swimming to the island from the island

Yesterday we went to the Isle of May where dwell the puffins and enough lighthouses to satisfy even my eagerness for those beacons of safety, those harbingers of harbour. Here are some photos:

View from the bus on the way there. These yellow fields are everywhere, filling the heart with the joy that only a field of yellow can give.

The May Princess, our unweildy ferry. You'd think a ride in this thing would be enough to turn the stomach - but the worse for my insides was the work of award-winning fish and chips consumed on the rocky Stagecoach back to the city. Twenty-four hours later, I still have the bucket by my bed just in case.

The Isle of May - one of the only semi-level photos I have of it from the view of the ferry.

This photo was taken by flatmate Lindsay, who has offered her camera countless times to the service of my pictoral memory. I believe what you see in the distance is the south-end lighthouse perched atop the forbidden segment of island upon which the seabirds are unfamiliar with the likes of us tourists.

Another photo by the skill of flatmate-Lindsay, this puffin was either uncommonly goodnatured, unnaturally vain, or paralyzed with untimely fear to allow the camera to come so close. Indeed, she took another photo even closer, at a distance of about six feet, but I rather prefered the turn of his head in this one to the feathery details of greater proximity.

The main lighthouse, though not the oldest. It reminded me of many things, not the least among them were some tales of L. M. Montgomery's and some eastern meeting houses of colonial fathers in white wigs and buckled shoes.

The sign on the wall seemed to imply that this arch was a bread oven in past ages - a humorous identification, since moments before reading this I had been awestruck by the notion that it was an early monastic apse. The surrounding ruins were from a 12-century monastery, but my imaginative sense of holy devotion was getting a bit carried away. Thanks be to God who faithfully humbles those who feel themselves most proud in their ill-directed piety.

Having no idea what this archy thing was, Courtney and I did our usual photographic duty and took turns posing beneath it. We had seen others doing the same thing only moments before, and figured that was the point of its presence. Far be it from me to rebel against the elements of touristy sites.

And we all return to the harbour, sick to the stomach, chilled to the bones, and full of the satisfaction of islands, puffins, and the salty sea air. Oh, if I woke up to the sight of a marina each morning, I think I would usher in the dawn with endless song - boats and fish and gruffly fishermen, how I miss you when I'm gone!


sister spring

The trees are blooming. And those that aren't display leaves of such tender green I want to eat them and touch them and eat them some more. (I am trying not to.)

In order more fully to glory in the season, flatmate Courtney and I took the long trek to Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Garden this afternoon. Here's a link for the curious:

It was one of the more beautiful gardens of my experience, vast and varied, full of endless delights. We strolled about the grounds and took as many pictures as we could in fairy-like poses, faces framed by drooping branches. After we had seen all that we could bear to see without wanting to pick all the flowers, swim in all the ponds, and build forts in every tree, we dropped down on a small grassy hill to rest.

I know it is all a well-planted, well-landscaped, highly organized garden, but it does help one to understand the poets of seasons and flowers and such. Nature is restorative, Wordsworth. Or it can be. Here are some photos:

Keens do the Gardens.

'Life! Do you hear me? Give my creation Life!'

The view of the city from a high point in the Garden - far away on the right, you can see the Castle, paragon of fortresses.

This is for you, Jenny. The blurry spots are some quartzy business - I took this while sitting on a larger one of similar quality. The camera doesn't do it justice.

Courtney, queen of mountains, on a pretty stone stairway.

Memories of Pooh-Sticks float across my mind as froth and water spiders float across my vision.

And this is for Mom! This whole room, dedicated to the memory of someone or other, was covered on the inside with these beautiful shell patterns. The ceiling was patterned with pinecones of different shades and sizes. Some nice American tourists took our photo and asked where we were from. I refrained from justifying myself with almost eight months of residency and simultaneously failed to ask them their own story. Tiresome silence!

Is this photo blurry 'cause of the zoom or 'cause I'm the one who took it?

Pretty view!

Why is everything underlined all of a sudden?


I am sitting here with my favorite cereal (Pecan and Maple Crunch, courtesy of Sainsbury's) thinking about the events of yesterday. After church, which I was actually on time for, I met some friends at my flat and we headed to Craigmillar Castle. This great ediface of history and tourism is apparently just down the street from where I live - a fact I was not aware of until a few days ago. Yes, yes, I know. I've been here nearly eight months and didn't know there was a castle down the road. In my defense, we had to wander through a lot of woodland (or a 'wood stand' as my agriculture-environment majoring flatmate calls it in her well-informed way) and some field before we finally saw it, cresting a hill, overlooking some cows. Here are a few photos, some of which were taken by me and some by friend Sarah:

on our way to the castle - lots of green

a fuzzy view of some edinburgh from the hill ascending to...

the castle! ignore the cars, and you can almost sense what Mary Queen of Scots felt when she stayed here (one cannot mention her enough when visiting historic Scottish landmarks)

castle in close-up. here's a turret. and yes, I stood on it.

trees, just inside the doorway. brilliant interior design.

and last, but not least, I stand on the battlements overlooking some cows while thinking of my brother - Sarah snaps a photo and we converse about the difference between hay and straw.


