Monday, July 24, 2006

Five Pipers...Out

Well, we're probably not quite done blogging, but nearly so. S and the kids are safely back in the States spending time with her family and soon getting a home ready for us in Worthington. I have three weeks to finish the collection of poems I will submit as my dissertation, then I'll join them.

I'll pop back on now and again to post a few leftovers and eventually a real goodbye--or maybe not so much goodbye as a real hello, in person--but for now, Five Pipers...Out.
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Monday, July 17, 2006

More from the May Isle

The Isle of May sits in the mouth of the Firth of Forth (thath's loths of th's!) where ships have always had to pass to reach Edinburgh and all the towns up the River Forth. And where ships have always come to crash. We didn't see any of the wrecks, but seeing the island jut straight up out of the sea, it's easy to believe they're there. So there are warning buildings all over the island--a huge horn at either end of the island for bellering out during fog, and three different lighthouses.

Lighthouses from 1636, 1816, and 1843.

The square white beacon was built in 1636 and burned more than a ton of coal nightly for almost 200 years. A few years after one lighthouse keeper and his family were asphyxiated by fumes from the beacon, a new light--the castle-looking one--was built by Robert Louis Stevenson's uncle. And a few decades after that the smaller, lower white lighthouse was built so that ships could sight their location using the pair together. The castle light still burns at night, though they haven't used coal for 80 years and it's operated remotely from the shore. The white light has become a bird-watching outpost.

S leads the kids along the cliffpaths (left). M and F watch gulls and razorbills nest in crannies of the sheer, high cliffs (right).

I stopped thinking about sea-faring dangers the moment we crested the top of the island and I saw the cliffs from the top. I realized I was the dad of the girls at the edge and started thinking about cliff-falling dangers. I kept my vertigo to myself since it was only sympathetic, and they peered over the edge to watch the gulls and razorbills nesting in the crannies. Baby gray puffs of feather were tucked into the rocks, eight or ten inches from a hundred-foot fall, the highlight of the trip for both girls.

The only distressing fall we experienced all day, though, was Cousin O's tumble off the path into a patch of burning nettles. He cried bravely and puffed up. We kissed his head, prayed for him together, and S played Wise Aunty, remembering that a mom in M's class told her that wherever nettles grow, so do dock leaves, which soothe the burn and bring the swelling down. By the time we alighted on the mainland, O was tired but looking good, and we all ate fish and chips together before catching our bus home.

Back in Anstruther, everyone waits patiently for fish dinners.
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Saturday, July 15, 2006

A Blogs His 'Merican Dog

On the dog that will (probably) be his birthday present: In 'Merica we will get a dog for my birthday. It will come in with a present, and I will tear the paper off that present and it will be a Thomas train. To zoom.

S: A, the puppy will be your present.

A: No, that doggy will come in with the Thomas train in its mouth for me.

On what he will do with that dog: In 'Merica we will get a dog. A boysized dog. I will play Can't Get Away From Me and it will run away but I will wrestle that dog down. Like a daddy, and it will be my boy dog.

On a (related?) concern 'bout 'Merica: Will there be floors--in 'Merica will there be clean floors?

Not if you have a dog, Son, not if you have a dog.
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Friday, July 14, 2006

Isle of May

Kittiwakes quarter
the grey sweep, mewling
through a squall of sea-wired
black-backed gulls.
stunt-flying fulmars
stall and glide, sail-
planing in long curves...
--Robin Robertson, from 'Sea-Fret'

If Robin Robertson had ferried with A, M, O, and us from Anstruther to the Isle of May this week, his poem would have had less sea-fret--ours was a beautiful afternoon--and countless gannets, terns, razorbills, shags, and puffins to go with his kittiwakes, gulls, and fulmars.

As we disembarked, we were assailed by the shrieks, rasps, and squawks of ten-thousands of birds, almost drowning out the warnings of the ranger: Don't trouble the nesting fulmars, or they'll spit stinking fish oil in your face. Nesting terns will ferociously attack the head of the tallest thing threatening their nests, so do carry a stick over your head to fool them. And by all means, stay on the marked path so you don't crush the puffin eggs and chicks that are burrowed all over a few inches beneath the grass.

Puffins were the favorite, of course. An excited murmur passed around the ferry the first time someone spotted one bobbing off in front of us. Everyone from the three-year-olds, to the guys with the bazooka-sized cameras stood up a little taller to catch sight of them.

On the island, puffins squatted everywhere, round and alert. Their wings look too small for their bodies, like hummingbird wings carrying a melon along as they fly from the sea to their burrows and back. They do this in their hundreds, each always with a silver fish hanging from its beak (like in the center picture, just above). Click here for video of puffins, their sounds, and lots of other info.

