Monday, August 25, 2008

Scottish Ghost Story

I have a Highland ghost story.

When I was a young teenager, my best friend made an arrangement for us to go to to a guesthouse near Fort William for a holiday. I never asked why or how she knew the hosts, but I guess my parents and her parents checked and approved, because we set off on the train and arrived at the station, to be picked up by the man of the house and driven about sixty five thousand miles up a glen. I can’t remember which one, but it’s the famous one with the parallel lines way up high on the hillsides, scoring straight down the valley where the glacial lake lapped at the rock and steadily rose as the glacier pushed the water higher into the hills.

So we got there – approximately 2 astronomical units from the nearest other house, with the expectation that two weeks of hiking would do our young budding bodies good, or something.

Our host was a ghillie. His regular job was to help the English hunters catch deer. On one of our trips out into the torrential rain, he explained that he knew all the deer more or less personally, so he pointed out the sick and old and bad-tempered ones to the hunters and used their guns as a way to keep the herd healthy. And I’m glad he explained it that way because the weird thing is, he and his wife were vegan. Not even vegetarian, but vegan. So for two weeks we lived in the Scottish equivalent of Bron-yr-Aur, hemmed in by fantastic mists like something from MacBeth and eating nut milk, soy butter, protein from plants I’ve never heard of and generally getting an education in the ways of the world.

Also getting glommed on to by a tick. First and last time for that, luckily.

After a few days, afraid my skin was going to slough off as if from a drowned corpse due to all the healthy rain (and the mist, which was at least as wet as the rain), I started staying in. And this guy had the most amazing collection of books I have ever read. They weren’t occult books, per se, but counterculture/alternative books where he had, I assume, started with veganism and gone on to the fringes of the lifestyle in his reading. So I read about Tantrism and Buddhism and a dozen other things, along with a firm grounding in J I Rodale’s food philosophies that broadened my mind as much, or more, than anything else I’ve ever done. He also had a nylon-string guitar and a banjo, and I have to say that the banjo expanded my consciousness significantly as well. I'd never considered the possibility of an instrument with a moveable bridge. Fascinating.

It was tough not even having milk. After a week we escaped, squelched down the glen and thumbed a lift from someone to Ft William where we devoured a Chinese Meal with as much meat in it as we could afford and then, refreshed, hitched back up to Vegan Land.

At some point we were driven (or perhaps took the train) along the whole length of Loch Ness to Inverness. Foyers is on the opposite side of the loch to the main road, but I spent the entire journey staring across the loch looking for Boleskine House. My friend assumed I was looking for the Loch Ness Monster. I didn’t see it. Houses didn’t come with great big red Google Map balloons pointing to them in those days. I didn’t see Nessie either. But Loch Ness looked like the sort of place where misty monsters could manifest.

One night in the guest house, it was dark – and I mean dark – outside and there was one dim lamp on in the reading room. Everyone else was in bed, presumably using the sheets as a sort of wick to dry themselves out. I was avidly consuming some mysterious cult book about Kundalini, Kasha, or vitamin K when the guitar, standing on a shelf behind me, suddenly sang out.

I did not just hear that.

I went on reading. The guitar sounded again, a sweet, quiet G. I looked at it and tried to get my hair to flatten back down on my scalp. It did it again. I put the book down, deciding that I was just going to have to acknowledge it, and stepped cautiously up to the guitar. As I did so, a housefly that had been sitting on the G string took off, plucking it with its sticky feet as it did so, a quiet, plangent twang.

Not a supernatural call to adventure at all then. Just a fly. Although they do call Beelzebub Lord of the Flies, don’t they?

Later, the ghillie took us out to his deer and I saw a magnificent buck, a Monarch of the Glen. He was beautiful.

And that’s my Scottish ghost story.

If you want to learn more about Scotland, why not subscribe to the William McGonagall poem server? It will email you a poetic gem by the unmatched Scottish bard McGonagall on the day(s) of the week of your own choosing. I've been subscribed for years and McGonagall's poems never fail to surprise me.

2 comments:

kass said...

Wonderful story! You sure can write.

Peromyscus said...

Thanks, Kass!

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