This is my grandfather’s axe. My father replaced the head and I replaced the shaft. This is my grandfather’s axe.
Three weeks ago we moved to Kingussie in the Cairngorm National Park. It’s been a busy time. It’s not insignificant to me that my family has returned to the Highlands a lifetime after war took my grandparents south. I have little time for essentialism and I'm staking no claim by mentioning this, simply acknowledging something mysterious to me. Sometimes life moves in circles and cycles that aren’t easily rationalised. I’ve become a civic Scot by dint of choice, defined in celebration of possible futures for my family, not just a flight from an ethnic English death cult. For those that need some escape from that, though, Karma dictates that our door will always be open. You’ll be welcome if you come knocking.
It’s also seven years since I began writing here. A big change affords the chance to look back over one’s shoulder, and I notice that a constant preoccupation has been the relationship between edge and centre, people and place. What you see is where you’re at, and of course the reverse is also true. What this relocation means for me is to finally dissolve those spurious distinctions once and for all, and I guess we’ll see how that goes. I also see reflected in the mirror someone more determined than I expected to be, someone who willed himself closer to the hills and trees and somehow it came true. I don’t expect that to mean anything to you; maybe I had low expectations, but he’s surprised me.
Last Sunday, my partner hemorrhaged and was rushed to Raigmore hospital in Inverness. I drove a drowsy three year old into an apocalyptic sunset over the Slochd pass knowing without doubt that we’d lost the baby. Within 24 hours I was driving south again for a night bag while she went under the knife. I couldn’t be in theatre because in haste we had no-one near to take care of our daughter. The baby boy was born six weeks early by Cesarean. My Mum flew up late in the evening, circling over her old home town in the dark almost three score years and ten after she left as an infant herself.
A tiny life hung in the balance for the next two days, miniature lungs not ready to breathe on their own. When not grinding out the practicalities I dry sobbed in the men’s bogs, my partner came to, shouldered and soldiered, and our daughter took the upheaval hard. Mostly we held the jumble and jangle of it all together for each other. Just.
Both mother and baby are much stronger now. The coming months will be challenging, and naturally moments like this are existential and sort the wheat from the chaff. What matters? What is important? As parents, teachers, learners and citizens, we'd better know. Dipping back in to 'reality', the online world seems ever more flimsy and vainglorious, politics a sham and a theatre. By contrast, the people of the Strath have already been so welcoming, and we are lucky and grateful. Now that we’re in the right place for us, our time here has already been more full of people than I could possibly have predicted. Edge and centre? Like I say, it’s been a busy time, and if the last week or so has reaffirmed anything, it’s that timing is everything. Scotland’s future is in the glens, and that future is now.