This week marked my first foray into gloominess in this era of lockdown, Covid-19 and social distancing. I started the week with a pain in my back and a new bout of insomnia (something I attribute less to worries about Coronavirus, than the hormonal see-saw that seems to characterise my early forties). Added to the grim of a few grey mornings, I found myself lapsing into a parallel sort of woe that only subsided with the return of sunshine, and a couple of restful nights without pain in my back, or in my legs. I tiptoed around social media, hoping that no one would nominate me to post pictures of my favourite albums, or my dog, or anything else for that matter – realising that for a few days, I needed to get a sense of my own mind back. I retreated to the world of stories, nuance, and context – things I’ve been struggling to find in the standard places of late. And so I went to my books, first delving into the world of Outlander in The Fiery Cross, the fifth instalment in the best-selling series. I finally finished it, all 1400 pages, a weighty tome to rival War and Peace. I still marvel that the author, when starting to write the series, had never visited Scotland, let alone set foot in the Highlands. (The series at this stage is of course no longer set in Scotland, but somehow, always remains there. It makes me wonder if Diana Gabaldon herself is possessing of some sort of travelling gift, like Claire, her protagonist, such is the sense of her affected Highland heart).
Next, I moved on to The Province of the Cat, by George Gunn – the Caithness poet, playwright and bard who also happens to be the leader of my writing group. For some weeks now, I have been feeling homesick for my home county – an emotion made strange by the fact that I still live here, oddly enough. Like everyone else though, I can no longer wander around the place, and I’ve found myself missing the parts that cannot be accessed from my front door, or a period of 30-60 minutes of daily exercise. I see others dreaming of far flung destinations, and realise my small dreams are just as inaccessible – coffee at John O’ Groats, the gentle undulations of a walk at Olrig, the wind in my hair at Dunnet Head. Through George’s words I can travel once more through my beloved county (The Province of the Cat referring to the naming of Caithness by our Celt and Nordic ancestors). Early in the book, George writes of his desire to seek out ‘….the Caithness I see every day, but also the Caithness deep inside of me. When I look over my shoulder, I see that Caithness, those various Caithness’s, following me.’ I realise this is exactly how I feel when I write about Caithness, and my feelings towards her. If you want to read a book that is truly of and about Caithness, then please read this one. (I cannot, of course, promise that you will not still feel homesick by the time you turn the final page.)
Invigorated by stories, though, I finally brought myself back into the hopeful light of cheerfulness. I went out on daily walks, carrying my Highland heart with me, seeking out that portion of Caithness I can still reach from my front door. In turn, the world responded, the sun returned, a lone tulip bloomed in the grassy verge, I dipped my blue toes in the garden.
And then one morning I woke to the arrival of the blossom on our cherry tree.
And I knew I had been sent a love letter, written in new beginnings, sunrise, and the dawn chorus of the birds.
Gail, I’m excited to hear about The Province of the Cat and will definitely be ordering a copy. I can’t remember how much I’ve shared with you here or on our Instagram chats about my family ties to Caithness. My homesickness for this place I’ve never been to is certainly what drew me to follow you with such delight.
My mother’s grandfather was Daniel Oliver, born in Westerdale in 1870, and lived in Thurso until he left Scotland as a teenager. I believe he never went back. His family moved to Edinburgh in the 1890s and one of his brothers emigrated to Canada. He came from a family of Hendersons, Sutherlands, Oliphants, and Gunns. I’m always trying to piece together more information on them.
Daniel became a Quaker missionary and settled in Lebanon in the early 1890s and stayed there the rest of his life. My mum spent her childhood in Lebanon and Daniel (Badaddy to his grandchildren) was a huge part of her life. I’ve always felt a strong connection with him and with Caithness. I’ve blogged about him and his line a little here: https://generationsofnomads.com/tag/caithness/.
I feel a tremendous pull to be there, and finding your blog and Lisa’s Inspired by Caithness art have been gifts. I hope to meet you for real one of these days! Thanks for the book recommendation.
That’s so lovely about your connections to Caithness, Kim, if I can find out any more for you I’ll try to! I hope you enjoy the book, it’s a real education, even for me, as a native of the place. I’m not sure about shipping etc. in the Covid era, but I think you can buy it here, if you want to:
Thanks. I found the book online last night and have ordered it. Looking forward to it!
I feel the same in that I’m homesick for local places too. Dunbeath Strath, Dunnet Beach, Puffin Croft and St Mary’s Chapel are four places I long to visit. If I had the choice between a day out in Caithness or a day trip to anywhere else in the world, right now I would happily stay local. I’m ashamed to say I’ve never read The Province of the Cat, but now sounds like it might be a good time to read it! xx
Yes to all those places Andrea! I think the fact that we would rather stay close to home, than travel, says a lot about how lucky we are to live here, doesn’t it? You’ll enjoy the book, if you get a chance to read it. I can just about hear George saying some of the lines out loud! X
Another beautiful post. Hugs to you and sorry you have been feeling a little homesick. The book sounds great and what a wonderful writing leader too. I hope the sleeplessness eases off. I love blossom trees too. They make me happy. I am always here if you need someone to talk too xx
Thanks Susan, you’re kind as always. Feeling much better this week – cumulative sleepless nights really affect me though, I find. I realise my problems are very small in the scheme of things right now, but hopefully it’s okay to also acknowledge that we all have the odd down day. Hope you are having a better week, too, this week. The lovely sunshine really helps! X
How wonderful Gail – a beautiful description of your week. What a stunning part of the world you live in. I think we might underestimate the power of this unusual time in our lives – insomnia is quite common at the moment I think. I’ve started biting my nails and don’t seem to be able to stop! xx
I think you’re right Suzanne – there does seem to be a lot going on ‘under the surface’ for most people, even if we don’t always recognise it as stress/anxiety. Yes, we are really fortunate with where we live – especially at the moment. A kind start to Spring weather-wise is really helping too! Xx