Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Story of how I found my land and put a shepherd's hut on it

Behind the stone wall is my tiny piece of land on a Hebridean island just after I bought it -- the sign says SOLD.

I've wanted to live on a Scottish island since I was a young teenager and read THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING, and then THE SINGING SANDS by Josephine Tey, and THE CROFTER AND THE LAIRD by John McPhee.....I imagined a sunny, windswept island near the top of the world. Whenever I thought that, I told myself that if it was in Scotland, it wouldn't be sunny. But that's how I always pictured it -- and that's how it was (well, sometimes) when  in 2011 I saw my first Hebridean island, Barra.

The plane landed on the beach,  at low tide.The way to the hotel had the sea on one side, the machair -- a flower-filled meadow found only on the West coast of some hebridean islands-- on the other. It was so beautiful (or something) that I started to cry. I've been to every continent except Antarctica and nothing like that has ever happened to me. There was, is, just something about that light, landscape, silence, space -- I don't know what -- that felt like home.

About a week later, I spent a night on another island (chosen almost entirely by chance--there are 50 inhabited Scottish islands). There it was sunny, both days. On the first, I went for a three hour walk and didn't see anyone -- only wind and sea and sky; wildflowers and grass and sand, and, once, a large brown hare.

When my b and b hostess brought me to the ferry the next morning, she looked at me and said:
"This is going to sound really strange, but I feel like you're part of our family."
That's how I felt, too.

When I got back to America, I looked on the island's Web site to see about renting a  cottage and emailed the owner of one that seemed promising. She emailed back:
"...I think I have one of your books."

She did -- the IRELAND book I did for Scholastic; she'd bought it thinking it was a book about Connemara ponies. But still. How many published books are there in the world -- ten million? What are the chances of her having mine?

I spent five months in her cottage on the island, and while I was there, the land came up for sale -- incredibly cheaply. Many people said not to buy it: I wouldn't be able to get access to it, I wouldn't get planning permission.....but I took a chance and bought it anyway, then hired a builder in Wales to make a shepherd's hut for me and drive it to the island.  

Working out the details of the design and transport took MONTHS but it all turned out well in the end:

The land is across the street from the local school, and when the hut arrived on the island, the children cheered -- literally, cheered.

"It's the coolest thing EVER!" someone said.
"Libby, are you SO excited?"
I was. 

I loved it the day I arrived, and was just as happy as these children look -- maybe happier--to have my very own shepherd's hut on my very own land on a Scottish island.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

The world has changed so much since I was a child that I usually assume modern children will find the things I loved then incomprehensible, or boring, or something. So when I mentioned watching the DAVY CROCKET

I'd loved over dinner the other night, I was surprised when a seven-year old begged me to let him come over and watch it with me.

I warned him that he might find it boring and told him to tell me if he did....but from the very start, he loved it. His eyes widened; he said things like:
"This is so cool!"
"I love it!"
"Why would you say this is boring?"

His only criticism was that Davy wasn't wearing a blue and white uniform, like Andrew Jackson's soldiers--he described theirs as "jazzy."

I have  admired Davy Crockett fervently ever since I first saw the show -- and even more after learning more about him as an adult.

So I pleased as well as surprised that the movie, which was made in 1955, included Congressman Davy Crockett voting against Andrew Jackson's Indian Bill -- the one that resulted in the Trail of Tears. That -- in real life and the movie -- was the end of Davy Crockett's political career. The movie included a speech that probably went right over my head as a child, about how the government had promised that land to the Cherokee and it was wrong to let "a few landgrabbers" who just wanted to make money deprive them of it. He also talked about how "all of our people, whatever the color of their skins," had the same rights....and how the fact that it was being done was the fault of Congress, "because we aren't doing our jobs right."

It's true that Jake fidgeted a bit during this part--but his interest perked up again as soon as Davy galloped off to the Alamo. That Disney distorted: in real life, after Davy lost the election (as a direct result of his stance on the Indian Bill: before that there had been talk of running him for President), he was asked to make one last speech. He did, and it was brief:
"You can all go to hell. I'm going to Texas."

It was sheer bad luck that he arrived just in time for the Alamo. But in the movie, they made it a planned choice.

One of the few scenes I remembered from my last viewing (as a child!) was Jim Bowie, sitting up in bed with a fever --  but firing pistols, one in each hand, as Santa Ana's men run in to kill him.

The movie ends with Davy -- all 6' 6" of him -- swinging his rifle at the uniformed soldiers attacking him from below. Walt Disney felt that it would be too upsetting for children to see Davy die, so we see only that, and then hear a song about "history tells that they were all cut down," but....(much like the ending of les Mis, really) then we see a flag and the song goes on about freedom.

Jake thought the ending should have been more "realistic," and that if we didn't see Davy die, we should at least have seen one of the Mexican soldiers firing at him....but I now like the idea of Disney letting children have as much reality as they can handle. He leaves it up to them and I think that was a good decision.

I don't think I would have liked to see Davy Crockett's dead body, then or now. And I have to admit that I was absolutely astonished at how good this movie is. I loved it as much as Jake did....and would love to write a book about Davy, the REAL Davy, who was even more interesting and admirable than the Disney version. But Disney did a great job with this one.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Fogbow over the bay

Someone having dinner at the hotel took the first photo, which shows almost the whole fogbow; I took the others. I think they capture the light here better than any other pictures I've taken this summer.

Though the fogbow is unusual (fogbows are rarer than the Northern Lights!), the light here, which changes every few minutes, is almost always beautiful. It's clearer, more luminous than any light I've ever seen -- the wind and water, how far North we are. What it will feel like to be away from it and my hut I don't know.