To look at the landscape in England is to see as much cloud as land - the vaporous scrim demands equal attention. When I was very young, perhaps four or five, I thought the swirling cumulus was another land. My sheltered imagination had decided that the sky was a place, a wildland as faraway as could be imagined: Scotland.

At the beginning of last week I called my sister in England. I had not spoken with her since last Christmas. She's a few years older than me and lives in Barton-on-Sea in Hampshire with her husband Tim; their kids are grown and they have six grandchildren. I rely on her for news of my one remaining aunt and our various cousins, nieces and nephews.

Extant Aunt Joan is my deceased father's youngest sister. Last month she celebrated her 90th birthday and there was a gathering of the clan at her home in Beaminster, Dorset. Joan, a widow now for ten years or more, has three children and all were in attendance. Her youngest, Andrew was - last time I checked - a doctor at a large Southhampton hospital. He qualified as a doctor in his twenties but almost immediately decided that he wanted, instead, to be a Vicar in the Church of England. He pursued this for many years but after being shunted around to one miserable parish after another decided that medicine might not be such a bad idea after all. Thus it was that ten or fifteen years ago he returned to doctoring.

His news at his mother's party, however, was that he had now retired and moved to a croft in the north of Scotland with his Pagan academic girlfriend. I was intrigued on all counts - Scotland, the croft and the Pagan academic.

I finally made it to the far country with two friends from the Gloucestershire College of Art driving north from Cheltenham in a 1950's Austin Somerset. It was Spring Break - April - and the car had no heater. We stayed in youth hostels and drank a lot of beer. We made it as far as Inverness and saw some glorious countryside. It snowed, we got very cold in the car, but the white mantle made the land almost cloud-like.

Meanwhile, I had read Gavin Maxwell's Ring of Bright Water, Longmans, London, 1960 and his much darker, Raven Seek Thy Brother, Harper & Row, London, 1968. Sometime in my teens I had read Eric Linklater, Compton Mackenzie and just a couple of years ago while on vacation on North Haven, Maine, I read Lillian Beckwith's The Sea for Breakfast, Hutchinson, London, 1960 - her comic novel of crofting on Skye, in the Hebrides.

Such was my preparation for receiving the news of my cousin's relocation to Scotland. My sister said that he had moved to the far-north of the Highlands, 'somewhere on the left'. A few minutes on the internet and I located him in the wildlands of Scoraig on a remote peninsula between Little Loch Broom and Loch Broom, south of Ullapool in Ross and Cromarty, Highland, Scotland. With no road access or grid-tied electricity the community relies on wind-power, solar, diesel generators and batteries; access to non-indigenous supplies and services is by boat across Little Loch Broom, the crofters' awaiting vehicles and a major road, the A832.

Originally inhabited in the first millennium, the land was divided up in the 19th century into narrow strips of agricultural holdings known as crofts to support a minimum level of subsistence for Gaelic-speaking Highlanders; the population peaked at the end of the 1800's at several hundred before slowly dwindling until by 1960 it was almost deserted. The last permanent residents left in 1964. (Wikipedia)

Today it supports English-speaking 'back-to-landers', 'good-lifers' (both British locutions) and retirees seeking an alternative, off-the-grid lifestyle like my cousin. It is an up-market version of Slab-City the ad-hoc trailer park outside of Niland on the south east margin of the Salton Sea. There, an old WWII army base demolished except for the concrete building slabs, supports an alternative living community located near an active bombing range in the Anza Borrego desert. With no grid-tied electricity, fresh water or sewage treatment, residents rely on solar panels, batteries and generators and their own waste system and share one communal shower, a concrete cistern that is fed by a hot spring 100 yards away. I have visited a couple of times and am reassured that such an anarchic, lawless community can prevail on the interstice between a major NAFTA truck route, the 111 from Mexicali, on up through Brawley, Calipatria and beyond to the 10, and the desert wildland as it backs into the Chocolate Mountains. This is the kind of end-times village that may yet contain seeds of the planet's salvation as it rushes towards global urbanization.

Scoraig may grow much of its own food, erect its own wind turbines and stack its own dry-stack walls but as noted above it remains connected to the goods and services of the EU and is economically dependent on capital brought in by newcomers, which is generally spent on building 'properties' (Wikipedia). My link to Andrew was through the company he employed to install his green roof (Green Roof Systems , UK) on a geodesic dome-roofed yurt that he's built for himself and his partner.

Ah, the partner. The Pagan Academic. As those who have been following along will understand, I profess an openess to animism, shamanism and mysticism - all isms thoroughly disavowed by the rational thinkers of the Enlightenment and after, but Academia has now opened its arms to Pagan Studies, and one of the new discipline's leading lights, Sabina Magliocco teaches at California State University at Northridge. Her background is in the disciplines of anthropology and folklore which have been fundamental in validating the embrace of Paganism and witchcraft as legitimate fields of study.

Living in an earth-roofed yurt in the wilds of Scoraig can only have sharpened Andrew's partner's appreciation and knowledge of the Spirit World. The windswept western highlands, with the smell of peat smoke in the air where gannets, eagles and razor bills (Alca torda) wheel and seals and otters slice through loch and burn must put an observer awfully close to the whirring of the cosmos.

Scoraig, a western spit in the cloudland - manifestation of my earliest imaginings - and Ojai, enmeshed in the traditions of the Chumash, are both wreathed in earth magic. In such places, the Pagan tradition, which is concerned with the ritual reanimation of the world, seems like an entirely rational response to the churning of the seasons and the antic life-force of the wildlands.

No comments:

Post a Comment