Posted by: ramblinrobert | March 21, 2008

Why Scotland?

Several people have asked me “Why Scotland?” Given that Europe is a big place with so many places to choose for my first foray across the pond, why indeed? I wish I had a short, pithy answer, something other than “Why not?” But, the real reason, in true Scottish fashion, has deep roots and a long story.

The seeds for wanting to go to Scotland were planted early. More than a decade or two ago, in high school, a fellow student played a piece on the highland pipes at a school talent show. I was simply entranced with the sound of those pipes resonating deep inside of me. Despite being a painfully shy lad, I struck up the courage to introduce myself and was rewarded with an invitation to his house to learn more. I was hooked. Speaking of high school, it didn’t hurt my interest in Scotland to meet a Scottish exchange student living with friends of the family. Shyness kept me appreciating her only at a distance, but she did arouse (so to speak) my interest in things Scottish!

Fast forward to my first job after college. A coworker gave me a birthday present, Ian McHarg‘s Design with Nature. This book had a seminal effect on me and, it turns out, on a generation of landscape architects. He speaks in the book of growing up in polluted Scotland, and how getting into the country improved his health. This experience with nature profoundly influenced him. When I read his book, I had just graduated in economics, but had also taken an ecology class. It was obvious to me at the time that economics had to make it’s peace with nature, specifically that continued economic growth could not take place on a finite earth. So, the idea of designing in concert with nature made perfect sense to me.

Soon thereafter, I took a vegetarian cooking class, taught by a woman just returned from Scotland. She had spent time at the Findhorn Community that focused, among other things, on ecological living. The tasty and nutritious food we cooked in the class helped lay a foundation for me of eating healthy food, and associating it with Scotland.

I don’t know where another interest came from, but that is weaving. Somewhere, early on, I saw Scottish tartans and loved the colors and patterns. Maybe my interest in weaving started with those tartans. But this planted another seed of interest in Scotland.

I then spent a long time pursuing career and outdoor interests. Little did I know that my outdoor adventures were influenced by another Scotsman, John Muir. His influence in the creation of our National Park system was important in raising awareness of and making available the beautiful natural resources of our country. Around 1990 I was active in a church, a Presbyterian church, in my home town. One of the things that intrigued me about this church was its governing structure. Each Presbyterian church is locally ruled in a democratic fashion by its own group of elected leaders. Once again, I was appreciating and benefitting from a Scottish influence without realizing it.

Now we come to recent history, my past few years. The Scottish love for nature shows up again in contemporary work by Scottish artists. Andy Goldsworthy ((English, but living in Scotland) and his (usually) temporary artworks made from natural objects are well-known to many people because he’s been featured on public television. He has his own unique way of bringing attention to nature’s beauty. An artist that most people don’t know of is Joan Baxter. She’s a Scottish tapestry artist who had a piece in a tapestry exhibit at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles. She likes to mix Scottish tradition in her designs of nature. The particular work I saw was a kilt-like piece of a scene of water and forest, with hints of tartan plaid in the background. It was beautiful. You can see it on the right side of the third picture down of the American Tapestry Biennial Six exhibit. At my request, our tour group will be stopping to visit with Joan during our tour. I’m looking forward to meeting her and seeing more of her work.

A few years ago I also saw an article on the Falkirk Wheel in the Wall Street Journal. This was my personal “tipping point” for Scotland. I promised to go see this beautiful and clever piece of engineering. About the same time, my interest in music was renewed, including attending a Celtic music festival. This sparked a love of Celtic music, primarily Irish and Scottish. I’ve since discovered a number of musicians whose work somehow touches my soul in ways other music never has. Fiddling by Alasdair Fraser, the duo of Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham, and singer Ed Miller top my list as favorites.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the influence of friends. Several people have told me of their love for Scotland, and the welcoming and warm people there. In particular, friends Ben & Suzanne raved about their experiences in Scotland, notably on the Isle of Mull. We have a common interest in growing food in healthy and sustainable ways. They were deeply inspired by the people in Scotland because of their love of their land and their use of sustainable agricultural practices. A childhood friend and his wife, Jeff and Jan, also love Scotland. In fact, Jan played a major role in my next story….


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