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Fresher With Company

The way to see your town as though this was the first week you were in it instead of the last, is to walk it on a bright day with someone new. Gardens, footpaths, narrow streets, cobbles, stone buildings--in so many textures Brother A could point out which walls looked like movie-set fakes--the sands and waves, playgrounds and shops--it was all a little fresher with company.

We wandered the cathedral. One of its walls still (mostly) stands, along with one of the steeples at the West end and both at the east end where there are still parts of the high altar and floor. Spiral staircases start their way up towers that aren't there anymore to floors that are long gone. From the western door to the eastern altar, the feet of the pillars butt up through trimmed grass, as wide as dinner tables. Outside these, neatly cut vaults where cardinals and other eminences were buried are empty and open now.

After testing the climbability of the ruins and vaults, we collected our tokens from the shop, squeezed throught the turnstile cage, and climbed St Rule's tower one more time. Even the little guys, A and Cousin O came up. A showed he's grown up since we wound our way up the tight stairs the first time last September, climbing every one himself, talking all the way. Together, we all stared across the sea, watched the backs of gulls flying below us, and pointed out as many places in town as we recognized.

Walking on, the breeze picked up near the sea. By the end of the pier, as we climbed the metal rungs up the lookout turret, F's cap lifted off her head and flipped into the waves. She burst into inconsolable tears like it was her brother or puppy or plane ticket home that was soaking wet just under the surface 15 feet below her.

Nearby, a fisherman was meddling with his gear, and Uncle A asked him if he'd try casting for the cap. He shrugged and gave it his best shot, tossing out a lure the size of a pine cone, meant for North Sea Cod. A couple of times he splashed it in a few feet away, but the hat wasn't biting, just drifting quietly toward Scandinavia.
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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Short Long Weekend

After a short long weekend together, we put Brother A, Sister M, and their boy O in a cab to Edinburgh this morning at 5.30. We played at the park, wandered the best parts of St. A's, built tracks for the boys' trains, ferried to the Isle of May, threw some darts, watched the last matches of the World Cup, and talked late.

The girls doted on their young cousin with kisses and games. And A loved having another boy around the place. Cousin O followed him from room to room, and when A sang out nonsense—Old McDonald had a farm, OW!—and smacked himself in the forehead, O smacked himself upside his face, too.

Another two boys around the place, actually. Uncle A got into the football spirit defending the large couch from the relentless young strikers of Ivybank Pipers United. Gola! Gola!, they called the game, and kicking the little ball around the living room won't be the same without Uncle A's acrobatic theatrics.

Just now A, M, and O are aloft somewhere between here and Minneapolis. And we're plunging back into poems, purging the house of what won't go home with S and the kids next week, and packing what will.
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Friday, July 07, 2006

Stolen Weather Forecast

"Stolen Weather opens with a godwit's call," reads the blurb on the back, "and spins to a stop among the rat-a-tat echoes of the last telegram. In between, this collection gathers the exciting work of eleven new writers, strong poems brimming with music and news."

Besides the 20-poem dissertation due in a few weeks, this is the other writing project of my summer, compiling and editing some of the best work of poets on our course, to be published as a book titled Stolen Weather. Last week, we saw the cover design, and yesterday I went through the proof sheets for the first time. Soon, we'll be going to print.

The early forecast is fair to partly-genius.
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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Scots Creep, Summer Update

We've been mistaken for Canadian often enough this year, because of our boy, A, most likely: Stay back from the street, A. Shall I walk with you to creche, A? A cup of juice sure sounds good, eh. I mean, A.

Today, though, a young fundraiser on Market Street mistook me for Scottish. I might have said, Hiya, when he greeted me. About halfway into his spiel (Do you have an extra 18p in your pocket? Will you have 18p in your pocket tomorrow? For only 18p a day, Friends of the Earth Scotland can...), he stopped and said, "Ye're not Scottish, are ye?" This is the sort of thing that happens to M, not me.

You know it's crept up on us when we're all a little startled that A actually called his Happy Meal pedometer a cell phone even though everyone here carries a mobile (always with a long I: mo-bIle). And when we're not startled at all that to ring up his fire truck s and ambulances, the number he "dialed" was 999 (Emergency!).

During the last month we all took to football, the game and the word. Different nights of the World Cup, we supported Australia, Holland, Germany, Ukraine, or England. And whomever took the pitch against the Aussies, Dutch, Germans, Ukrainians, or English was rubbish. The Croatian kit was rubbish, Rooney's red card was rubbish, having one favorite side after another lose and go home, that was rubbish. Watching sport together means explaining a lot of rubbish to the kids.

