There is a hymn used by many in the Christian tradition that begins:
"For the beauty of the earth,
For the glory of the skies . . ."
For the past two days we have been graced, thanks to the planing of Peter Sills, with sights that I'm sure not even a camera can capture.
After leaving Inverness, our first stop after Edinburgh, we made our way to Ullapool. Ullapool is a fishing village and has been here pretty much as it is seen today since its founding in 1788. It affords an excellent point of departure to see and experience the surrounding area.
On our first day we took a driving trip out of Ullapool. Before long we found ourselves, as Peter had planned, on a single lane "highway" that makes a loop around the Assynt region. The views have an almost cinematic quality. The guidebook says that this is one of the least populated areas in Europe. The mountains are not ranges as one might be used to but extraordinary peaks that rise individually from the moorland. This area boasts some of the world's oldest rock formations. It may not be densely populated by humans, as was Edinburgh, but sheep abound. Indeed, a traffic jam here is one car on a narrow roadway encountering a flock or herd of sheep mindlessly wandering across the road in order to find a, perhaps, more desirable place to eat. Sheep seem to eat ALL the time.
This has to be one of the most beautiful places in all the world. Also, the people are extraordinarily friendly.
We stopped at numerous places along the way to take in the view. At one of these places a motorcycle "gang" pulled in. Turns out they were here from Ireland. They were interested in who we were and we shared photos and suggestions of places to see. One of them said, "Every time we stop, I think this is the most beautiful place. Then, another turns up." He asked me where we were from and, then, gave me a shamrock pin to wear. Just like that: "Here, please take this."
Later we found a tiny roadside place, we had to park on one side of the road and then walk down a path to it. There we had coffee and a scone and saw this sign - among others. I also got to buy a magic wand to add to my collection that I was promised "worked." We'll see.
I'm thinking it must have worked, because we travelled this loop around this part of the Highlands on a single lane, mountainous, hairpin turn road that one could experience as either terrifying or exciting. I'm glad someone else was driving.
A few minutes later we found a place to enjoy the picnic lunch we had brought overlooking what the guidebook said was one of the most spectacular views in Scotland - mountains, ocean and many of the thirty five islands off this coastline.
For those who experience the Sacred through nature, there is likely no finer place.
We have now had another day in this beautiful part of the world. Peter had arranged it so that we would spend the first part of the day on the ocean - taking a small touring craft out from Ullapool and stopping at one of the Summer Islands. Incredibly beautiful scenery. And, creatures. We saw, among other things, an eagle, some seals and a species of rare sea birds that were nearly extinct. Now naturalists have counted up to two hundred of them - all in Scotland.
I've spent the afternoon continuing to read the book, "How The Scots Invented the Modern World," where pioneering thinkers, like Adam Smith, were developing pathways for both justice and freedom that have influences on us to this day. The high respect for others as well as personal responsibility and communal accountability are matters he stressed as important before the founding of the colonies. Here is a passage from Adam Smith:
"The wisdom of every state or commonwealth endeavors, as well as it can, to employ the force of the society to restrain those who are subject to its authority, from hurting or disturbing the happiness of one another. The rules which it establishes for this purpose, constitute the civil and criminal law of each state . . . and a sacred and religious regard not to hurt or disturb in any respect the happiness of our neighbor."
For these thinkers, our moral life as well as our cultural life is a matter of imagination. I can't help but believe that this imagination was affected by the beauty of the place(s) where they lived.
A dilemma I am having is what photographs to post with these verbal musings. A thing to keep in mind is that this is the part of the world where, at one time, just as in the time of the Desert Fathers and Mothers and in the time of people like St. Benedict, people came to "withdraw" so as more easily to maintain their identity and their practice. Someone here told me that I was romanticizing this place. Were I here in January or February, my take on it would be completely different. Perhaps. The mountains, the ocean, the sky, the creatures stay constant regardless of the season. Perhaps that is one of the lessons a space like this can teach us.
So, I'll go back to and close with the hymn with which this posting began:
For the beauty of the earth
For the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies.
Next: We journey to a "garden of Eden."