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Our foggy Perthshire woods are where it’s at this autumn.

November 6, 2015

As usual at around this season, I feel as if the year is suddenly rushing towards its close with the majority of the things I meant to accomplish still unachieved. Good Lord, it was Hallowe’en at the weekend and Bonfire Night only last night, but the media is full of Christmas adverts already, with the Big Day looming ahead like a brick wall at the end of a motorway. (Christmas absolutely shouldn’t feel like that, should it? There is always time to reflect on peace and love and acts of kindness at some – many, ideally – point in the Christmas season, but in November I bet most mums have the same growing feeling of mild panic about all the planning still to be done.)


Perthshire amber: looking up at October beeches

Perthshire amber: looking up at October beeches

However. Enough about the C-word. Busy though it’s been, this autumn has been a lovely one. September was warm; October was bright and golden. Now November has come in with lingering mists and dense fog, like a November from central casting. It is beautiful too in its melancholy way. We are in the middle of the Perthshire Amber festival, a feast of traditional music and community events organised by musician Dougie Maclean and his family. With visitors drawn to our part of the country from across Europe and North America, it is a pleasure to share something of our autumn with them.

Swans on the lochan on another foggy November morning

Swans on the lochan on another foggy November morning


The Danes have that wonderful word, hygge, which means something like a feeling of cosiness and good cheer. We don’t have an equivalent word that I can think of in either English or Scots; but we certainly have the feeling of hygge in this week of music and laughter, friendships old and new, morning walks in the glowing, dripping autumnal woods and afternoons and evenings filled with songs and stories shared over a pint or a warming mug of tea and a freshly-baked scone. Wrap up warm and come and join us next year!


Huge toadstools and a coppery carpet of leaves under my feet in the woods

Huge toadstools and a coppery carpet of leaves under my feet in the woods


You might enjoy Whirling and paddling: just another week in the castle or An amber autumn.

Autumn (or maybe Fall) fire

October 9, 2015

Amongst the remarkably thoughtful and generous comments on my last post, one little request caught my attention. I had mentioned ‘the scarlet leaves are already falling from the Virginia creeper which licks up the castle wall like tongues of heatless fire’. (Sorry, v. bad form to quote yourself, will try not to do it again.) And a reader from the United States simply asked, ‘Pictures?’

It’s easy to take our own flora and fauna a little for granted. I think we all do it. Yet it’s intriguing to discover what we share with other countries. The  name tells me that of course this brilliantly coloured climber must have come from North America originally, but I’d still greet it with glad surprise if I were to spot it on a building in Virginia; like bumping into a local friend in an unexpected place. I always enjoy spotting familiar flowers and trees in photos on blogs from other countries, as well as discovering what is alien to me but completely unremarkable to a local. So for Philosopher Mouse and anyone else who is interested in these things, here is our (Scottish) Virginia creeper, glowing against the castle walls in its last flickering embers., 9.10.15

You might enjoy more photos of warming seasonal colour around the castle in Autumn glow.

Finding balance at the Equinox

September 23, 2015

Today is the autumn equinox, when it feels as if the Earth rests for a moment on its axis, perfectly in balance before it rolls onward into the long nights of winter. The day is still and sunlit. September is rusting the heavy green trees, and the scarlet leaves are already falling from the Virginia creeper which licks up the castle wall like tongues of heatless fire., 23.9.15

Unlike the day, I have been feeling very un-balanced recently. And it’s not just the flashes of vertigo caused by a wonky head! Our boys are both at boarding school during the week now, which is focussing my thoughts on what to do with increased free time.

I never find myself bored. On top of the normal household tasks, there is more that could be done as lady of a castle than I can ever manage: I could, had I the drive, be clearing rooms, restoring pictures, making jam, cataloguing the library, researching family manuscripts, making curtains, harvesting the garden…  plus I need, as a means of maintaining sanity, to take myself off to my little studio room to paint and create on an almost daily basis.

And it is essential to make space to walk in the woods with the dogs, watching the red squirrels burying their cache of beech nuts and thrilling at the music of the migrating geese overhead. I don’t need the latest craze for classes in Mindfulness and Gratefulness. My lessons are all around me.