I'm sure you lot at home will tell us how daft we all sound. For now, though, that's us, away.
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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

No More Quarto

Back in September, I asked for work in the Quarto Bookshop after a couple of browses, a couple of books purchased for the coming year, and a couple of chats with Marion, one of several women a generation ahead of me who ran the shop. What an amiable, intelligent, unhurried place, I thought, and I could do with the discount, whatever it is.

And it was all true. And all true for the last time. After 37 years, the owner, Mrs. Squires--Margaret--is retiring to hoist fewer boxes and walk more hills.

I would have stopped working this summer anyway, but I'll miss being the Quarto shop-bloke more knowing that it will be, what, probably another golf memorabilia shop soon. No more trapping a customer between the door and Everyman editions when entering the store, no more squeezing past a gaggle of golfers in pleated trousers at the square oak desk, no more trips up the eight-foot wooden stepladder to the highest plank shelves, nor trips down to the basement toilet with the light switch that sounds like a firecracker, and no more serendipitous finds--books fallen (or hidden!) behind other books, books that customers decide not to take, books shelved spine-in, books with illegible printing on the spine, ready to be found and perused for a Wednesday or Friday lunch shift.

And no more of Margaret's dry, funny anecdotes. Or almost no more. She spins a few last stories about the characters in the Quarto in a column she writes for Textualities magazine. Her final one tells of the shop's closing. If you warm to her wry raconteuring, here is the archive of her previous columns.
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Friday, June 30, 2006

And M Blogs Her Sports Day

All of our sports for sports day were races. There was a big rectangle in the grass with lines down it to run in. Halfway, Emma's mom and a man were holding a rope, and when we got there, they lowered it and the first one across was first place, the second was second place and the third was third place. Mrs. Prentice blew a whistle to say go.

We took our chairs outside from our tables and put them in line with girls in front and boys behind. And we yelled for all the kids in the school. We yelled their names, like: Chlo-EE, Chlo-EE, and Char-LOTTE, Char-LOTTE until they got to the end.

The Flat Race. Girls ran first. We lined up, each runner had one line in the long rectangle, and we ran from one end to the other. We didn't run all the way to the other end, but just halfway, to where the rope was. I didn't win anything that race. I didn't think I would win any of them because I had a sore foot.

The Beanbag Race. You carried a beanbag on your head with your hands behind your back, and if it fell off, you had to stop and put it back on and put your hands back behind your back. I didn't drop it at all and came in third, that race! I looked for the skinniest beanbag in the box because if you have a fat one it sticks up higher on your head and is easier to fall off. Mine was yellow, but I didn't mind what color it was, just how skinny it was.

The Obstacle Race. You had to go put on clothes. There were hoops set out in your line, one hoop and another one a little farther. You ran to the first hoop, and stayed in your lines and used that hoop. At the first hoop was a P7's jumper--what do you call a jumper in America? A pull-on sweater! And you had to put on a hat, a sailor's hat, or a soldier's hat, or a police hat. Mine was a police hat. It was a soldier but I traded with Rowan before the whistle.

After the pull-on sweater and the hat, you ran to the next hoop and you put on a scarf--you didn't even have to tie it, just drooped it over your neck--and then a huge pair of gloves. They were stretchy, and you pulled them on up your arm. Then you ran all the way to the end. They could see if you had all your obstacle clothes on. I came in second there!

I went from no prize, to third, to second. Maybe if there was another race, I would have won it. Maybe if they had a slowest person race, I could have been last and won! I'd wait for the boys to start, and they would all go fast, and I'd just shuffle along.

The funniest thing was the P7 skipping race. The boys weren't very good at it. The ropes were this long. Holds hands apart. So you can imagine the boys weren't very good at it. The boys did this. Mimes an apoplectic fit. And they just hit their backs and heads with the rope like this, like this, like this.

I was quite glad to do sports day, it was very fun. I wish there was a swimming race, even though I wouldn't win in it.
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Thursday, June 29, 2006

F Blogs Sports Day

Sports Day is a day for exercise at school. You must stay by the P7's, tall kids who look after us. They told us how to do it all and showed us how to do it. You had to listen hard for Mrs. Prentice to rang a bell to start each game. And then she rang it again to end the game and for starting the next game.

There was one particular one on my team who thought he didn't like to do all the games, he just kicked the ball anywhere. He walked like his normal self for all the running games. All of them did a good job except that boy. There were no winners. We were all winners of everything. If the teachers watched each game and reported, then we could have been a winner.

This is juggling through the cones, or they call it dribbling. That and then score a goal. I didn't score a goal every time but most of the times. And then we put a turtle on our head and carried it around a cone and balanced it back to the next person in line.

That's picking up the ball and running through the cones, that one. Easy. Then was trying to score a goal with getting to kick just one kick. I scored mostly again.

