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Next to the loch, even the rain came in waves. The only thing to do for the afternoon was stay indoors. For most, this meant a trip to the pub, where they would alternate smoking hand-rolled cigarettes with nursing a pint. And while they busied themselves, the dog stared out at the water.

I had found a cozy spot at the bar and spread my things out: moleskine, tea cup, saucer, tea pot. I reminded myself to ask for herbal tea because failure to specify resulted in the caffeinated breakfast tea typical of Scotland and England. Unlike the locals, I alternated between three things: writing, drinking tea in a desperate attempt to warm myself, and locking eyes with one rather handsome fisherman (during these moments, I imagined myself rowing onto the loch in the small rowboat that sat in front of the pub and “losing” an oar so he might rescue me).

The day passed like this. At dinnertime, the locals went home and I was left to have dinner on my own. But the line trickled back in again for more pints and smoking a short time later.

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The cook’s husband introduced me to his friend, a man named Murdock who had grown up on the island but now spent most of his time working in Britain. He was a linesman for an electric company. And, as is so stereotypical of the Scots, the more he drank, the harder he was to understand. Even the other natives looked confused.

But amidst the drink and music and smoking, he and I had one of the most raw conversations I’ve ever had with a stranger. Murdock had asked me why people in the States are so focused on money and salaries. I didn’t know how to respond at first. His observation seemed true, in a general way. Of course, there would always be exceptions, but particularly where I was living, money and status were important. I told him that I thought maybe community had something to do with it. I had noticed the strength of community during my travels in Scotland and, before that, Ireland. I speculated that without strong community ties to support us and make us happy, we needed some other way of measuring happiness. Money was simply easiest. We quantify objects, experiences, even emotions. Perhaps I was wrong, but there seemed to be something truly special about community.

Murdock then told me how the company he worked for lost four men in the past few months. These men were putting up new broadband internet lines. It’s a dangerous job, not that most people think too much about it. He asked me if faster internet was worth the lives of four men. His face was somber and I could read his heart ache.

My heart hurt. “No. No, it’s not.” I could barely manage the words.

And I thought about the price of progress, and all the lives that had been lost, all the lives that we continue to lose for faster internet or more advanced electronics. We don’t always see the effects our obsession with stuff has, we don’t know who gets hurt in the process. We forget how interdependent we are, how the small communities we create aren’t that small anymore.

I can’t shake the heartbreak of that moment, and even in telling the story, I can’t describe the profound effect it had upon me. I still choke on my words. Tears still well up in my eyes. I can’t go back to who I was before, but I still haven’t fully discovered how far his words have spread in my blood.

The House of Newe

Once, there was a castle named Newe. Now there is only a home, what was once the castle’s old laundry building.

The house is a living museum, filled with swords and paintings of family members and stories hidden behind glass doors.

The family legacy still hangs: tapestries brought back from India. At some edges, the fabric frays.

There are books that tell the history of the area, but the greatest stories belong to the owners, who weave the names and dates together into a grand picture that spreads out across time and space, and is carried into the present moment.

In two days, everything about the house felt like home: the warm fire, the plaid blankets, the carpets spread on every inch of floor, the large dogs that slept wherever they pleased…

And the music. The music still lingers on.

The Guestbook

Once, in the northern part of the Cairngorms forest in Scotland, there was a castle, a house named Newe after the family that lived there.

There were balls and hunts and days spent ice skating outdoors. The castle walls had small alcoves in them, where fires could be lit to heat the stones, allowing peaches to grow on trees that hugged them.

For over one hundred years, visitors left records of their time there in a book: photographs, drawings, signatures, stories.

And while the castle no longer stands, the guestbook is still being filled.

When I was asked to sign it, I felt the weight of all the years on me. I am no artist, so I gave the only thing I could: my words. I wrote of how everything I encountered there spoke another language: the trees, the fields, the mountains, the stones. I wrote of how often they speak and how I was just beginning to understand.

Even now returned, I am still just beginning to understand.

{photographs taken by me}

The Coral Beach

I asked him to repeat himself three times, because every time he said “Coral Beach” I saw the color. Then he explained: rather than a beach made of sand, millions of tiny coral pieces had gathered to create this beach.

The sand there was a story of organisms that had lived long ago, a collection of memories. It was as if each had been a tiny star in the water that had lived and burned and blinked out. This is what was left.

And I found myself sitting there for hours, reading, staring at the small islands farther out, feeling the history and the serenity of this tiny corner of the world.

{photos of Coral Beach, Isle of Skye, Scotland; taken by me}

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Credits

Jane Reaction

(logo and original branding) is a graphic design and art director who works with with small businesses and creative entrepreneurs, creating cohesive and interesting brands and websites.

Carrie Coleman

(photography) is a wedding photographer, whose goal is to capture the visual expression of a couple's love through timeless, organic images. She is based in Charlottesville, Virginia.