Having recently been viewing a British history documentary (Simon Schama's series for BBC) in which the events of Henry VIII's schismatic escapades and their ensuing catastrophes are well narrated, the nature of the Church during the Reformation has been on my mind. At the same time (or rather, in the last hour or so) I have been reviewing some of my favorite British Renaissance/Reformation poets in order to put together a proper PhD proposal for this Swiss programme I'm considering. And in the process, I came across this poem of Donne's which I had either completely forgotten or never read. It seems to hit upon some of the very sentiments I have been having in the last... three days... and with a voice straight from the midst of it all. It is the eighteenth of his Holy Sonnets, and I have transcribed it here:

Show me, dear Christ, thy spouse, so bright and clear.
What! is it she which on the other shore
Goes richly painted? or which, robbed and tore,
Laments and mourns in Germany and here?
Sleeps she a thousand, then peeps up one year?
Is she self-truth, and errs? now new, now outwore?
Doth she, and did she, and shall she evermore
On one, on seven, or on no hill appear?
Dwells she with us, or like adventuring knights
First travel we to seek, and then make love?
Betray, kind husband, thy spouse to our sights,
And let mine amorous soul court thy mild dove,
Who is most true and pleasing to thee then
When she is embraced and open to most men.


Here's a confession: I don't like the word 'Easter'. Maybe because it so often comes before words like 'basket' and 'bunny', it has lost the reverberated soundings of stones rolling over Jerusalem soil, chattering teeth of centurions (doubtless losing bladder control), and the ear-splitting echoes of the feet of angels shuffling about the tomb floor. I cannot catch any wiffs of death or decay in the word, neither the smell of dry blood or the noxious odour of too-much myrrh in an enclosed space, let loose with the breaking of the dawn and the sudden open space that was - and is no longer - a grave.

Oddly enough, arriving in church this morning in my kelly green dress and springtime shoes, I quickly noticed that most people in the congregation were still wearing the dark colours of Good Friday (or any other day of the British winter). Did they not get the message? Were they not aware that this is a day for brightness and cheer, for celebration, hoorah, and hosanna? They could have figured it out quickly enough, given the unique presence of a trumpet player left of the choir. And the traditional hymns of the season. And the reading of the Gospel, the bit about the stone and the women crying.

I confess that I prefer Christmas to Easter. Both of them are essentially mysteries, I know. But at Christmas, the mystery is a baby. And how weird can a baby be? He's round and squalling and you welcome him with presents, which in typical baby-birthday fashion you get to open and keep for yourself. But the mystery of Easter is a little more difficult to handle. Jesus is back in firm flesh, and yet he's walking through locked doors. He's wandering about in the garden and headed down to Emmaeus, and yet, he has nowhere to go and nothing in particular to do other than be seen. Why is he back? Weirder still, he shifts between being completely unrecognizable and being wholly undeniable. He meets people alone in closed rooms and then shows up in a crowd of five hundred. Why such selective secrecy? And for all the records we have of his sermons, we know next to nothing about what he says and does during these forty days of post-mortem miracle.

I wish we had better Easter traditions than eggs and chocolate. Not that there's anything wrong with chocolate, but it would help to have some tangible means of understanding this season. An object, like a tree or a present, a star, a carving of an apostle (why don't we have empty tomb scenes like we have nativity scenes?) which I can hold and say: this represents what the day is all about. Here is a theme. or a character. or a reason.

Not having such a sign in my hands, I resort to words. Here are the words of the Pascha Nostrum, from the Book of Common Prayer:

Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us; *
therefore let us keep the feast,
Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, *
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia.
Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; *
death no longer has dominion over him.
The death that he dies, he dies to sin, once for all; *
but the life he lives, he lives to God.
So also consider yourselves dead to sin, *
and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia.
Christ has been raised from the dead, *
the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
For since by a man came death, *
by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die, *
so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.

and a parting prayer:

O God, who made this most holy night to shine with the glory of the Lord's resurrection: Stir up in your Church that Spirit of adoption which is given to us in Baptism, that we, being renewed both in body and mind, may worship you in security and truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
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