My favorite was jumping across the river. I wish it was the first game for me. You jumped from pad to pad like we were little frogs jumping from little lily pads. They kept telling me the colors to jump on, but I didn't like that because they were telling me what to do when I already knew what to do.

At the end, we were sitting down and eating our ice lollies, strawberry. Yum. When N was having the snack, she said, "I got ice cream," and T said, "Everybody got ice cream." But N, she wanted everyone to know she was really good.

At the end the teachers asked if we had big fun that day and we shouted, "Yes!" because it was big fun. I would like to jump the river again and holding up the ball and running through the cones. Not a real river. It feels like the pads would sink to me. And real rivers, the deep parts, have crocodiles and sharks.
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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Days Away

We're days away from coming home. Most of us, anyway.

"Wha...?!" you say.

It's true. The girls' last day of school is next Friday. (Yes, school goes until 7 July! But remember all the two-week holidays throughout the year? The effect is a fairly leisurely, nearly year-round school year. Not bad at all.)

That same Friday, Brother A and Sister M will arrive with their boy to visit for several days. Wandering the castle, cathedral, sands, chip shops, Lade Braes, and more with them will also be our family farewell tour of St. A's.

One week after they leave, S and the kids will fly home on 19 July, Edinburgh - London - Chicago - Minneapolis. They plan to head north to spend some time with S's folks. I'll spend the next month working hard to finish and submit my dissertation before following them back to the States and northern Minnesota on 16 August. We'll all be back in Worthington the week after that.

As much as we long to come home, leaving here also feels like giving up on some high expectations we had for reading, thinking, and working together that we never materialized completely. Adjusting to life in another culture has been more constantly stressful than we anticipated, and leaving feels like giving up before we've learned how. There are places we won't get to. And as we go, we'll give up closeness with people we could have loved and enjoyed if we had more than a year to know them.

Yes, we're days away.
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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Actual Footy Action

A's throw-ins are perfect...

A couple of days ago, A was practicing his overhand throws. F was naming the colors on the flags around the stadium ("Holland is like the France, but the blue, red and white go the back and forth way, not the up and down way."), and M was reading players' names from their jerseys as they ran across the screen. She noticed this player and said, "He's not, though, Dad."

"Not what? " I asked.

"Cute," she said. A minute later, she teased, "A, you're Kuyt."

A wouldn't have it. "I'm Kaka!" he declared, which made me laugh like I was nine again. I had to explain why to the girls and then sober us all up with a trip out to the Lade Braes for some actual footy action.

...and his shooting is powerful but erratic. This doesn't bother him, though. He hollers, "Off the pooooost!" just as enthusiastically as "Goooooal!"
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Monday, June 26, 2006

What Small, Modest Birds!

Here in St A's we have seagulls. Poised and elegant in the air, okay, but greedy, shouting grabbers on land.

They circle down near anything that looks like loose food or like another gull watching something that looks like food. They stand there tapping their webbed feet and barking from the bottoms of their throats, hoping you'll walk away so they can bury their beaks in the wrappers, shaking out any lunch that's left. And if you've lived here for a few weeks, you've--well, you've probably encountered a gull's lunch falling silently from the other end of its digestion. We have.

By comparison, pigeons in Glasgow's George Square were a novelty. What small, modest birds! So social, so mannerly! Even the ones perched on the heads of bronze dignitaries seemed discreet.

M and F cautiously wandered toward them. The pigeons didn't seem to notice, so the girls stepped right in among them. Soon the girls were following their flock around the square, trying to touch the birds' tailfeathers. The birds waddled ahead, politely silent even though they must have expected breadcrumbs instead of Tag.

Aunt T showed a little more circumspection about chasing the birds. Maybe she was more cautious because of bird flu. Or maybe she was simply more grown-up.

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Love to New L

Congratulations, Brother B, Sister M. Welcome, little L! We five are all thankful you are here, well and beautiful. And we admire your timing, showing up in plenty of time to support your countrymen Thursday from your bassinette, win and lose. Perhaps someday you'll be a one-name wonder with a beautiful game of your own.
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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Homing Instinct

Long journey back, but never over.
One to make it, so many there.
So many faces to say, 'A stranger.
Why does he stop like that and stare?'
--Norman MacCaig

We think about coming home all the time.

Even though going home means all kinds of work getting ready... Even though we regret how much we intended to do and see that we haven't... Even though we thought we would adapt more easily to life here, and going home feels like giving up... Even though we expect MacCaig is right, and we'll arrive home feeling like strangers, or feeling like people feel like we're strangers, or something...

We are still ready to come home. Even the kids have been playing at nests and cushion houses.
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