Monthly Archives: October 2016

On Leaving Scotland

Life in Quebec is easier than life in Scotland, and therefore happier; it feels like home. I am not sorry we left, but I do miss Scotland. I miss the stimulation of living in a landscape that is not home–in this case, a wild but also deeply historical landscape for which I was frequently missing a good part of the story. Now that I am gone I can see this as a specific kind of pleasure–the pleasure of innocently taking places for what they are–or at least, for what they appear to be. It is similar to reading a novel that takes place in a place you have never been. Though everything you come to know about that place is imagined, you feel as if you understand it. It is not an understanding that would withstand being spoken about, even in cocktail party conversation, but something that makes up a layer of what you know about the world–something you draw on to make sense of other people’s lives. I feel lucky to have this feeling about Scotland, even if it is already too late to write about it knowingly.

The last place we visited before we left was Easdale Island, a tiny little island south of Oban covered in abandoned shale quarries and gardens overgrown from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. We rented a cottage there so we could have time with friends after we had moved out of our flat and shipped all our belongings. It was the beginning of July: wet, windy and sometimes sunny; a wilderness of shale and salt spray, low skies and indigo water, cascading fuschia, foxglove and orange freesia. We walked the footpaths that criss-crossed the island, skipped stones, marvelled at the sky. We were there for five days, just enough time for coming to know what you cannot know about a place.

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I miss Easdale now, though it is not the specific place so much as the time of being there. There is privilege in living outside what you know, in a state of perpetual openness to the world. Of course there is also vulnerability in that openness, which takes it toll, and which is part of why we decided to move back to Canada. Of course, as anglophones, we can never be perfectly at home in Quebec either, and I am reminded that for us the true gift of Scotland was being there with friends–with others who knew how we felt, and who were in a similar state of not knowing. So when I say I miss Scotland, it is never separate from missing them. All the important things I know about those landscapes, I know with them.

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