against the wind for a while and then had a whiskey toast to Lula, the adults anyway.  Sam put Roan on his shoulders and we gave him the bag of ashes to scatter over the heather.  He got some on Sam's head and enjoyed watching the ashes dissipate through the crisp air, totally unaware of the weight of the moment. 

Another delicate creature living on Neave

It was wonderful to have the four of them with us to celebrate Lula's return to Scotland.  She had been to Scotland only once and in utero, when Lorcan was still a toddler and Maeve not even a twinkle and it feels like we have all lived a lifetime since then. Somehow I felt like they understood what this meant to us, that it was not a mourning or a burial, it was a liberation and a tribute to the lives our kids have given us.

Before we headed back to meet Billy and the boat Sam recited this poem:

In this world
love has no color-
yet how deeply
my body
is stained by yours.

                - Izumi Shikibu

06 September 2012


Holy cow, today was Roan's first day of school.  Time  F L I E S.

As was expected, Roan didn't look back for a second.  He dove right in.

His teachers are wonderful and full of amazing amounts of energy.  The other kids are adorable and sweet.  Look at their name tree!  A microcosm of Brooklyn for sure.

When I went to pick him up at 3:30 he had no interest whatsoever in leaving.  They said he was good, although later he admitted that he threw something inside and was told not to.  He didn't nap.  And they all said "wow, he's athletic".  I hope by that they mean incredibly agile and strong, and not a hyper maniac.

Every day he is there he gets a "Today I..."  sheet.