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That Time I Stumbled Into A Living Postcard

January 12, 2017

The picture was nearly indescribable, even for a writer. From a hilltop in the Scottish highlands looking down a long narrow valley. The heather was just starting to bloom. The sky, so often gray and rainy in April, was an incredible shade of azure blue. Big puffy white clouds hung like cotton balls illustrating some children’s book. The hilltop was occupied by monuments to the dead and departed. Rock cairns 12 feet high. Grave markers, the names and dates chiseled in granite, had been worn down over time to the point that they were indecipherable.

It was the perfect picture of Scotland. At least to an American. It was what the TV and movies tell us Scotland should look like. And then somewhere down in the valley, out of site came the haunting strains of someone on the pipes.

I’ve travelled a fair amount internationally. When I was working for Microsoft, I often made trips to do training around the world. As any business traveller can tell you, it’s not all that exciting. You see the airport. Then you see the inside of a taxi which takes you to a hotel that looks like any of a hundred other hotels you’ve been to. In the morning, you get into another taxi and go to a training room, or a convention center designed more for function than asthetics. You deliver your speech, or your lesson to a group of people. You go out to eat, typically your one and only interaction with the local scenary. Then it’s back to the hotel. And another taxi ride and airport visit in the morning.

Typically business travel doesn’t let you see much of the city, let alone the country you are visiting.

Several years ago, I was asked to speak at a conference at The Hague, in the Netherlands. My friend Tim was also one of the speakers. I live in Utah, a long way from the Netherlands. Tim lives in Scotland, a short flight to The Hague.

Rodney, why don’t you come a few days early and stay with my family in Edinburgh?

Are you sure?

Absolutely. We’d love to have you and I can show you a bit of the countryside.

Tim is descended from a very proud Scottish family, or clan. His uncle is the clan chief. (Yes, in the 20th Century, clans and chieftains were still a thing in Scotland.) His family isn’t from Edinburgh, though. His family lived in the Highlands. Northern Scotland is unique. It’s much different than Southern Scotland, and certainly different than England.

Hey, Tim, do you know what the difference between England and America is?

You know I’m Scottish, not English, right?

Yeah. The difference is that in America we think a hundred years is a long time and in England you. . .they. . think a hundred miles is a long way.

(I would not recommend anyone confuse a Scotsman with being English. Just a warning.)

Our trip through the highlands encompassed about 200 miles. The roads were in good condition, but narrow two lane affairs that wended their way around great sweeping curves and down into hidden valleys. The hardest part was that they drove on the wrong side; a scary endeavor when the driver is pushing Autobahn speeds.

Rodney, we do NOT drive on the wrong side of the road.

Oh yeah? What side of the road to Americans drive on?

The right side. . .

And the opposite of right is wrong.

Tim picked up speed on the next curve as a response. As we got closer to his family’s traditional home, we drove through small towns, each of which it seemed, had a story. Some were of betrayal and warfare.

So, when did that take place?

About 1670’s. But don’t mention it to anyone if we stop. They’re still a little sore about it.

Eventually we ended up on a green hilltop with an ancient stone shed guarding the entrance to a small, but very old cemetery. As we walked among the tombstones, Tim pointed out the markers of the past clan chiefs. We finally came to rest between two massive rock cairns. One for his grandfather, the other for an uncle. Both previous clan leaders. As the notes from the piper started I turned to my friend,

Tim, this is the epitome of an American’s traditional view of Scotland.

He simply stared out across the heather covered hills as the clouds lazily made their way across the deep blue sky.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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