All the time, however, I am aware that most people are working harder than me. I’ve been very lucky that, in the past five years of health difficulties (with brain injury leading to M.E.), I have not been trying to hold down paid employment: it would have been impossible. Now, though, I’m beginning to peer over the parapet and wonder whether I dare to/ ought to take more on. One or two friends have been dropping brick-like hints that I should re-join this or that pet committee of theirs, and I’m reluctantly wondering if I should. Certainly I have been feeling better in the past two months than I did last year, thank heavens, although the pattern of effects of an auto-immune disorder like M.E. is unpredictable, making me wary of new commitments. Over-doing it one week (e.g. going out for two evenings in the week) can still lead to exhaustion the next.

But friends and acquaintances do not see the battles one fights with ‘invisible injuries’ like brain trauma or M.E./ CFS. They only see that I am not doing a job as such, and that I don’t entertain much, and that therefore I am not pulling my weight in society. And the thing is, I am beginning to wonder whether I agree with them.

This is good; it’s a sign that I’m feeling better than I have for a fair while. Thus I find myself approaching a crossroads. Notwithstanding the odd bit of voluntary work (and even committee membership – and oh, how I loathe committees, no matter how good the cause and pleasant the members), is it acceptable for an educated woman of my generation to make her home and family her whole focus? Can I justify using free time to work on my attempts at art and writing? Or would it be better for ‘society’, and indeed for my own self-esteem, if I tried to get back into the job market and earn my keep? Sorry, I’ve wrestled with this before on Dancing Beastie, I know, yet still find myself torn. Meanwhile – and more to the point – while I ponder that, do I have to take on more of those blessed committees?

Forgive me for airing these very first-world problems: I do know what a privilege it is to have a career crisis of this sort! I also know that any responses I receive from you are likely to be sensible, pithy and wise.

At the start of the year, a very wise woman told me that understanding what to do with one’s gifts and abilities is something not to be rushed. It is like a long labour, she said, taking its own time. It’s just that at my age I would really like to have figured it out by now – and while I search, or wait, or whatever I’m meant to be doing, I feel off-balance, thrown sideways by the expectations and insinuations of others.

Outside, meanwhile, as the sun sets behind the hills, the Earth on the cusp between summer and winter is perfectly balanced. It has been another beautiful day., 23.9.15-1


You might enjoy The last of summer ,

Life, art, writing: the guilty pleasure of doing what you like

or Falling down a wormhole in the kitchen: music as time travel .

August was…

August 31, 2015

August break Day 31. ‘August was…’ filled with friends old and new. Richly blessed with laughter, kindness and renewed or growing companionship. It has been a busy and happy month.

Today is the last day of the August break picture project: tomorrow is the beginning of September, and the day our boys start  school again. Our elder is beginning senior school, and our younger is thus facing his first year of boarding without his big brother. We are all feeling a little wobbly about the new challenges ahead for each of them. Fingers crossed.,31.8.15, river


August 31, 2015

August break Day 29: ‘Listening’.

Our town held its annual Highland Games yesterday. One of the most hotly contested competitions is the piping, especially the piobaireachd (or ‘pibroch’ in the Anglicised spelling), which is the classic, centuries-old music of the great highland bagpipes. Here are two judges listening to a competitor playing his piobaireachd variations.

The piping competitions go on all day, with different tunes weaving across each other from the judges’ huts dotted around the edge of the Games field. I always make a point of listening to some of the playing, as does my other half: it was when I first him playing a haunting piobaireachd, one Hogmanay, that I began to fall in love with the man who is now my husband., 30.8.15

You might enjoy Immortal memories: just an ordinary Burns’ Night (about piping) or Of cromachs, cabers and the Kiltie Dash (about the Highland Games).


August 25, 2015

August break Day 20: two

Playing catch-up, between visitors. Last week we took our friends down to the river on a sunny afternoon. While adults chatted over the remains of the picnic, we watched the children dibbling on the edge of the water. Skimming stones, catching minnows: it didn’t matter that the two of them speak different languages – everything is better with two.,25.8.15-1

Look up

August 19, 2015

August Break day18: ‘Look up’.

This was taken looking up the massive trunk of a Wellingtonia or giant redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum) in the grounds of Blair Castle in highland Perthshire. Although not especially big by the standards of its species, the trunk still needed five people to stretch around it touching fingertips.

As a friend observed, this combination of big trees and a castle might seem like a bit of a busman’s holiday for us: we have a family of Basque friends staying, however, and so are trying to show them some of the highlights of our part of the world. And great fun it is too to be a tourist in someone else’s castle, admiring someone else’s trees, with no responsibility for either!, 18.8.15

You might enjoy The Tuesday tree: planning for the future.


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