Ross and Cromarty – May 2004
While sauntering the Scottish coast
beyond Plockton, past Applecross
though not as far as Ullapool,
I found myself enveloped by
a stillness. Broken by squawking
seabirds and waves beating the shore.
In the wind, snatches of shouting
from a man on a tide-washed rock.
Intrigued by the white-beard, white-haired,
arm-waving intensity as
he engaged wind and waves with words,
I sat. An audience of one.
“For ye shall go out with joy,
and be led forth with peace:
the mountains and the hills
shall break forth before you
into singing, and all the trees
of the field shall clap their hands.”
I’d had my share of bible talk
at Baptist Church and Sunday School
but felt compelled to sit a while.
Lacking words to describe the scene –
a salt-sprayed prophet preaching,
darkening clouds dulling the sun,
an arctic tern in the background –
I rooted for my Praktica.
My rummaging distracted him.
A momentary pause. A shout.
“Put that away! No photographs!”
I grabbed a snapshot anyway.
Holding tight to wind-whipped scriptures
he preached, verbatim, ancient texts
to guillemots, a dolphin pod,
the wind, the sea. And then at me,
“Come unto me,
all ye that labour
and are heavy laden,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you,
and learn of me;
for I am meek
and lowly in heart:
and ye shall find rest
unto your souls.”
“Would you care for supper with me?
A wee dioch-an-doris at least?”
I’ve a bottle of single malt
in need of ‘appreciation’.”
He led me past a dozen hens
and posse of watchful cats to
a one-time war time lookout post
his turf-covered camouflaged home,
ceiling rammed with driftwood sculptures
and fancy pebble jewellery
he bartered for whisky and wine.
I offered to buy – he declined.
He looked through a window slit at
Rona, Raasay and Skye beyond.
Then, with a smile, touched lightly on
days of fame and Mercedes-Benz.
We sat, in candlelight, with cats,
drinking long into the night as
glass followed glass of Talisker.
“It’s time we opened another.”
“Why preach when there’s no one to hear?”
“You came. You stopped to listen. You heard.
I’ve preached to thousands – wasting words
on hearts that were hard of hearing.”
A silent film played out next day
him standing at the water’s edge,
blessing a bottle we had killed
with his sermon rolled tight inside
and letting it drift on the tide.